Copa del Rey 2023: From the ashes to the rise of Osasuna: “When we arrived, there were only cobwebs” | Sports

The president of CA Osasuna, Luis Sabalza (Sangüesa, 75 years old) takes a seat in his office in El Sadar and very graphically defines the situation of the Navarrese club when its board of directors entered the club: “In the safe there were only cobwebs.” The entity reddish It was an empty shell, with an outdated stadium, 40 million euros in debt with the Treasury and an unbalanced squad. On June 17, 2014, with the team in the Second Division after being relegated, the then president, Miguel Archanco, could not even print the feasibility plan that he had to deliver to the Government of Navarra. Just that morning, Iberdrola had cut off the electricity in the field and the offices, due to the repeated non-payment of the electricity bill.

Archanco resigned that day and a manager was formed by lottery. “We had to go talk immediately with the Government so that it would issue a decree that would allow her to be appointed to call elections,” says Sabalza, “because, according to the statutes, the elections had to be called by the board of directors and if there is no one from the board of directors , they could not be summoned ”.

The situation was critical. “The club, for many years, was led by Mr. Vizcay [exgerente, condenado a casi nueve años de prisión]; since the days of Ezcurra, and when I arrived he was gone because he had asked for the bill…”, says Sabalza. “Then, when I entered, I found a letter from the Higher Sports Council, saying that they had audited us and that there were a series of accounts and invoices that were not justified.” Sabalza filed a complaint in court, “with the purpose of saying, listen, that we have not done this,” and then, “everything from the Osasuna case”.

Sabalza and his board of directors had to start in the basement, set up a new structure. For this, they counted on Fran Canal, who began to work as Osasuna’s general director, although initially as an external consultant. “When I joined, the money that had been raised from that year’s membership campaign was practically used to pay off the debts of the previous season,” confesses the manager. “But well, it was a challenge, and I really believe that not even in the best omens did we think we had reached where we have arrived,” he congratulates himself.

The Osasuna players, during a training session in Tajonar.
The Osasuna players, during a training session in Tajonar.Jesus Diges (EFE)

“We had to face three important crises, the biggest in our history”, and he lists them: “An economic crisis, which meant that the coffers were empty and with payments to attend; a credibility crisis, because the sponsors at that time did not want to know anything about Osasuna, they did not want to associate with us; and there was even a supplier crisis, because they did not know if they were going to charge”.

The turning point of the Sabalza and Canal project occurred in Sabadell. Difficulties of all kinds had led Osasuna to the relegation places. The club was placed in the hands of Enrique Martín Monreal, the man of the house, the last burning nail to hold on to. On June 7, 2015, at Nova Creu Alta, with thousands of red fans in the stands, the Navarrese team needed a point to save themselves. Sabadell went ahead 2-0. In the 77th minute, David García, now captain, closed the gap. When the clock reached 90, Javier Flaño got the tie.

Braulio’s top hat

“If the team had fallen in Segunda B, things would have been tremendously more difficult,” admits Canal; “Being in the Second Division is an option for a team to build up from a sporting point of view and to lay some serious foundations from a strategic and business perspective.” The decline, he remarks, would have been a catastrophe: “The Second is a category that allows you to have income to grow. Being below is literally hell.

The stars lined up again the following campaign, and also on the last day. “There were five minutes left to finish the last game and there was a combination of results that allowed us to play the promotion league,” says Canal; “Until minute 85 we were seventh and in the last five minutes we got into it”. They played, they won the four games against Nàstic and Girona, and they were promoted, again with Martín Monreal on the bench. “The following year we paid for the hazing, but above all we understood what we had to try,” explains the general director of Osasuna; “We had to lay the foundations for the future once and for all. Although we descended sportingly, we generated a lot of surplus that we used to pay off all the debt and, from there, well, we already began to take off”.

Jaboga Arrasate gives instructions at the La Cartuja Stadium.
Jaboga Arrasate gives instructions at the La Cartuja Stadium.AFP7 via Europa Press (AFP7 via Europa Press)

The president points out that “it was a wise move to sign the sports director, Braulio Vázquez, because from there, we began to go up a bit.” The new sports manager analyzed the situation: “We arrived when the team dropped to Second Division and everything was a disaster,” confesses Vázquez. “That team conceded 100 goals. We signed Diego Martínez and did a major restructuring of the base. There we laid the foundations of what is seen today. It was a quiet revolution, not the French one”. Sabalza adds that “we had the bad luck that Sergio Herrera was injured in the game in Soria and they scored a goal at the last minute. We ran out of entering the playoff”.

And Braulio recounts: “From there we bet on Jagoba Arrasate and we walked through Segunda”.

The Osasunista coach, accustomed to playing with people from the house, as he learned at Real Sociedad, has trusted the youth academy since he arrived. “12 players from the house have made their debut with Jagoba, and the evolution of important pieces such as David and Unai García has taken place”, acknowledges the sports director; “The signings gave us an important leap in quality, from El Chimy to Torró, passing through Rubén García, who we brought him when he was the MVP of the Second Division.” And he adds: “We completed the puzzle with loans like Estupiñán’s and now Abde’s, which has given us that final imbalance that we needed.” In the 2017-2018 financial year, the Osasuna squad was valued by the Transfermarket portal at 16.8 million euros and after the 2022 campaign, at 127.

The symbol of the new Sadar

Ángel Alcalde, the director of grassroots football, believes, like Vázquez, that the youth academy is the foundation on which Osasuna’s current success is based. “At the club there was the minimum, and he lost many things that he later recovered, but what he did not lose, what allowed him to survive, was above all his idiosyncrasy”, which is reflected “in that quarry. The home players pushed the car to the end and never gave up”. The data is there, stubborn. “In Navarra we do not reach 700,000 inhabitants, like two neighborhoods in Madrid, but reality and the numbers tell us that for every 100,000 inhabitants, we are the community that contributes the most players to the First Division.”

Panoramic of El Sadar.
Panoramic of El Sadar.Quality Sport Images (Getty Images)

Osasuna has 20,000 players under its orbit, “and we are competing face to face in the academy and training against clubs in the academy that have double or triple the budget.” They work with them in technification. “Not with the guys who are here in Tajonar, but with every Navarrese player who is in an agreed club, Osasuna works with him for ten years.”

Since the last promotion to Primera, Osasuna set itself the challenge of remodeling El Sadar, a task practically completed. Fran Canal points out that, “while we were preparing the papers, the guarantee that the Navarrese Government had to give us to be able to carry out the stadium was approved. In the midst of that, the promotion arose and then from the board of directors the decision was made to improve the initial project, going from 16 million euros to 23 ″. A partial reform was turned into a total one: “The roof was changed, the number of commercial premises was increased and another series of actions so that the stadium would be prepared for a very long period.”

And this is how Osasuna has resurfaced, once again happy and once again respected. After the blur, the party has returned to Pamplona.

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