Almeria last tasted La Liga action in 2015. Prior to their most recent two-season stint at the top table, the club have only spent four others in Primera under their current guise of UD Almeria – which has been their identity since 1989. New Saudi investor Turki Al-Sheikh is looking to change all that, bankrolling a race to promotion in an attempt to eventually challenge Spain’s giants. Rewards, however, do not come without risks, both financial and those made towards tradition.
Turki paid 15 million euros to take over the Andalusian club this summer after trying his hand at ownership to a degree of success in Africa. Immediately, the aim has been to make a surge for promotion despite Almeria’s modest recent history. Last season saw the club finish 10th, but previously plumbing the depths of 15th and 18th shows how tough it can be for a club to steady themselves after falling from the riches of La Liga.
A new era beckons, armed with new coach Pedro Emanuel and a host of fresh personnel. Almeria have lofty ambitions and the suggestions are that their resources only know the bounds of the Spanish league structure’s rules now that a billionaire is in town.
Who is Almeria’s new owner?
Al-Sheikh purchased Egyptian club Alassiouty Sport back in 2018 before changing the club’s name to Pyramids FC and going on an ambitious spending spree to assemble a very expensive set of coaching staff and an equally impressive squad that immediately burst onto the top-flight scene and finished third. A little over a year later, he decided to sell the club on – after previously flip-flopping on doing so back in February.
“Good luck to Pyramids FC in the future,” Turki posted on his Facebook page after deciding to pull the plug on this investments. “It was an enjoyable experiment. I will go into a new experience and I will call it ‘Al Assiouty Part Two’ but at another place and time.” That time and a place has proven to be in southern Spain.
Backed by reported billions, resources are not in question for Almeria. The difficulty comes in how they can invest money without falling foul of the legislation put in place to protect Spanish clubs from irresponsible ownership. Al-Sheikh has experience in a short-term role as Saudi Arabia’s sports minister, while he also has been reported to be a political adviser to his country’s crown prince, as well as being involved in sports as head of the General Authority for Sport, Saudi Olympic Committee and the Union of Arab Football Associations.
While trying to promote the profile of the Saudi league, Al-Sheikh was involved in brokering the deal which saw native players move on loan to La Liga clubs in a strategy which did not have the desired effect either on or off the field. The same aims could apply to purchasing a club in Spain.
This summer, just 37.5 million euros was spent across the entirety of the Spanish second tier. More than half of that total (20.75 million) was shelled out by Almeria. Nottingham Forest’s 18-year-old forward Arvin Appiah joined for 8 million euros, while a transfer policy of recruiting under-23 talent has been roughly adhered to.
Darwin Nunez (4 million euros) signed from Uruguay giants Penarol, while Jonathan (1 million euros) arrived from Botafogo. Former wonderkid Ante Coric has been loaned from Roma during a summer where the club have welcomed 23 new faces – some of whom were deemed surplus to requirements immediately after the takeover was complete.
Their salary cap for the 2019-20 Segunda campaign comes in at a total of 18.12m euros, only bettered by Girona (29.28m euros) and Rayo Vallecano (19.06m euros) who suffered relegation from the Spanish top flight last season. Huesca follow them, who also dropped down a tier over the summer, before recent La Liga participants in the form of Deportivo La Coruna, Sporting Gijon and Malaga.
Last season, Almeria’s salary cap sat at just 6.998m euros, meaning the club have been able to spend more than 11 million euros more on paying their squad for the coming campaign. After the new ownership put a little over 30 million euros of capital into the club, it has freed them up to invest heavily in their playing squad. La Liga’s verdict has been that clubs with Almeria’s financial standing will be able to spend 65 per cent of their incomings on player salaries.
It has been pointed out that the new ownership will not be able to use generous inflated sponsorships from Saudi Arabia in the same manner that Paris Saint-Germain have had success in the past, although new sponsors have invariably got involved with the project owing to the new commercial opportunities at hand. Changing the branding of the club appears to be up for debate too – as shown below – which would be a step down a well-trodden path towards a disillusioned fan base.
Para la próxima temporada… Porque respetamos y nos importa el sentir de nuestros aficionados, queremos saber vuestra opinión: pic.twitter.com/9CEFeKEdic
— UD Almería (@U_D_Almeria) September 6, 2019
‘Manchester City in Spain’
More positively, foundations are being laid for the future. New general director of the club Mohamed El Assy has outlined plans for big improvements to be made off the field too. Plans for a stadium renovation and a state-of-the-art training complex are already in the pipeline with discussions underway with the local council to make Turki’s dreams a reality. “The boss doesn’t like to wait, he wants everything now,” explained El Assy in a press conference.
The ambition is to mount an immediate challenge for promotion and to then continue to invest with the intention of becoming a force in La Liga. Interacting with Turki on Twitter Sayed Farouk, the technology expert who has links with Manchester United, suggested his investment could encourage a “similar experience to Manchester City in Spain”. The bar has been set and it doesn’t appear that Turki Al-Sheikh is in the business of building an empire slowly.
Diario de Almeria have reported that the club would like a 200,000 square metre plot to construct their new complex, enough space to ensure that the first team and academy ranks can co-exist.
There are already undertones of a potential online rivalry with Malaga, borne through the fact that their fellow Segunda opponents are under the ownership of Qatar’s Al Thani, while new manager Pedro Emanuel took the managerial reins at the club following a very successful season as coach of Saudi club Al-Taawoun in 2018-19. Getting Almeria into La Liga may be about proving other points away from football.
For now, Almeria have made a record start to the new Segunda campaign. Taking three wins and a draw from their opening four games, conceding just once in the process, things on the field look positive. Following their summer spending spree, new recruits are yet to be blooded into the group, suggesting there is room for plenty of growth yet. The Andalusian club are now well-equipped to make moves towards La Liga, but the scope of Turki Al-Sheikh’s new project is yet to be truly determined.
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