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Gerard Pique & FC Andorra: Why Barcelona defender bought a fifth-tier Spanish team


FC Andorra’s Estadi Prada de Moles has just one stand with capacity for around 530 fans

Surrounded by mountains and 4,000ft above sea level sits the 530-seater Estadi Prada de Moles.

It is here, in the tiny Andorran village of Encamp, that Barcelona defender Gerard Pique dreams of hearing the Champions League anthem.

He has heard it before, of course, having won the competition four times as a player. But now he wants to experience it as a club owner.

In December, soon after transforming tennis’ Davis Cup, the Pique-owned Kosmos group bought FC Andorra, then in Spanish football’s fifth tier.

Pique has big ambitions for Spain’s version of Salford City – the English non-league team owned by six former Manchester United players.

With one promotion secured already, Pique, manager Gabri and first-team player Federico Bessone talk BBC Sport through a remarkable five months.

‘A risky venture’

Pique with the squad at the announcement of a sponsorship partnership with Andorra bank MoraBanc

FC Andorra, who were founded in 1942, have played in the Spanish league system since 1948.

When Kosmos took charge of the club, they were struggling with debt, one point off the relegation places and 17 points behind the leaders of the Primera Catalana.

“No-one thought FC Andorra could be a very interesting prospect, but we analysed it and thought it had great potential,” says Kosmos director Ferran Vilaseca.

Pique, 32, heard of the club through “friends of friends” from Andorra and thought “it could be an interesting opportunity”.

“The main difference with other clubs in Spain is here there’s a whole country backing up the team,” says the Spain centre-back.

“We don’t want to be just an investor, we want to be involved in the team, to make it better and place the team in higher divisions.”

The World Cup winner’s first move was to appoint former Barcelona players Gabri and Albert Jorquera as manager and assistant manager respectively.

Gabri spent 13 years at the Nou Camp, winning the Champions League in 2006. The 40-year-old had been in charge of Barca’s youth teams and managed Swiss top-flight side FC Sion before moving to Andorra.

“Friends and family were surprised and questioned me because it was a risky venture,” he says.

“They asked if I was sure because it involved a change of country and I had to leave my family.

“Leaving the professional world to go down so many levels, you have little to gain and a lot to lose. But Gerard convinced me – his attitude especially.”

A Barca makeover

Gabri won the Champions League at Barcelona as a player

Gabri acknowledges taking charge of a semi-professional team in the Spanish fifth tier was “very different to what I was used to”.

“My first impression was it’s an amateur team which trained with quite difficult means with a difficult schedule,” he says. “The players have jobs – they work during the day and train at night.”

The squad, which included several Andorra internationals, has been given a Catalan makeover and now features graduates from Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, including Bessone, Marti Riverola, and Adria Vilanova – the son of late Barca boss Tito.

“Players like Riverola or Bessone were at some point in a team with me or players like [Barcelona forward] Leo Messi,” Pique says.

Argentine defender Bessone, who has played for Swansea City and Leeds United, dropped a division from Catalan side Prat to join FC Andorra.

There he has been reunited with former Charlton team-mate Ruben Bover.

“I rang him and asked him what he was doing there because, with all due respect, this was the Primera Catalana,” said Bessone.

“It was not easy to move. I decided to join because I liked everything they were telling me. And, amazingly, everything they have told me has come true.”

Bessone has played for Barcelona B as well as Swansea and Leeds

Bessone remembers Pique from the Barcelona academy, and played alongside Messi in the C team.

“Before my first game, Pique came to Andorra to introduce himself and explained what was going on,” said Bessone.

“He remembered me from our time together at Barcelona. It says a lot about the kind of humble, friendly person he is.”

Because of his playing commitments, Pique was only able to watch a handful of games in person last season.

“I would like to go more often but Barcelona has a very tight calendar,” he says. “But I follow the games.

“My parents and my brother have gone to support the team several times – they were present the day they won the league.”

Gabri adds: “He always tries to come to speak to the players and encourage them and be close to the team.

“It was a bit difficult for the players at first. There was a lot of change, and then Pique was coming to games. There was a bit of nervousness and pressure.

“But when you know Gerard, he gives you confidence. Now it’s a bit more accepted.”

‘The lads have never seen so many fans’

An estimated 1,500 fans watch FC Andorra win promotion

The Pique effect has not just been felt on the pitch.

“At the beginning the fans did not believe what was going to happen,” says Vilaseca. “I remember the first game I went to see there were 10-15 people. Nowadays there can be 300-400 fans.”

Bessone estimates there were 1,500 fans present when the team secured promotion last month – packing out the stadium’s one stand and watching from the road behind, adding “the lads from Andorra had never seen so many fans.”

“With the results and our improving league position we’ve been able to attract more and more people,” says Gabri. “There’s been a very big change from the people who came before and who come now.”

Pique could not attend as it came a day after Barcelona were beaten by Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

“When we started to follow the club the idea of promotion was real, but we were aware of the difficulty,” he says.

“The squad kept believing in the project and trained even harder. Their attitude is what got us promoted this year. I was really proud.”

FC Andorra will play in the Tercera Division next season

Copa del Rey return and the future

Pique says he is aware of Salford City, who were bought by his former Manchester United team-mates Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt, while another ex-United player, David Beckham, is also now a co-owner.

They are preparing for their first season in the English Football League after four promotions in five years.

“Having former professional players involved in lower-division teams is something positive,” says Pique. “It gives them extra support and make these leagues more interesting, for supporters and media.”

Next season, FC Andorra will play in the Tercera Division and will be in the draw for the Copa del Rey for the first time in 24 years – offering a potential meeting with Pique’s Barcelona.

Gabri says the first aim is to reach the Segunda Division and turn professional.

“I think it can be done,” he says. “Andorra is a country that wants to do something beautiful with football.”

He plans to be at the club for a “long time”, describing it as: “like a child that you want to watch grow up”.

Pique is “ambitious” and does “not want to talk about boundaries in this project”.

Asked if he will ever play for the club, he said: “I’m a Barcelona player and at the moment I’m not considering anything else.”

But what of his hopes of bringing European football to the club?

“Gerard says his dream is to listen to the Champions League song in Andorra,” says Vilaseca.

“We want to go step by step, with a lot of humility and respect to other teams. We have great ambitions. Dreams are difficult but not impossible.

“We want to become one of the key representatives of Andorra within the Spanish landscape and European landscape, for the country to be proud of this team.”

Additional reporting and translation by Becky Grey.

FC Andorra will play in next season’s Copa del Rey and could meet Barcelona



Article courtesy of BBC Sport
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