Marbella is a strange place, one that most people in the United Kingdom will have probably heard of through the “no carbs before Marbs” quote made famous by sociological car crash The Only Way is Essex, but if asked to elaborate on the coastal town in the south of Spain, I doubt many could.
Once the prime location for Premier League footballers to unwind away from the monotonous routine of professional football, it has now become a hotbed of activity for cast members of the aforementioned “reality” TV show, as well as some more than shady characters who’d be right at home in the boardroom of many an elite level football club.
From 1991-2002, Marbella had an eccentric and hard-line mayor, often compared to the caricature that is Donald Trump, named Gregorio Jesús Gil y Gil or better known as Jesús Gil. A man who claimed Jesus Christ, Franco and Che Guevara were his three idols – he installed a bust of Franco in the Marbella Town hall – made his fortune from the construction of gated communities from the 1960’s onwards.
Controversy was never far away from Gil. A prophetic story from the early days of his career in construction illustrates how Gil’s greed often blinded him from the catastrophic consequences of his actions and acts as a running theme throughout the outspoken man’s life. In the summer of 1969, Jesús Gil was hosting a dinner for 700 people at a restaurant in the newly completed complex of San Rafael near Segovia. Not long after Gil excused himself to show some potential buyers their new home, the roof collapsed, killing 58 people, and seriously injuring many more.
During the autopsy of the accident, it had been found that the cement hadn’t been allowed to dry, causing the roof to fall in. On top of that, neither an architect nor a surveyor had given the go ahead for building, and plans for the property didn’t exist. Gil received a five year jail sentence only to be personally pardoned by Franco himself after serving only 18 months.
You’d hope that the death of almost 60 people would act as a wake up call. Not for Gil. During his time on earth, a desire to risk everything for short-term financial gain would follow him around and pop up with terrible advice, like a betting app in the pocket of a recovering gambling addict.
In the football world, Gil is best known for his time as president of Atlético Madrid, from 1987 to 2002. Controversy from his business and political dealings trudged beside Gil into the football world, with examples ranging from a long-running court case relating to Marbella, sponsoring Atlético Madrid for a handsome £2 million, referring to French referee Michel Vautrot in 1990 as a “faggot”, and also calling the Ajax team Atlético faced in the Champions League quarter finals of the 1996/97 season “FC Congo” due to the amount of players with African descent in their squad.
Perhaps the most controversial and catastrophic moment in Gil’s presidency came from his decision to make the team a ‘Sociedad Anónima Deportiva’ – a Public Limited Sports Company – in 1992. In order to verify accounts for this conversion, an audit was conducted, and serious financial problems became unearthed, meaning drastic changes needed to be made.
These changes would come in the shape of Atlético’s youth system. At the time, with two teams in each age range from the under-12’s upwards, they were having problems of their own. Coaches went unpaid, players living on the outskirts of Madrid failed to receive travel expenses, and many didn’t have their social security paid for, as was required by law.
Eventually, a drastic downsize in the youth setup left Atlético with only an under-15 and under-19 team. This meant dozens of young players were cut adrift into uncertainty, many of whom possessed prodigious talent. In fact, towards the end of spring in 1991, and before this drastic downsizing, Gil told Spanish TV show Tantos Contentos how proud he was of his under-15 team. They had just won the Spanish championship for their age group, and had done so by scoring 264 goals in only 22 games.
Gil himself singled out one player in particular for praise. This youngster had been a diehard Atlético fan since he could kick a ball and was captain of the side with, 55 goals of his own. His name? Raúl Gonzalez. “Remember that name” Gil exclaimed. “He’s going to be a phenomenon”.
Gil wasn’t wrong, but thanks to his desire to make Atlético Madrid in to a PLSC in order for him and business partner Enrique Cerezo to illegally acquire thousands of shares and millions of pounds, his decision to almost do away with the youth system entirely meant Raúl left to join bitter rivals Real Madrid. He would go on to gain legendary status for Los Blancos and Spain respectively, scoring his first goal for Real in his second senior appearance against his former club and boyhood team in a 4-2 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu.
This and the relegation of the club to the Segunda Division in 1999 were two of the low points in Gil’s tenure as president. However, there were also many highs. Winning the Copa Del Rey consecutively in 1991 and 1992 – along with the only league and cup double in Atlético’s history in 1996 – certainly make the darker years easier to induce, but one can’t wonder what might have happened if Gil had never been able to acquire the club.
Would Raúl have gone onto achieve great success with Los Rojoblancos instead of their local rivals? Would that success have been as good as the success attained under Gil? And would other potential owners and consortia looking to buy clubs be put off from doing so having seen Gil fail in his attempts to claim total autonomy of Atlético Madrid?
There is certainly an argument to be made that, with Raúl leading the Atlético line, they may well have equalled (or even bettered) their success under Gil. In stark contrast, Gil was at the centre of the club’s relegation problems, with off-field investigations into corruption and embezzlement suspending him from the boardroom, not to mention the ever-revolving door of managers that would have made even former Palermo chairman Maurizio Zamparini wince. Therefore, it is probably safe to acknowledge that, without Gil, Atlético wouldn’t have suffered only their second relegation in their history.
Of course, out of the ashes of terrible decisions, a phoenix occasionally rises, and this time it was in the shape of a baby-faced product of the newly reinvested youth system, who spearheaded Atlético to a return to La Liga. Fernando Torres – Atleti’s very own ‘El Niño’ – may never have had the opportunity to shine had his team not been in an inferior league, and his goals and eventual transfer fee were the catalyst for Atlético to become a club who bought wisely and sold for great profit.
This has been a hugely influential factor in the club reaching the dizzying heights of a La Liga championship, two Champions League finals, and Europa League and Copa Del Rey successes, not to mention an array of talent that enjoyed moments of supreme quality whist in the Spanish capital, some of whom continue to do so.
How much Atlético’s success would have altered without the ill-gotten gains of Gil is minimal. Instead of drastic success in the form of silverware and star talent – and drastic failure in the form of relegation – it would probably have plateaued into a more consistent kind of progression, more than likely centred around youth product Raúl.
However, whether or not other owners would have been put off taking over a club and monopolising the power to almost totalitarian rule by Gil’s troubles with bureaucracy and the domestic government is moot. Unfortunately for most football fans, we live in a world where money matters, and as long as you have the capital, you can buy a football club. Bad tax history? No problem. Poor human rights record? Forget about it. Hunt the poor for fun? Better wipe your shoes before you come in.
Gil’s story is one that should be looked at more closely by the authorities who allow such horrendous owners to take control of clubs and bleed them dry for their own financial gain. Say what you want about Gil, but he brought success to Atlético.
English football also has some truly awful owners, and in a recent survey conducted by Against League 3, Roland Duchatelet beat off competition from the likes of Massimo Cellino, SISU, the Oystons, the Venkys, and Leyton Orient’s Francesco Becchetti to win the worst football club ownership award.
To say the racist, homophobic, sexist and corrupt Jesús Gil was as bad as these clowns is not only false, but it puts all of them below a man who had close ties to one of Europe’s most notorious dictators. Even more worrying is the fact that the Football League Association and Premier League have been happy to stand by and watch as these businessmen and women strip the assets of their respective clubs away piece by piece, whilst simultaneously fining clubs with little to no money for fielding a weakened team in the Checkatrade Trophy. The priorities of these organisations is as transparent as a supervillian’s checklist for world domination.
Yes, some clubs in England have had to do away with their respective youth systems, but usually it is due to external (often financial) circumstances.
Torquay United, Crawley Town and Wycombe Wanderers have had to scrap their youth teams in recent years because of said factors. Whereas Brentford – the most recent club to say ‘so long’ to their younger players – caused uproar when deciding it was fruitless to continue with the system when their resources are galaxies away from the elite clubs who can cherrypick players at will thanks to the new regulations put into practise by the authorities allowing players under the age of 18 to leave for nominal fees.
Brentford’s decision to use the finances that would have been spent on the youth set up to focus on the first team and development squad for 18 to 21-year-olds will need to time to be vindicated.
Jesús Gil was a man that was larger than life. After winning the double in 1996, he rode through Madrid on a white horse claiming that his popularity was so high at that point, “I could be God!”. Imagine John Lennon’s face. If he hadn’t been president of Atlético Madrid, the club would be a very different place today, and considering the amount of success the team has had in recent years, you can possibly begin to understand why the Atlético fans generally hold Gil in high regard. Of course, us fans are a fickle bunch.
Gil’s influence at the club continues today. The man that took over after Gil was forced to resign in 2002 was Enrique Cerezo, the same man who helped Gil illegally acquire more than 230,000 shares in the club during their infamous decision to make Atlético a PLSC. The owner of Gil’s shares is his son Miguel Ángel Gil Marín. He is still the majority shareholder.
If there is anything to be learnt from Gil’s time at Atlético Madrid, it’s that you can’t hide from the truth forever. No matter how much you shut yourself off from reality and count endless stacks of cash, eventually someone or something will knock on your door with some bad news. Of course, Atlético have been successful in recent years, but how much of that is down to Diego Simeone? We will only uncover that truth once the Argentine decides it’s time for a new challenge.
If you allow reckless and short-sighted greed to run amok, it will come back to bite you. As previously mentioned, greed can blind people from catastrophic future consequences. The fans of Leyton Orient, Coventry City, Charlton Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Nottingham Forest, Blackpool and many more can attest to that.