While the amount of British players to have made themselves a name in Spain is relatively small – David Beckham, Gary Lineker, Laurie Cunningham to name but three – there is a quiet revolution taking place at the moment in the backwaters of Southern Spain, albeit at a much lower level, which is starting to make people sit up and take notice.
Jerez Industrial, a tiny club founded 60 years ago and based in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, currently sit third in the Spanish regional Third Division Group 10, one point behind joint-leaders Pozoblanco and Algeciras. What makes it even more remarkable is that they are doing it with 22 British players in their squad, more than Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or any other English Premiership club you care to name.
Although there are reckoned to be over half a million ex-pats that have moved to Spain from the UK, anybody getting the idea Jerez is a hot-bed of football talent from abroad couldn’t be further from the truth; the municipality is 170 kilometres, or over 100 miles, from the glitzy playgrounds of Marbella, Puerto Banus and other sizeable towns with foreign residents. So it begs the question – how has all this come about?
In the summer of 2010, Jerez Industrial – with a squad consisting solely of Spanish players and a ground capacity of just 8,000 – suffered relegation from the regional Second Division; to all intents and purposes the club, with severe financial problems, would soon cease to exist and fade into football obscurity unless someone came up with a solution – enter ex-England manager and former Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle.
In June 2008, 53-year old Hoddle had opened his Glenn Hoddle Academy (GHA) at the Montecastillo Resort , just outside Jerez, which boasts top-class football pitches, a golf course, gymnasiums, tennis courts and a host of other facilities. His aim was to offer a route back into professional football for youngsters discarded by clubs, believing that some of them were written off too early and, given further coaching and support, could develop into decent players and get back into the game. It was the only independent academy to offer an option to the tried and trusted professional system and started off with something like 40 selected youngsters.
The academy itself is financed by private investors and hopes to eventually make a profit through the sale of players, sponsorship deals and coaching courses for other organisations. The players themselves are paid a weekly wage, given scholarships and are coached by an impressive team of well-known ex-pros in Dave Beasant, Graham Rix, Nigel Spackman and George Foster.
Hoddle’s problem initially was that while he had the players, they didn’t play in a competitive league for them to be tested in; the prospect of neighbours Jerez Industrial going bankrupt, and Hoddle’s need for meaningful football, was a match made in heaven. Consequently, at the start of this season Hoddle signed a five-year deal with the club and paid off its debts, thought to amount to around £160,000.
With the influx of the academy starlets and only two defeats from eleven games the transformation has been complete, with the team now having acquired such nicknames as ‘Los Ingleses’, ‘Sherry Industrial’ or ‘British Industrial’. Strangely enough there is still a Spanish manager in charge, yet Enrique Caballero is only able to call on two of his fellow countrymen and he freely admits that “at times I need a translator so the English can understand me.” However, he isn’t complaining: “The players have a lot of quality”he said. “They are educated and disciplined and very strong in the tackle, although not dangerously. There are no actors or pretenders and a lot of the time they don’t understand players that simulate fouls. In their own country it’s frowned upon.” Caballero is joined on the bench for games by either Rix, Spackman or Beasant, who each take it in turns to assist him two games at a time.
The only two Spaniards in the squad are Alberto Valtierra and Juan Peglajar (known as ‘Juanse’). Valtierra rejected several offers to move up a level after Hoddle persuaded him to stay, and he says both players have improved their English: “We communicate well on the field and make the effort with the language. I’ve never been as serious about the game and the facilities here are fantastic.” Despite being only 25-years of age Valtierra is the veteran of the team and has an eye on the future: “I hope I can score the goals to take us up this season”he says. “We need to be ambitious as we are top of the division after the first two months. Then I’d like to go to England one day. I’d love it.”
Valtierra isn’t alone in his ambitions and there are signs the academy is starting to achieve its goal; this week central defender Sean McCashin was selected for the Northern Ireland Under-21 squad to face Scotland next week. In addition, a number of other players have been snapped up by clubs such as Ipswich Town, Lincoln City, Northampton Town and Kilmarnock. One, Ikechi Anya, has signed a two-year deal with La Liga club Sevilla and has since gone on loan to Celta Vigo.
Glenn Hoddle must be admired for his faith and commitment to this ambitious project, having sunk a lot of his own money into the venture. Maybe his belief in giving these players another chance will make clubs think again before they get rid of youngsters so easily in the future.