Glenn Hoddle seems an unlikely saviour, but one struggling club has survived due to a deal with his academy. Steve Wilson reports
The Spanish region of Andalucía, with its year-round sunshine, unspoiled beaches and sprawling vista of manicured golf courses, is long accustomed to English visitors. Some recent arrivals, however, are here for more than just a two-week getaway and the chance to improve their handicap. An unlikely alliance between a former England manager, a group of young players deemed surplus to requirement at British clubs and a lower league Spanish side has seen Los Ingleses welcomed with open arms in the unassuming town of Jerez.
The local team, Jerez Industrial, then of the Spanish third tier, ousted their unpopular president, Ricardo García, two days before the end of the January transfer window. Players had not been paid all season and the club was fighting for survival. Short on numbers and with no money to recruit, the club were rescued by Glenn Hoddle, who has run an academy in nearby Montecastillo for the past two years.
Six players were loaned to Jerez for the remainder of the season. The club limped on but relegation could not be averted. Then, this summer, with the club once more staring into the abyss, Hoddle assumed complete control of the football side of operations. When the new season began with a 1-0 victory over Algeciras, the squad of 22 players included just two Spaniards and an Irishman. The rest were English.
Hoddle's academy selects young players released by clubs who he feels have a chance of making it back into professional football after they have effectively been told otherwise. They are offered contracts which cover accommodation, food, travel and a modest allowance of €100 (£87) a week. Hoddle himself says his idea stemmed from the difficulty he faced in having to release a group of young players when he was manager of Swindon and some among them burst into tears in his office. It left a big impression on a man not always credited with the personal touch.
It is not, of course, a purely philanthropic endeavour. The aim is to see players quickly shipped out to other clubs with sell-on clauses reaping dividends as player rights are retained by the academy. There is already talk of a sister project in South Africa to mine the wealth of talent on that continent. In the future, out-of-contract players will be able to keep sharp and on agents' radars between transfer windows by spending time in Spain, for a price.
Nonetheless, it is an imaginative and, so far, successful enterprise that deserves respect and at least a voice in the discussions currently taking place over attitudes to youth development on these shores. That the Premier League was offered involvement at its birth but declined should surprise no one. "We give extra time to talent that we can improve and hopefully give them that second chance to go on and make their own careers," explains Hoddle.
"How quickly they want to develop, how quickly they want to take on board the things we're telling you, how hard they want to work to facilitate that is up to them. But what an opportunity we are giving English players, the chance to go and play in Spain. We are balancing off the imbalance [of foreign players moving to England] if you like, albeit at a different level for now."
A loan of around £160,000 was provided to pay off debts and keep the club afloat. But it is money well spent if it gives Hoddle's players a chance to prove themselves in a competitive environment as other clubs consider following his lead in doling out second chances. Hoddle himself is not on the bench on match days. But his coaches, Graham Rix, Dave Beasant and Nigel Spackman, will take turns in assisting the Spanish manager. It wasn't always part of the plan, but in a rapidly evolving project the opportunity presented itself at a time when it was too good to refuse. "The door opened because of the club's situation. They were in big trouble financially," says Hoddle. "So we said if they prepared to do an agreement with us, and let us run the football side, we could fill their 22 places with our players, then we control who plays and how they play."
Hoddle's preaching of a continental brand of football and his rescue of a dying club means, unlike some other visitors to Spanish resorts this or any other summer, these Brits abroad have, so far, been more than welcomed by the locals.
From WSC 285 November 2010