When Brazilian legend Ronaldo bought a 51 per cent stake in Real Valladolid in 2018, many football fans across the world raised their eyebrows.
Some of the commentary about the surprising deal was in painstakingly patronising terms. Indeed, in the British media it was commonplace to see headlines such as the following from Talksport:
“Why did Brazilian legend Ronaldo buy a yo-yo club?
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona centre-forward has since increased his stake in the club and is now believed to own 82 per cent of the shares, reaffirming his commitment to the cause.
“One day I was in Russia and I received a call from someone connected to Valladolid. That was what I was looking for, a club with a great history, an hour and forty minutes away from Madrid. But another factor was the price. It’s a 90-year-old club, many years in the first division, the only team in a city with 300,000 people. It was a great opportunity for me and I decided to enjoy it,” said Ronaldo, as quoted in Diario As.
What progress has been made since then?
This season marks Real Valladolid’s third in a row in the Spanish top–flight. The Pucelanos have not managed four consecutive campaigns in LaLiga since their relegation in 2003/04 ended an 11-year spell.
Yet, under the careful stewardship of Catalan head coach Sergio González, they could be on course to achieve this.
Last season’s 13th place finish was undoubtedly a step in the right direction as not only did the club pass its main aim in avoiding relegation, but it is also improved on the previous campaign’s league position, eventually managing the club’s highest finish since 2002.
This season’s difficulties
The start to this campaign has not been easy for anyone. In a previous blog, I wrote about the difficulties which Valencia have faced since the resumption of football. International breaks, a congested calendar of fixtures, the fall-out from positive Covid testing and empty stadiums mean that football is increasingly complicated, even if a team is playing well.
For Real Valladolid however, there have also been problems on the field. They are currently languishing two places and two points above the relegation zone having only won four matches out of 19 at the halfway mark in the season.
13. Real Valladolid: Shon Weissman (ST)
Shon Weissman scored a ridiculous 30 goals in 31 games for Austrian side Wolfsberger in the Austrian Bundesliga. Real Valladolid, thoroughly impressed, sanctioned a club record €4m fee for him. pic.twitter.com/tjyvOi7EMK
— Pausa Fútbol (@PausaFutbol) September 17, 2020
Sergio’s men failed to win any of their opening eight fixtures of the newly revised calendar. Shon Weissman, the club’s record signing, found the adaption to the new league and country particularly tough. Despite being both an Israeli international and last season’s top goal scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga, he still only has only three goals to his name.
And a lack of goals is one thing the club is struggling with again despite a slightly more active transfer window in terms of recruiting attacking talent. They average just 0.95 goals per game in LaLiga 2020/21, which although a minor improvement on the last two seasons, is still not going to fire the team clear of relegation danger, particularly with the defence leaking more goals this term.
The recent pick-up of form
Despite the poor start to the campaign, Real Valladolid’s form has picked up in recent weeks as Sergio’s men have only lost three of their last eleven in LaLiga. Much-needed victories against Athletic Club, Granada, Osasuna and Getafe have propelled the club to 16th place and safely out of the relegation places, although there are still 19 match-days left.
Thanks to this most entertaining of LaLiga campaigns, in which every team is dropping points, they are just five points away from 9th place Cadiz. This week’s comeback, which saw Real Valladolid salvage a draw against Elche, with an equaliser in the 89th minute after being 2-0 down at half-time, was typical of the spirit of the side.
90' |2-2| FULL-MATCH in Zorrilla.#RealValladolid | #RealValladolidElche | #BMWfuenteolid pic.twitter.com/QIZLk89jqS
— Real Valladolid CF EN (@realvalladolidE) January 19, 2021
And a few consecutive victories plus a couple of much-needed goals from Weissman could yet see them charge up the table. Out of the bottom clubs, perhaps only Huesca cannot have this mindset, although Akhil Rawat analyses whether there is any hope for the Aragonese side who are rooted to the bottom of the table.
Still a selling club
Despite Ronaldo’s investment, Real Valladolid are still, like many of the smaller Spanish sides, a selling club. Last summer centre-back Mohammed Salisu joined Southampton for 10 million euros and the season before Fernando Calero left to join now Segunda Division Espanyol for 8 million.
The players Valladolid had on loan last season, such as Sandro Ramirez, Enes Unal and Pedro Porro have all gone onto pastures new, whilst glamour signing Hatem Ben Arfa mustered up only five appearances last term.
Although the summer capture of Weissman saw the club break its transfer record, the vast majority of incoming players have been free signings. Former Celta Vigo midfielder Fabian Orellana, West Ham goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez and Sevilla midfielder Roque Mesa joined for nothing.
Ronaldo did use his contacts at Real Madrid to make Javi Sánchez’s loan move permanent, whilst keeping established players Sergi Guardiola and Jordi Masip.
The Ronaldo project: success or failure?
It is thus too early to speak about the Ronaldo project at Real Valladolid in such terms.
Given their status as a so-called yo-yo club, that they are in LaLiga for the third successive season gives room for celebration. Last season’s 13th place finish was very respectable, and whilst they could be accused of being a selling club, most Spanish teams are.
Naturally, the global pandemic has not helped matters and makes it all the more difficult to properly judge the Ronaldo project, which is now more than two years old.
If Valladolid can avoid relegation this season and manage to stay in the Spanish top flight for the fourth season in a row, it can be counted as a success. If they improve on last season’s 13th place, then that would be a bonus, but reaching that next level is easier said than done, as many of the smaller clubs in LaLiga have found out in recent years.