Johannesburg - La Liga’s offices at the posh Commerce Square in Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, speak volumes about its success and vision. This is no Mickey Mouse business, evidently.
And despite being about 20 minutes early for the appointment with the organisation’s Africa manager/director Antonio Barradas, he is ready for the interview.
The organisation has been in South Africa for exactly a year, having opened its offices on November 25 last year.
“I am quite happy with the progress we have made in the past 12 months,” he says.
“We started quite [slowly], as we first had to register the company and open a bank account before we could hire any staff.”
La Liga is now a registered South African company that pays taxes and has three full-time employees. It is in the process of employing one more person.
“We have established a partnership with SuperSport, which has broadcasting rights in 54 African countries,” he says.
“We have already opened another office in Nigeria. We are also working [on] forming partnerships with the PSL [Premier Soccer League] and Safa [the SA Football Association].
“We are not here to start something new, but to help where we can with development.”
In the year that La Liga has been in the country, it has started several programmes, including:
. A schools programme in partnership with the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation;
. Mentorship at grassroots training level;
. A grassroots project; and
. A partnership with the organisers of the Mahlobo Games, which take place in Soweto every December.
La Liga on Saturday hosted two events around El Clásico, the huge Barcelona vs Real Madrid match. There was public viewing at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.
Alexandra, northeast of Joburg, hosted a grassroots engagement with former French international and Real Madrid legend Christian Karembeu in the morning. He is La Liga’s African ambassador.
It was announced a few days ago that La Liga had joined hands with organisers of the New Year’s Cup tournament, which will be held in Grahamstown from December 16 to 31.
“Our partnership with the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation will see us assisting 20 schools nationwide with football equipment,” Barradas says.
“About 90% of South African sport is football, so we need the 200 trainers to multiply the number of coaches who can coach at grassroots level. Say, children from the age of seven up.”
He praised La Liga president Javier Tebas, saying his leadership and vision helped the organisation grow.
“When he took over three years ago, La Liga had 30 staff members. And that has grown to 170 people,” he says.
La Liga was about €600 million in the red and is now €400 million in the black and has the best credit standing in Europe.”
As a result, clubs affiliated to La Liga are getting more grants; are run on strict financial lines and have refurbished their stadiums. Another advantage is that relegated clubs will continue to receive the same amount in grants for at least another year to fulfil their commitments to players.
“The president works 24 hours,” he says.
The main aim of the African project is to unearth future Cristiano Ronaldos and Lionel Messis.
“Can you imagine an Africa-born player growing to [the] status [of] being the best player in the world? With the abundance of talent [on] this continent, it is very possible.”
He managed the 70s-era Lusitano FC, which boasted legends Nuno Gomes and Larry De Freitas, and caused havoc in the old National Football League. The whites-only league was absorbed into the National Professional Soccer League.