‘Without the Champions League we would struggle’ - Viagas says about Lincoln Red Imps (Part one)
Lincoln Red Imps might be league champions and due to benefit from a close to a million pounds in UEFA prize money and tv rights just for entering the competition, yet not everything is as simple as many would think. Lincoln Red Imps President Dylan Viagas speaks to Stephen Ignacio about what it means to run a club in Gibraltar and still try and be successful.
Let’s talk about the Home-Grown Players first. It’s taken the initiative of clubs to get together to get the rules to be changed. Why is it so important to you?
The league needs it. We as a club have a lot of youngsters coming through the ranks, and not only youngsters but players who are at a certain age need to be playing constant football. If you are looking at it from Lincoln’s perspective we are talking four home grown players, but we might want maybe five or six or even seven because of the amount of youth coming through our ranks and some of players who are here and actually need the minutes and need to be playing.
Coming back for us, this season it has been a difficult one because we have had three changes of managers and it has been very difficult for us to keep on implementing it and having to push through players we would have liked. But I think Gigi started this season and he was doing a lot of rotations and a lot of the younger ones were getting their chance. With Chupete we got a bit stuck, the man didn’t last long so really we cannot judge him a lot on what he could or couldn’t do, and then coming back now, to Victor, he has been under an enormous amount of pressure because he has come into the league and he doesn’t know the league But he has to win the league. Okay we might have started games with three home grown players, but we also had a massive amount of injuries.
You have got this problem where you are playing for the league title, yet have to keep up with the standard of play, the economics and bringing in players who you know haven’t had the minutes. How do you balance doing what you think is right and what you know you have to do on the pitch?
The economics of the club is not like it’s the incentive, but it is what keeps the club going. Without any of the Champions League, or things like that, we would struggle to survive because of the way we are set up. We are a board of executive directors run by four people, so we don’t have any financial investors we don’t have any of that sort. So actually, our only income comes from playing European competitions. It’s a balancing act. It needs to be done. I think we have enough talent and players to be able for any manager to come and find that balance, so I am not that worried about that, but it needs to be done. All the major clubs in Europe have that problem you can look at the Barcelona’s, the Madrid’s and Liverpool’s. They have got to win and at the same time they want to bring their own players through, and how many get through? Very little. It’s a balancing act and we need to do it and find a way to do it for a simple reason. In my executive board there are four of us. We are running the club virtually singlehanded, with our businesses with our family life, at an enormous expense to our personal business, work, family, wives, children. That part nobody actually sees. It’s what goes behind the scenes. I think I speak for the whole of my board. We are not here either to get rich since we do it for free. But we are here so that the local player can achieve something. Our main goal is to see one of our top players play in a top league.
You have all got jobs outside of football but still running a football club which is a million pound plus business but is not a profit-making club, how difficult is it?
It’s really difficult you look at most clubs obviously their revenue streams are enormous. You are talking TV rights; you are talking kits deals. They have a much more ample side of the business from which they can attract revenue which we do not have. What are we trying to do at Lincoln? Obviously, it’s a strain because our ideas are two or three or even four years in front of us, but we are living on a year to year basis. Basically, it’s what it is. How do we combine it? By not pouring all the money into players. We are trying to pour money into administration, into hiring pitches, into trying to get somebody into youth development to help us with our kids. It’s not just all the money going into one pot. We are trying to push the money through so we can cover as many areas as we can on the administrative side. We are spending now more than ever for the same reason, because we cannot cope doing my work, my family life, neither myself nor board members and all the rest of them. We are having to invest in that. Going forward? I wish there was a massive investor coming into the club and take away that burden we have got, and we could actually look further afield but until that happens or doesn’t happen, we are living on a year to year basis.
So that is why for Lincoln it is so important to win the league season in - season out, because it reflects a lot not just on the economics of the club going forward. It reflects down on the youth. It might sound silly but young children want to be play for the champions. And when you are the champions you are able to attract the players and play for your team.
As the top brand but without the resources for advertising or streaming rights. How important is it for you these things happens?
We try, it’s not that we don’t. We try. Partly through the GFLA so that we can try stream some of our games and share the profit between clubs. It’s not just a deal for Lincoln. It’s a deal for everyone. We are a league and we must make use of it. It’s very difficult. For us, as a club we struggle. We get loads of requests for shirts and we can’t even cope with that. So, imagine if we had a bigger set up. We would have to spend a lot more money which we don’t have. But we struggle to even sell a shirt. It’s something that we need to try and achieve. I need to go to Geneva a lot for the football. I have a few times when we have played outside, and do you know the amount of times someone has said why can’t we but anything? I can’t even sell a pendant sometimes, and you know there is nothing much in it. The GFA is helping us with putting things in the store but the reality is that it is pittance what can generate from it.
Gibraltar walked into UEFA from being amateurs and into a professional setup and little has progressed economically. Does this show that Gibraltar is still in its infancy and it needs to still to learn?
We started in 2013 and maybe we started quicker than we should have it could be. In hindsight it’s all very nice for me to go back but maybe we should’ve waited a bit or maybe got our house in order first. But we had the opportunity and we took it. And you know, as a whole, as clubs, as whatever, we all took it. You talk about being an infancy and stuff like that but in truth we are improving a lot. I have been to the Faroe Islands and I have been to a few places and we are not that far behind.
For a small federation we are not that far behind. We are not Spain. We have 30,000 people and you go to the Faroe Islands the best part is that in every little small community they have their own pitch. Apart from that they are very similar to us. We might be in our infancy, but we are a small federation and there is only so much you can try and grasp. I will be travelling to Kosovo and I will be looking at how they are doing things there. I have been to Andorra as well and it’s the same story as us and having been to San Marino I don’t think we are that far behind.
I think there is enough potential here player-wise, people behind football, that have taken their own clubs - and I’m talking about the strain upon myself and my directors and any other people up there like Albert Parody, Alex Grech - there are many out there who have been carrying the cross over their shoulders for their team and that has to be appreciated. But we are what we are. We like thinking big but sometimes you have to sit down.
Your club has reached the champions league and people talk about the big money, the million pounds plus but you seem to be spending most of that to get there. Would you say this is true?
Yes. We make the money to spend it. Obviously the better you do the more that people want to work with you and the more that it will costs you to hire them. It’s all a vicious circle. I am doing preparations to travel to Kosovo. I am taking 35 people to Kosovo and its costing thousands. As more or less how the champions league is set up, we will have to go out once more. If you are talking about say £900,000 pounds or 900,000 Euros of prize money, you will have £200,000 you are going to spend on travelling. And travel costs and actually preparing games here, and I can tell you a rough estimate being a venue manager and now president to organise a game here is very expensive. You are talking about - if I go back the preliminary round tournament that we hosted here, and we were home - it cost the club in excess of £40,000. And there is a lot of money that gets spent and people don’t realise. They look at the big figure, but they don’t look at the rest.
Based on your figures and the fact league pays a low amount in comparison it must be a burden to get there?
Exactly the league doesn’t pay me much and obviously the players we bring from the outside to come here to Gibraltar they obviously want to get paid more than what they are getting there in Spain. We have our limits and all that, but they don’t come for pittance. Obviously, we try to bring players who are playing at a high level in Spain. We are trying to get players who are not fourth or fifth tier in Spanish football. We try. We have a large pot of HGP players, some of them have been with us all their lives and obviously they are an enormous part of our clubs, so they are well paid. And obviously the club enjoys playing them as it’s the sacrifice that they are giving us. But then you need to add the social insurance and they PAYE for all those things and the numbers start adding up. We also had a pitch in Spain we are paying thousands for all year.
And that’s for all your teams?
Yes. All our teams not just the senior teams, but it is costing us money. Whatever money we get for the youth development. The £40,000 we get every year. We spend much more than that on our youth setup. So it’s not that one thing covers the other, so it’s a business with a lot of money but with a lot of expenses, and if we talk about the Abramovich and Ronaldos of this world you can’t compare, you take away the Madrid and the Liverpools and Barcelona and you look at other small clubs and they are all struggling because you have to spend.
Would you support a wage player cap based on the revenue of the club?
I would. If you look at it from the outside it would be a brilliant idea. But if you tell me in which way you are going to control it, I would like to know it. I will give you an example. It’s gonna come as we have to produce a book for financial fair play, and they could sanction people. How are they going to control it? We can have auditors producing books on what we are spending. Who is earning what? But if I decide, me my company or anyone who is supporting a club, what if he employs the person and he plays for your team. And obviously the team isn’t carrying the burden for your wages, the company is. I can tell you this because it is something that’s happened in the Faroe Islands.
You are playing under champions league rules with the need to audit your accounts and show them publicly but clubs who don’t go under UEFA license won’t have to produce those books. How does that make you feel?
It can be done but there are too many loopholes for it to be kosher and bend the rules. There are many for it to happen. I know for a fact it was happening in the Faroe Islands. Yes, the club could be paying on one side, but he could have another employment elsewhere. They used to do it in rugby many moons ago, they explained it to me on how it works but I haven’t got the gist on how it works. But there are too many ways it can be tampered with. And coming back to talking about expenditures and all that. It cost thousands to prepare for a UEFA licence. You are talking about audited accounts. You are talking about lawyers. It is costing Lincoln, the first time that we done it costs us nearly £15,000 to do it. We have a good administration set up here where a lot of things are renewed and all that and all we are doing is the auditing which of course the clubs who are not getting into Europe do not have to do. So, it is another significant cost.
A UEFA licence needs to be applied for by February / March so if you don’t get into Europe you will have just lost that money?
Some clubs get there, or are at the possibility of getting there, and then they decide the amount of documentation you need submitting is enough to put you off. You are talking about files. It’s not a document, you are talking of files and files. Another massive expense. Not just on preparing the documentation but also your administration staff are preparing that as well.
This summer you have to make that documentation public also?
Yes, I believe it needs to be done by the end of the month.
TO READ PART TWO OF THE INTERVIEW CHECK OUT TODAY’s PRINT AND E-EDITIONS