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FC Andorra’s fairytale

77,265 people reside in an area of 468 square kilometres. For context, every single person from the country could attend a game at London’s Wembley Stadium, and that would still leave about 13,000 seats empty. 

This is Andorra in Europe. And in this country, nestled in a sweet valley of the Andorran Pyrenees, you find the 530-seater Estadi Prada de Moles. 

FC Andorra stadium
FC Andorra’s stadium stands at an altitude of 4,000ft above sea level- Highest in Spain

That’s where, 18km beyond the Spanish border, a Barcelona legend dreamt to create new history. Gerard Pique’s dream is as lofty as the then stadium of FC Andorra, which sits 4,000ft above sea level. 

 

Gerard Pique’s game-changing arrival at FC Andorra

While it’s normal for a country like England to have hundreds of clubs in just London, FC Andorra have been solely hoisting the flag in Spain for the whole country. This is where one of the most special things comes to the fore. While Andorra, as a country, is not a footballing powerhouse, their representative club is well on its way to becoming a titan in the years ahead, and not just in Andorra. 

FC Andorra have the unique situation of being the only non-Spanish club to be playing in the Spanish league system. Playing in the 5th tier as recently as 2018-19, the club has breezed through the leagues since. What changed? FC Andorra caught the eye of Gerard Pique, the legendary Barcelona defender who was looking to expand his business empire through his holding company, Kosmos. 

President Ferran Vilaseca (left) and Sporting Director Jaume Nogues (right) have spearheaded FC Andorra’s strategic rise

FC Andorra stand on the cusp of a place in La Liga SmartBank, the second division of Spanish football, just one step away from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys. How did this come about? What role did Gerard Pique, and his holding company Kosmos play in this rise? 

In a world exclusive, FootTheBall was given access to the revolution happening in this club. 

“FC Andorra is a project that we love very much here at Kosmos. It’s a dream come true for many of the people involved. It’s been so far an incredible journey, an incredible experience,” said Ferran Vilaseca, the President of FC Andorra, speaking exclusively to FootTheBall. Vilaseca is one of the chief architects behind the club’s meteoric rise to get a glimpse of how an upstart club from a small country has defied odds at every point to become the fastest rising club in all of Spain. 

It’s normal for the supporters to feel anxious when new ownership arrives. Questions abound and the owner’s motivation is at the centre of the storm. For Vilaseca, Gerard Pique and Kosmos, being involved with FC Andorra is a “dream come true”. This love and passion have been transmitted to the field as well, as seen by FC Andorra’s fairytale rise through the leagues. 

 

The fairytale

“We took the club when we were in 5th division in Spain. The club is now at Primera RFEF, which is the third division. We played the playoffs last year for promotion but didn’t make it. We have high expectations for this year,” said Ferran. 

FC Andorra match pic
FC Andorra in action against Villarreal B

Of course, when a person as ambitious as Gerard Pique is involved, there is no cap on what can be achieved at the club. After all, Pique is someone who has openly stated that he intends to become the President of Barcelona one day. This drive and ambition have been mirrored by FC Andorra as well. 

 

Champions League anthem at FC Andorra

Gerard Pique dreams of hearing the Champions League anthem at FC Andorra. To put the size of this goal in perspective, FC Andorra saw a turnout of about 30-40 people at the stadium in their first game under new ownership. 

That was Prada de Moles, now it’s Estadi Nacional. The stadium changed, so did the fortunes of the club.

“I think in the first game, we only had 30 to 43 expected fans attending the initial game when we took over the club. And now as an average, we have an average between 500 to 900 per game. In the Spanish cup, we have almost 1800 spectators, which is a very decent number for us. A very, very good number,” he says. 

fc andorra fans
FC Andorra’s following has steadily increased as football gains prominence in the country

The growth has not just been one of shock and awe, a sudden burst of life due to the new ownership that flames out. A sustained business plan has seen FC Andorra become one of the country’s premier sports teams. It’s an achievement all the more incredible, considering that winter sports, like skiing and snowboarding dominate Andorra’s sporting landscape. 

“We need to find our place within the different sports framework in Andorra. One thing I can tell you is that we went from 150 [season ticket holders]  the day we took over the club, to almost 700. But then COVID happened. So that number has lowered a bit, around 500 members right now, [We’re] trying to increase the number on a day to day basis.

“We have realised that there is interest outside the boundaries of Spain and Andorra and we’re selling jerseys very well in different parts of the world. We need to think of a strategy of, reaching those markets because we understand there we are different, we’re unique, and people like uniqueness. People like things that go out of the ordinary.”

FC Andorra and Eder Sarabia: The perfect match

Eder Sarabia, FC Andorra’s head coach and formerly an assistant coach at FC Barcelona under Quique Setien

A club can have all the business plans, but the best way to bring fans and attention to the club has always been the on-pitch success. Through shrewd investment, hard work and an incessant desire for success, FC Andorra have delivered. It has been helped by Eder Sarabia, the FC Andorra manager. Formerly an assistant coach at FC Barcelona under Quique Setien, Sarabia impressed Gerard Pique immediately. 

“Obviously, the relation between Gerard [Piqué] and the club and our previous relationship from my time in FC Barcelona was key. And then, I saw quickly that it was a solid project, that not only looks on the short term, but also on the long term, and that it was a special place to develop a project,” Sarabia says.  

“Also, the country, the environment and, obviously, the way the team played since Gabri’s arrival [Garcia, former Barcelona player and first coach since Kosmos and Clayton acquired the club]. And then the conversation I had with Jaume [Nogués, FC Andorra’s sports director] two or three days after the chat I had with Gerard, it made clear the solidity, professionality and familiarity of the club, not as common to find in the football world.”

Eder Sarabia chose FC Andorra after owner Gerard Pique was impressed by him during his spell as assistant coach at Barcelona

While the club maintains that the long-term goal is to create an “FC Andorra philosophy”, the Barcelona influence remains heavy right now. Eder Sarabia has played a huge part in translating that style of play.

“The essence is similar to the one the club had before my arrival. Being the protagonist, having the ball possession, trying to look at the opponent’s goal more than ours and building the team from the attacking part,” Eder says, about his philosophy as Head Coach. 

“Usually, the main weaknesses of our style are when we lose the ball and the opponents transition. We should be less vulnerable in those situations. Then we add some things like putting the fullbacks inside, starting to build the game from the keeper and the defenders, shortening the distance between the players in the first third. Also trying to understand when it’s the best moment to have the ball, make runs, defend with the ball and when it’s better to be more direct.”

Eder Sarabia’s forward-thinking philosophy has FC Andorra dreaming of another promotion this year

That style has been bearing fruit this season. Sarabia’s Andorra sit third in the league table, a playoff place, with the first place guaranteeing promotion to the second tier. For a club to have gone from 5th division to 2nd in four years is scarcely believable. The only other example of such a rise has been Salford City FC in the UK. 

 

Spain’s Salford City?

Somewhat similar to FC Andorra, Salford were in the 8th tier of English football when Manchester United’s famed “Class of ‘92” bought the club. In the 8 years since a meteoric rise has followed. Salford Currently currently in League Two, the fourth tier, and operate as a fully professional club. They have faced allegations of financial doping and going against the spirit of competitiveness, with the financial means at their disposal far outweighing those of their rivals in the division. 

FC Andorra’s rise has given rise to similar concerns. President Ferran Vilaseca disagrees and provides data to back this up. 

Salford City FC were in the news for their meteoric rise after Class of ’92 took over the club

“I think we have been pretty straightforward in terms of showing our financial commitments. We took over the club, and we paid around 250k to pay all debts. Then we invested a good amount of money the first year to promote because we thought it was key. We at that point in the fifth division had the highest budget of the competition. That’s true. Not by that much, but we had the highest of the table,” he says. 

An unexpected opportunity then arose for FC Andorra and being as proactive as they are, they took it without hesitation. It has worked out spectacularly. 

“We had the opportunity to buy a ticket to promote from fourth to the third division. We took the opportunity and we were the last in the table to have this opportunity. The other 19 either didn’t have the resources or they didn’t want to spend that money. Right now, if you take the table, we’re in the mid to low part of the table in terms of budgeting, there are clubs with higher budgets than us.” 

 

The road ahead

The allegations of an unfair playing advantage also vanish when FC Andorra’s outlook as a club comes to the fore. “We do not have such a great fan base as many clubs do. They have a lot of income with regards to tickets and season tickets, etc. And we have to invest as partners. But the budget that we have, it’s not that high, you know, what we try to do is maximise as much as possible, each penny that we invest into football,” he says, bringing up the gap in the more “regular” sources of income that clubs lower down the ladder have, which is the gate receipts. 

FC Andorra new logo unveiling
President Ferran Vilaseca (second from left) is “confident and proud” of the FC Andorra project

“Yeah, we face some opposition. Some people say that we spend a lot of money, we are against the spirit of competitiveness. I disagree. We invested some money, but it’s a reasonable amount of money. And we are not at the top of the table. It’s true that we like to search for the right players, that they will play the right style for us.”

Sometimes, even rapid progress can pose a challenge, which has been the case with FC Andorra. The club has been restricted in its expansion potential due to reasons beyond their control. FC Andorra play their games at the stadium situated at one of the highest altitudes in all of Spain. Furthermore, the stadium is shared with the rugby team. This makes the upkeep of the stadium to be football-ready another challenge. 

FC Andorra barcelona comp
Win against Barcelona B in the league this season, clash with FC Barcelona on the horizon soon?

“Andorra is not an easy country in terms of having an area to put a stadium because there’s a lot of mountains. So we need to find the right location to actually establish our home ground. We are now thanks to the government using a facility that historically has been for rugby and we are now sharing it with rugby. We have to also practise somewhere else. Sometimes we are growing too fast sporting-wise. From a club perspective, it’s difficult to keep up with our sporting performance. That’s our challenge. Our goal is to keep reaching and keeping up with the sporting achievements.”

 

FC Andorra- A vision realised

Syncing the on-pitch success with off-field success is a challenge they’re ready to take on. If the vision is realised, it could have a transformative effect on Andorra as a whole. In line with the “Barcelona DNA”, Ferran stresses that the club puts great emphasis on the players who “drink out of the FC Andorra style DNA”. Increasing fan numbers already indicate success in this regard. Kids are choosing football in Andorra, partly down to the success of FC Andorra. Fruitful partnerships with local clubs, like Gimnastic de Manresa, would bear fruits in the long term. 

FC Andorra youth
Grassroots programs to develop the future of the club is at the forefront of FC Andorra’s philosophy

“You need to start from the foundations of the club. We started right from the top. Andorra didn’t have a big youth squad. We’re very proud of the deal we have reached with Gimnastic Manresa, which is a town in the middle of Catalonia in between Barcelona and Andorra. That’s pretty well located to attract young players who we can acquire for our youth squad. So, we are bringing into our organisation a lot of knowledge and a lot of potential players. We’re doing the strategic plan so that all the young players drink out of this FC Andorra style DNA.”

There’s a long way to go yet. That’s unlikely to daunt FC Andorra, though, as greater obstacles have been conquered already. “I go to bed, and I have these visions, dreams,” Ferran says of his aspirations for the club. Those dreams look closer to coming true with each day. Maybe owner Gerard Pique’s dream of hearing the Champions League anthem at FC Andorra isn’t that far-fetched either. 

Vatsal Gupta
A die-hard Red Devil, who has straight up not had a good time since 2012. Lives on Korean dramas and books and can often be heard talking about armchair psychological stuff.

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