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Brazilian legend Ronaldo looking to take Spanish team to new heights

EDMONTON, Alta. —

Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo wants to take Spanish club Real Valladolid to the next level.

Having become majority owner of the team just under a year ago, Ronaldo and David Espinar, director of the president’s office, have high aspirations for the team currently playing in the top division in the Spanish La Liga.

Real Valladolid arrived in Edmonton on Thursday and will face Cardiff City of Wales in an exhibition game at Commonwealth Stadium (7 p.m. local time) on Saturday.

“Real Valladolid is a historic club in Spain; if you add up all the years that there has been a first division, Real Valladolid is the 13th-ranked team in Spain,” Espinar said in Spanish on Thursday. “In the last few years we haven’t had much luck in staying up in the first division and our objective is not just to stay in the first division but we want to aspire to do more, to do the best we possibly can and try to get up to a level where we are competing in European competitions.

“Ronaldo is a very ambitious person and he wants this club to get bigger every year. We want to grow and move up in the division and be ambitious.”

Based in Valladolid, Spain, just over 200 kilometres northwest of Madrid, the club is among the oldest in the country. Founded in 1928, Real Valladolid has played 43 seasons in the Spanish top division, 35 in the second and 10 in the third.

They had been a fixture in the top flight for over 20 years before being relegated in 2004. The fought their way back up in 2007 and had been bouncing back and forth for more than a decade before getting back up to the first division in 2018.

Last season with Ronaldo and Espinar at the helm for the first time, Real Valladolid finished 16th in the 20-team first division, avoiding relegation.

The trip to Edmonton is part of a preseason North American tour, which began in San Jose with an exhibition game against the Earthquakes of Major League Soccer. The teams tied 1-1 on Tuesday.

“The preseason keeps getting shorter because the league keeps taking up more time,” Espinar said. “But we have started well and we feel good about our team; we’ve been able to reinforce our team. We got a lot of confidence being able to stay in the first division in the best league in the world; to be part of the 20 clubs that form that league. And we’re are very excited with our trip to Canada, to get to know a different part of the world and a different soccer culture and we want to try and expand our reach in this country.”

The first year in charge hasn’t been without its challenges for Ronaldo and Espinar, but they were successful in keeping the club in the top division, which was an important goal for the new ownership group.

They have a retired player, Borja Fernandez, being investigated for possible involvement in a league-wide match-fixing inquiry, which has still to play out.

Regardless, Ronaldo and Espinar have set a plan in place to improve the club and get it back to the competitive level, which saw them finish as high as sixth in the late ’80s.

“The first year we used to try and gather as much information as possible; what worked well and tried to maintain that and then what things didn’t work very well and try to make them better,” Espinar said. “From a sporting perspective we are trying to get more ambitious, more competitive.

“From a business standpoint, we have a lot ways to try and increase our fan base and right now we are in our ticket renewal stage. Right now we have 20,000 ticket holders and we hope to get up to 25,000.”

Real Valladolid play in the 26,512-seat Nuevo Jose Zorrilla Stadium, which hosted three games of the 1982 FIFA World Cup.

“We are looking at purchasing the stadium,” Espinar said. “Right now the it’s the property of the city and we want to buy it and invest in it. We want to reform the club and create a youth system. We want to have 3,000 kids playing and also create a structure where we have a women’s soccer program.

“There are a lot of changes that we want to make. We don’t have a lot of time to do them all at once, but we want the club to grow a lot.”

Espinar and Ronald have put a plan in place to continue building the club. They hope within five years they become a mainstay in the Spanish top division and are able to challenge for qualifying spots to European competitions.

“That doesn’t mean that after five years Ronaldo is going to leave Real Valladolid, he’s excited with this project, he considers this one of the cornerstone of his business empire,” Espinar said. “Then after five years we’ll look at the result and we’ll start another five.”

The new ownership of Real Valladolid comes well connected. During his years as a player in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid, Ronaldo was an icon. He was a member of two World Cup winning teams with Brazil and won the Ballon d’Or twice as the best player in the world.

Ronaldo was in Edmonton with Brazil in 1994 when they tied Canada 1-1 at Commonwealth Stadium. Just 17 years old at the time, he did not play in the game against Canada, nor did he get on the field in the World Cup in the United States, but would be a big part of Brazil’s victory eight years later in Korea and Japan.

“Ronaldo and the president of Real Madrid are good friends,” Espinar said. “The club Real Valladolid is friends with a lot of clubs we get along with everybody, but we have good relations with Real Madrid.

“We’ve have a player from Real Madrid that has been loaned to us and is here with us in Canada, Jorge de Frutos, who we got around a week ago, and hope they’ll be able to lend us another player which will help our team.”

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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