David Belenguer: “It was unthinkable and it is incomprehensible that Tondela play in the Cup final”

Ask. Cup Final. Historic for Tondela…

Response. Yes, the truth is that it is something incomprehensible, as if a Regional team from Spain reaches the Cup final. It was something unthinkable three or four years ago, when we arrived here, well, in the entire history of Tondela, and the People still don’t believe that we are going to play the Taça final and the Supertaça final at the end of July. For such an inland and small club like this one, having the opportunity to play two national finals is a very beautiful and emotional moment. You have to enjoy it.

P. There is a video circulating in which, talking about the two finals that Getafe reached, he ends by saying that I wish Tondela could play one. Something of a prophet has had.

A. It is true. I’ve been reminded these days and it’s funny, but he didn’t pretend to be a prophet because I never thought he was going to happen. Playing the Taça is very difficult for a club like us. You have to take advantage of it and give your best, because you don’t know when these opportunities will come back… or if they will come back. Let’s see if we just hit the bell.

P. Porto has just won the League…

R. If you play a final, it is normal for you to have a tough opponent. Not in a championship, because the entity of the clubs is more noticeable, but in a game anything can happen: they have a bad day, you have a good one, the coach hits the key when planning the game and key players both offensively and defensively are successful. That’s why it’s football, that’s why it’s so beautiful… because it’s perhaps one of the only sports in which something like this could happen.

You have to take advantage of it, because you don’t know if these opportunities are going to come back

David Belenguer (president of Tondela)

Q. Going back in time, how did David Belenguer get to Tondela?

A. Because of a series of coincidences that occur over time. There comes a time when you see the opportunity to take the step forward. I gave it and here I came, first within a group that managed several clubs but that was dissolved due to economic and structural problems, so those clubs were separated and each one is now managed individually.

P. But you were able to leave it then… has a personal bond already been created?

A. Naturally. Getting into a club has its share of responsibility, because this is not just any job. For those of us in management, there ends up being an important personal link, because if there isn’t, it’s difficult to manage well. With that we took the step forward to redirect the project that was… and until today.

P. Tondela has spent a good part of its history in district categories, not even in Second…

R. It is that it is a very small club, in fact when we arrived it was a non-profit institution and the conversion into SAD was done by us. Thanks to the work of Gilberto Coimbra, who is the president of the club, with a good promotion of players and after a series of successes he got into the First Division in a surprising way. We have endured there for a long time, each year performing a small miracle and saving five out of seven on the last day. It is the level and they are the limitations at the level of budget, institution or environment support. It is very difficult for a club like this to stay in the First Division for many years.

People saw that we came with the intention of contributing, not filling the sack

P. Until the ball starts rolling there are people working. Has modernizing the club been one of your priorities?

R. When you decide to lead a project like this, you try to capture your ideas. For good players to come you have to put in good conditions. With some facilities it is possible to grow and improve. In Portugal it is not usual to invest in the brand, in the modernization and professionalization of the departments, but every year we have taken one more step to have a club that is as structured as possible, that does not simply depend on you bringing in a series of players and getting it right with everyone, but that in case of relegation the foundations are laid to return immediately to First.

P. But getting it right is more difficult if you can’t compete in the market…

R. We go to the market when there is no one. If we have competition we know that we are not going to win. Even those who rise do so with more budget than us, but that has its share of motivation to hit more. It is impossible to always get it right, but here you pay dearly for those who make more than one mistake, while others have the possibility of repairing it. We only have one bullet and it’s more complicated, of course.

Q. How was the reception when you arrived at the club?

R. We are in another country, it is true, but that is something generic: when someone from abroad arrives, everyone is waiting to see what foot you limp on. When we came we noticed that expectation of checking what mentality we did it with, but I defend that it can be managed under one or the other, but that those who have to execute that plan are local. Beyond one or two people in key places, the rest are people who were already or who we have hired in Portugal. Those who know the most are those who have been in a place for a long time. Once that happened, people saw that we came with the intention of contributing, of growing, not of filling the sack as they say here. We created departments that didn’t exist, because, as happens in many clubs, everyone did everything to get ahead on a day-to-day basis. There was no delimitation of functions. Today we are the model project of the Portuguese League to modernize small clubs. It is the fruit of the work of these years.

Q. Do you notice that you have grown personally?

A. Yes. As an owner you have to know how to get out of the way. That is difficult, but to ask for responsibilities you have to give freedom so that decisions are made. It’s not always easy to shut up and let them work, but I’ve learned a lot from that situation. The fact of being so few at the management level does mean that you end up getting involved in the strategic planning of all areas. I try to give people space, but I do have a more global vision than I had.

Q. As a footballer, you were already interested in management…

R. Yes, in recent years I began to train. I always say that being a player helps you, but it’s not enough. Today the clubs are much more professionalized, but before you learned how things didn’t have to be done. The management was almost amateurish. But criticizing is easy and building is the complicated part, so I began to train in a degree and different postgraduate courses, specializing in the management of sports entities at a global level. If you don’t do it, you don’t contribute great things. There are more and more people who know what happens on the pitch, but who are also properly trained to contribute. You have to have tools to take advantage of the knowledge you acquire over the years consciously or unconsciously.

P. Soccer is cruel and has two faces. The Cup final comes just after relegation.

R. It was a risk that we were running since we got into the quarterfinals, because we do not have enough strength as a team to be successful in both. Getting so distracted with the Cup multiplied the chances of ending up paying for it in the League. In a certain way it is understandable: almost no player has experienced this in his life and many of them will not experience it again because it is very difficult. It is a paradox that in the same week you live one of the most beautiful moments and one of the saddest.

Today we are the model project in Portugal to modernize small clubs

P. How do you see the future of the club?

R. First compete in the Cup, being aware that you have to separate one thing from the other, and from the day after start building to compete again and return to First, there is nothing else. Now it is painful and hard to manage this situation, individually and as a group, but it is football and it is the law of life. We are not the first nor are we going to be the last to descend, more so in teams of this profile, Second up, First down… it is day to day.

P. Getafe also serves as an example there. He came back a season later…

A. It is easier said than done. We have worked to provide the club with an internal infrastructure and strength, so that if this happened there would be tools to return to First Division. That it was not a catastrophe that would end in total depression and disappearance at a professional level.

P. And the particular future of Belenguer?

A. I don’t know… if you had asked me two years ago where I was going to be today, I wouldn’t have been able to tell either. I will continue working in this industry, which is the one I trained for and the one I continue to study for. You have to learn from this situation too. Yesterday I told the players that this is not the time for reproaches, although the body asks to let off steam, but to plant your feet on the ground and endure the wave. On a personal and institutional level we have to take advantage of it to grow. It’s no use crying: great clubs grow from situations like this and great players use them to be better. Avoiding this pain by being aware of it is a brutal source of energy.

Getting so distracted with the Cup multiplied the chances of paying for it in the League

P. Beyond Tondela, what have you found in Portugal?

R. Many good things. A country that is fantastic, one of the best places to live, but that I only knew as a tourist. And two exemplary institutions of which I am a part, the Federation and the League, in which there is a lot of work to be done. We are in the process of unification and joint sale of television rights, which is going to completely change Portuguese football. I’ve tried to bond since my arrival, becoming one more because I don’t understand it any other way, and it’s been an enriching experience.

Q. Every inhabitant of Tondela could have a ticket for the final…

R. And there would be plenty. Here there are no raffles to see from which membership number we start. When we arrived, the average attendance was about 1,000 people and now we have about 3,000 subscribers. It is one of the areas in which we have grown, but it is also the reality of this club. We are talking about a city that does not have a place for the final, it is that it has it in its stadium. With all the population of Tondela we still have plenty of seats. We have to go a little further and bring people from the parishes to fill it out. It’s a bit of the romantic part of this project.

P. Now that they are 90 minutes away from a title, should we remember that in football you lose more than you win?

A. Always. There are many sad moments and few happy ones, especially in small teams. The reality of soccer does not appear in the first pages, because it is not that you lose more than you win, but sometimes you do not even win. Even so, we are still hooked on this sport. When a moment of joy comes, it makes up for everything else. That’s why you have to take advantage of it… and celebrate it.


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