Quico Catalan (Madrid, 1975) analyzes for AS the Levante that he has in hand. A long-term, ambitious project with the reform of the new Ciutat. The president has had to live with the pandemic. Despite this, the first phase of the stadium work has almost been solved and has put together another competitive project, keeping the block and its most coveted men in the market. However, next summer will be another story.
Levante-Celta will also be played at La Cerámica, new delay at the stadium?
New delay why. New delay no. Obviously, the Covid set deadlines that did not depend on us. This delay is marked by a delay in the execution of the work in the last week, in the end we are going with very tight times. Next week, God willing, the lawn will be taken care of and in 15 days we will be back here. The big goal is for that to happen.
Would it arrive for Alavés?
Well, we set ourselves that goal, of course.
What step is the Levante taking with this first reform of the Ciutat?
This first reform is focused on the requirements of the television regulations, which we must comply with. When you want to tackle that, you have a larger project in mind, you decide to patch, which with the sky-cam would be impossible even patching, or to put it into a large project and do it in phases. That is what we adopted a few years ago. We have been asking LaLiga somehow for extensions to understand that our project to adapt to television went beyond a mere reform. Therefore, this first phase means fulfilling that, but on the other hand also covering a stadium that we have never had. Modernize the stadium with two video scoreboards, we are talking about more than 140 square meters each, a public address system according to other events, with latest generation 4k lighting … To a certain extent you generate infrastructures, which together with phase two, which addresses more Day-to-day issues, coexistence in the stadium, spectator comfort and the services and offers, both commercial and non-commercial that we are going to offer, complement a great project.
The second phase, more focused on the commercial one, has been redesigned due to the situation we are experiencing.
No, because we don't know how long the Covid effect will last. But you have to think that phase two of the stadium is at the time of drafting documents, of obtaining the relevant permits with the City Council, of finishing materializing the agreement that the other day we presented with the City Council and Levante itself, and depending on that start it. In other words, it is not a project that will start in 2021; not before 2022, I believe that we would not fully begin that great work. And then we have to see how we can combine football with the play. We started this work on July 1, 2019 and Covid has helped us in that sense. The fact that there has been no football here from March to here has logically benefited us. I hope that in 2022, which I think it would be impossible before, to start the second phase and that all these effects have disappeared. What we have in mind, which is somehow pre-projected and we have even seen it on video, hopefully it can be materialized.
As he says, the Covid has given them scope to carry out the work. How do you assess the result?
We are happy with the result that is being produced. We have experienced moments of maximum difficulty. During the confinement there have been situations where we have had problems: a great supplier of this work is Italian and has experienced moments of difficulty, other industrialists who participate in this work have experienced moments of difficulty … All this has led us to experience delicate moments . For a time there was no work, the works in this country were paralyzed, among other things. When you have passed all that and you see the result, you feel satisfaction. It is everyone's job, that for now things are going well. We have announced that we must delay it for 15 more days, but the important thing is that a work of this caliber see the light.
Another setback was the fall of the first financing project.
Indeed, I hinted last February that we had a very advanced operation and it was the truth, otherwise I would not have said it. Apart from documents that, in some way, we were even half committed to the parties in terms and conditions. Unfortunately, at the end of March, that fund, which is known and has carried out many operations related to the world of football, also international operations and important agreements in this country with other clubs and other footballers, we lost. That was a major setback. In full confinement, understand that. That is why I have always said internally that the appearance of this fellow traveler that unites us, this partner (Edmond de Rothschild) is a blessing.
How did this operation take place?
Somehow it was almost like a miracle that he appeared, that he understood the Levante project so quickly and that we understood that we could hold hands and work together. In an operation with years ahead, of a great economic magnitude (up to 60 million in a staggered loan), with guarantees, obligations and rights. It is a very nice operation for the club. I also believe that linking with that entity, of its size and prestige, represents a leap in quality for the club. From there, what we have to do is work, remain responsible, maintain the management that we have carried out to date and fulfill our obligations as we have done on other occasions. In the end this club also has to grow, and it must reinvent itself. I think we are a club that is growing, that at the moment does not offer its fans everything they could offer at home, in their stadium. And the Ciutat has to become that factory of illusions where the fan finds in the stadium some incentives to come half an hour earlier, to be more comfortable in his armchair, to be able to go to a bathroom in conditions, have something according to the moment in which we live … That can, in short, find in the stadium an alternative for every day of the year to go shopping, consume and that it be a suitable place for companies, associations, have meetings … We want this stadium has a utility in the day to day. Not that it is a place where soccer is played every 15 days. That it has an out-door activity and that it has that meeting point where it can generate business and generate wealth, putting the service of our facilities for whoever wants. Therefore, it is like any investment. It has its risk, logically. But behind this operation there is an established business plan, this stadium will generate new income and together we will meet the obligations we have.
It gives the feeling that a Levante draws beyond its mandate.
A very future Levante is being projected because others will come later. And this stadium will be the Levante stadium in the next I don't know how many hundreds of years. Last season we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ciutat. Look, in fifty years I hope there will be a Board of Directors that understands that the stadium has outgrown it. Or before. Or that this stadium cannot house the hundreds of thousands of Levantinists. I do not know. Obviously, they are not projects of the present, but of the future. What is certain is that they are projects that we have been working on for many years. We have been at the Sports City for more than eight years and we have not yet laid the first stone, imagine. On the subject of the stadium, the other day I had a meeting with the IDOM people and we were talking that it was more than three years since we got in touch. I called them, I appeared in Bilbao, we were at their headquarters. I already knew San Mamés, but we went to see the countryside with its people. They were here, we continue working … They are projects that require addressing them with some advance. They are projects for the future.
“We are projecting a very future Levante”
The jewel in the crown would be the new Sports City.
It is going to mean a leap in quality and to live more deeply what Levante is, that the fans themselves feel closer every day. Day-to-day life takes place in these offices, but it occurs mainly in Buñol. In the end they will have the opportunity to see the first team train, to see Atlético Levante train, the Women, the boys and girls play football … That is the great goal. We are tremendously grateful to how we have been welcomed in Buñol, but we believe that to grow this project was essential. The truth is that it is a great illusion, of course it is.
What will happen to the sports city of Buñol?
Well, with Buñol we'll see what happens. We understand that you have different possibilities. One is, of course, to stay as is. Another that someone may be more interested than what there is, the ground. It is a good soil, which we know about its possibilities and it has had a certain attraction in a certain profile of possible interested parties. We know what your chances are. What happens is that when you will not be able to have that land in the next two, two and a half years, it is difficult to do operations with so much time ahead.
What challenges has Covid posed as an institution? The feeling it leaves is that it has behaved like a gentleman club.
I believe that when these types of situations arise, those who apply more drastic situations are neither bad nor those who apply them to us are good. Surely the circumstances of one and the other are very different. If Levante had not been able to assume what it has had to assume, we would have had to make drastic decisions. It's not fair. The Covid effect that Levante may have suffered is perhaps more acceptable than that that Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid or Espanyol may suffer. Or Betis, right ?. We each have our circumstances. This club is special and peculiar in certain ways. Somehow, the Covid effect where the most damage is doing is in consumption. Understand me, ticketing, merchandising, the impossibility of the fan consuming football. For example: buying a ticket, paying for the season ticket, having a drink during the game, buying a scarf or a shirt … That in the end affects some clubs to a greater extent than others. For us, ticketing represents 2% of the budget, in other clubs it is much higher. But it is also true that for us it is a pride that, with great difficulty, to have passed that critical moment with this approach. We fought, we fought and we suffered to make it so. Except for that agreement that we reached with the footballers, the rest remained in their situation and with their job, almost all of them teleworking.
I understand that at the club level there were many adjustments. Some are very visible, like the salary agreement with the first team, but others less so.
Above all, we financially reinvent ourselves in some aspects. Because we spent months without entering a euro in the club. Advance future income pending collection and readjust the internal functioning of the club, like all companies. No one was used to working without going to work. Now we've done it and, hey, to some extent I think it's been a learning curve for everyone. An attractive process where we have realized that there are many times that time has a value. There are times when to meet, talk or find agreements you don't need to take a three-hour flight, but rather plug in a mobile phone or a computer and with a videoconference you get to work. I think it has been a learning experience for everyone in general, but also for us as a club, which has allowed us other forms of internal communication.
“Paco López is a very important asset of the Levant and Levantinism”
How was the work of the president of a club from home in the middle of the pandemic?
You have had your rewarding moments. Many times I stop to think how we were able to work more than ever. He was blown away by the hours she put on him. Because in the end if your work table and your computer are in a place where you pass continuously, in the end you sit down and work. I thought it would be different. It was rewarding but also tough. I think that all this Covid has affected us in a more direct or less way. I have lost friends, dear people … they have been difficult moments. Also from being away from my family; my father is ill and we have been separated for a long time, and we are still somehow separated. Is not easy. For a few moments you have a certain fear. Because we saw cases where in hours, in days, people left. If you ask my wife, I'm sure she thinks what a bad time the lockdown. Although somehow they have also seen what my work is. It has been positive to some extent that my children, aged 15, 13 and 7, have shown their father's work. But they have been very hard and very complex months. Where a lot has been suffered on a personal and professional level.
Another aspect where the effects of Covid have been most noticed has been in the market. Perhaps the most complicated since you are president?
It has been a peculiar, different market. A very limited market. Last year's market was complicated, for me the hardest. This year the problem is that we have a very difficult 2020. In the end, you drag out all the effects of the Covid since March, our financing operation that we had closed … 2020 for me is being very complicated. It has obviously been a difficult market, essentially because there has been a lot of paralysis. It has been difficult for us to understand. At many times we talked to each other and we did not even have the ability to change cards. This footballer for this; not even that. In that sense, we must assess the position of LaLiga, which has led us to a borderline situation with certain changes that occurred in Fair Play, in the rule. I think that in the end they have been positive. They have forced us to carry out operations that people may have found it difficult to understand, or still do not understand. But it is one more of football. We have been able to adapt to a market where there have been operations, but compared to other markets the difference has been incredible. I think we have come out of this battle in a positive way.
Levante has been betting hard for two years to keep the block. Has this been more out of necessity or strategy?
We sold assets last year, but we did not get rid of those players we wanted to keep. Those assets that understand that they are important and that you want to have on your team. Obviously it is not that we have the need to sell, but times are changing. There is a certain profile of footballers that there also comes a time when they need to take another leap. Let me be understood, for me Levante is the best team in the world, but it is true that the footballer needs other challenges, new sensations and to fight for other goals. It is logical, lawful and normal. There I do believe that we have arrived, after making the effort last year and this, that at the end of the season we can tackle certain situations that we understand to be logical. Football will continue and Levante will continue to grow, as it cannot be otherwise.
The name is Campaign. It says that you don't get off the donkey.
Logical. Great footballers are always wanted by everyone. I am calm, I believe that José, God willing, is going to have a great season with Levante and obviously the end of the season will come and we will have to tackle situations that are sure to be good for him and for the club. If he has something, it is that he has shown a maximum commitment towards Levante. Any expression or manifestation you may have these days, where you are in a cloud, is understandable. He is enjoying being with the greats, being one more and valued as such. For us it is a maximum pride. From there, value it, that he continues to give us a lot of football and that, together with his teammates, he manages to lead us to the goals.
What does it mean for Levante to take a player to the National Team?
The call is a great recognition especially to José, who is the great architect. But also to his teammates, his coach, the fans and Levante. For us it is a great achievement to feel part of the National Team. To think that one of your people is representing you in that team, in your country, is milk. Is very pretty. I think it is a leap in quality. A message to the world of football, to agents, players and coaches, that from Levante you can also achieve those great individual achievements and that you can become international for Spain from our team.
Is there economic margin to address the renovations that the club has pending? (Morales, Rochina, Roger …)
The Financial Fair Play is not a problem to address the renewals of footballers. It will not be an impediment. If all goes well, let's hope that Morales, and he has said so, can continue with us for many more years. He already knows the club's commitment to him. As long as he has strength, enthusiasm and desire, and shows that he is up to the task, he will always have his space in Levante. Year after year we will value all that. That Roger can stay with us longer. There are no impediments right now that could affect renovations.
How is Rochina's situation?
The most important thing is that both parties would like to stay together. There are differences between one approach and another, but we are going to see if we are capable of redirecting that distance. It is true that we have not spoken for a long time. Because I don't think it's necessary either when the ideas of one and the other are manifest, sometimes the best thing is to let time pass and that the heads of one and the other analyze everything. Rochina has everything to continue here. He is a player who after some time in Russia returns to Spain, he is Valencian, he has his family, in a First-class club that values him and knows him. I think we have everything to shape the agreement. If there is that meeting point, great; If that meeting point does not occur, surely you have many alternatives to continue playing soccer and we players in the market. But we will keep trying to keep Rochina going.
The sports management also ends its contract on June 30.
We just finished the market. We don't even have time to breathe. Obviously the work is there. They have had three markets ahead, you have to analyze everything and be cold. I think they have been three very difficult markets. Logically, the work is there, we have implemented new ways of working and what we have to do now is value everything. It is a relevant decision for the club, very important, and we will make decisions for next season.
And Paco López?
I believe that Paco is an important asset of the Levant and Levantinism. Paco embodies everything that any club would like. Finding a coach who has been a former player, Valencian, Levantine, who is from Silla, a normal and close person … At the same time, he is a great football coach, who is managing to transform the idea of a club's game. People enjoy our football. Of course it is criticized and sometimes misunderstood, but that does not happen to everyone. It is one of those assets that, if we did not have it, it would cost a lot to create or find it. You have to empower him and help him to stay with us for a long time. It's been three years, about four seasons with us, and I hope it's for much longer.
How can you grow to the level of the Levante without losing its essence?
I believe that in this life there is something that is very important, which is knowing your environment. We never have to forget what our Levante is. We try to make it a modern entity that continues to grow, but there are certain essences that we have to keep in mind and we must respect. Others perhaps, knowing and respecting them, must be reoriented. It's like everything, as I said at the beginning, many times we remain negative. This is something peculiar to this club: something comes up and immediately we look for negativity. That anvil of adversity. I believe that we must grow from an absolute respect to our past and projecting the best future. That is the motto of our Centennial: a past to honor and a future to conquer. We try by all means to be clear about who we are and we can be the same, but bigger. Evolving, growing and modernizing. All of that is compatible. The essence can never be lost.