No, this isn’t a sweeping fantasy story from the quill of Bilbo Baggins. This is the tale of a modest Spanish football club, one of the diminutive Hobbit proportions in the grand scheme of things, located in a city that is steeped in history and culture.
Were he to have written about footballing adventures, even the brilliant literary mind of Tolkien couldn’t have imagined the story of Granada CF in recent years. And it all began with the arrival of a mysterious presence from the east.
Plenty Ambition, Little Ideas
Just a couple of weeks before the 2016-17 LaLiga season began, Granada CF was bought by a Chinese consortium. John Jiang, having assumed the club presidency, enthusiastically promised gathered journalists that within five years, this previously undistinguished club would be playing in Europe within five years.
Jiang would actually be quite prophetic with his ambitious prediction, although disastrously wrong in many others and his management of the club.
As it also turns out, Jiang wasn’t actually the owner everyone thought he was, when he eventually disappeared and the true owners of the club emerged, located somewhere in Shanghai, apparently.
To set these ambitious wheels in motion, Pere Guardiola (Pep’s brother) was brought in to oversee the new project.
Paco Jemez, then considered the cavalier darling of Spanish football anoraks, was hired as manager. He was promised an extensive shortlist of players to suit his possession-based style. Just one from a shortlist of some thirty-plus targets actually arrived.
4 – Tony Adams has become the first Granada manager to lose his first four games in La Liga. Fall. pic.twitter.com/RewWKO1YRt
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 1, 2017
Six weeks into his tenure, highly miffed and feeling decidedly misled, Jemez criticised how the club was being run and was promptly fired.
This hastily cobbled together squad of players would then get a second manager, then a third, then finally Tony Adams. The legendary former Arsenal and England favourite had been hired as a consultant, but now found himself stewarding the team’s relegation.
But one thing Adams did provide before departing, once relegation became unavoidable, was good advice to the owners. One record Granada had established in the midst of a dire season, was fielding a starting eleven with eleven different nationalities.
Adams insisted that moving forward, it made sense for a Spanish club to have Spanish players and staff. Fortunately, that advice was taken to heart when the rebuild began, which led to an intriguing period in which everything seemed to be heading in the right direction, as the club embarked upon a new adventure.
The Sky is the Limit
Now the first season in Segunda was rather disappointing, it has to be said. Granada had the biggest budget and assembled an excellent squad, on paper.
Not only were all the players now Spanish, but most of them also hailed from Andalusia, the region in which this club is located. While the objective of immediate promotion was missed, solid and stable foundations were set in place.
Ahead of the 2018-19 season and with little fanfare, Diego Martinez was appointed as manager. He was young and had coached his way up the footballing ladder, yet his previous job at Osasuna hadn’t worked out so well.
Nevertheless, his positive demeanour and sincerity was immediately appealing to Granada fans. They regarded him as one of their own, there was a solid connection between the stands and the dugout, which is a rare feat for any manager to achieve these days.
The legend of Granada CF just keeps growing. With a small budget & squad Diego Martínez has worked miracles, qualifying for the Europa League in 1st season back in LaLiga, reaching the quarters & now a 1st ever away win at Barça to blow the title race wide open. Sensational. pic.twitter.com/B70w0BWdVR
— Alex Brotherton (@alex_brotherton) April 29, 2021
Martinez established an amazing team ethos, deployed simple yet effective direct football based upon hard work and effort, then led his team to automatic promotion.
Despite being tipped amongst the candidates for relegation, during a remarkable 2019-20 campaign Granada stunned everyone in LaLiga, finishing 7th in the table to secure the last Europa League spot.
For the first time in this club’s history and in what was the 90th anniversary season, Granada was participating in a continental competition.
Not only that, this team of upstarts would also upset some big names in the Europa League, beating Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in the group stage, then Italian outfit Napoli in the knockout phase.
This fairy tale adventure ended in the quarter-finals at Old Trafford, eliminated by Manchester United, although Granada fans were simply happy to have enjoyed the ride. After all, they had never imagined a European run in their wildest dreams, and couldn’t wait for the next chapter in what seemed to be a new golden age for the club.
If It Isn’t Broke…
Despite the pressures of playing in Europe, plus a host of injury niggles and problems, Granada finished in the top half of the table again under Martinez.
He was due to renew his contract at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, although after everything pointed towards him staying, the most successful manager in the club’s history decided to walk away.
Word on the grapevine was that Martinez felt misled. Antonio Monterrubio, the director general under this successful period, had been sacked unfairly by the Chinese owners.
They appointed a new board, who apparently promised further investment and continuity of the project. When the board went back on those promises, Martinez was understandably reluctant to hang around.
Irrespective of the old ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ saying, the owners and the new board returned to their Barcelona fetish, which had already failed spectacularly the first time around.
The direct but effective style of Martinez now gone, they wanted attractive passing and possession, albeit with a squad of players entirely unsuited to such an expansive style.
⏰ 24 hours on…
Not a single Granada player has posted a message to former coach Robert Moreno on social media.
He’s reported to have left the club without saying goodbye to any of the players.
— La Liga Lowdown 🧡🇪🇸⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) March 7, 2022
Granada hired former Spain coach Robert Moreno, then recruited Pep Boada from Barcelona as the new sporting director, despite his reservations about the managerial choice.
Needless to say, this new look Granada was a disaster from the get-go, with a team completely unsuited to what the manager wanted, prone to running around like headless chickens in most games.
Yet because they had hired Moreno, the board refused to accept his appointment was a failure. That is, before reaching a point of the season whereby finally sacking him has arguably come far too late.
It needed a run of nine games without victory, and the team teetering on the precipice of the relegation zone, for the Granada board to take the required action. Heading into the final ten games of the season, the journey of the last few seasons appears to be coming full circle.
Here We Go Again
Perhaps the key element this particular tale underlines, quite emphatically it seems, is that when people who don’t understand football are involved in making decisions, there’s a good chance that things can go wrong. Unfortunately, this is becoming glaringly obvious at Granada.
In some respects, it’s a bit like asking a fruit and veg vendor to give you the latest football odds. What you’ll get in return is a bemused look, shrug of the shoulders, and possibly a bag of potatoes.
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10 – Granada have failed to win any of their last 10 #LaLiga games (D3 L7), their longest winless run in a single top-flight campaign since their last 13 games of the 2016/17 season (D1 L12), when they were relegated. Decline#GranadaElche pic.twitter.com/QpcWQyufml
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 12, 2022
Meanwhile, it seems that any advice given the Chinese owners and the board at Granada is falling on deaf ears. Having initially learned from their mistakes, then laying the foundations of an impressively promising project, they went and tore it all apart.
The triumvirate who had led this club to unprecedented success, comprising of a director general, sporting director, and the only manager to bring European football in 90 years of history; they are all gone. Instead, what has followed is a catalogue of mistakes and poor decisions.
Unless there is a miraculous turnaround in results, with the B team coach having been installed as interim first team head coach, Granada appear to be heading back to the Segunda.
Instead of trusting the football people who did great work, the owners once again put their faith in lawyers and marketing executives. Such is the cautionary tale of club owners who never seem to learn.