Former players revamp Huesca, turn it into Spain sensation
In this Wednesday Aug. 29 2018 photo, Huesca players train ahead of the teamâs match against Barcelona on Sunday, just outside of the city of Huesca, Spain. Always faithful, never surrender. The motto has guided the small club of Huesca as it endured several decades in the lower divisions of Spanish soccer. Huescaâs never-give-up attitude is finally being put to the test at the highest level in Spainâs La Liga, thanks to two former players who a decade ago set out a plan to revamp the modest club. The newly promoted club has its first high-profile match in the top tier on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018 against Lionel Messiâs Barcelona. (Tales Azzoni/Associated Press) September 1 at 11:39 AM
HUESCA, Spain â" Itâ s been a different kind of summer for 13-year-old Sergio and his friends in the small Spanish city of Huesca.
Theyâve done something they could never do before: enjoy from up close a first-division soccer team in Spainâs La Liga.
âItâs a strange feeling,â Sergio said as he waited to get autographs from players of newly promoted Huesca before a training session. âItâs a dream to be able to see our team in the first division, playing against clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid. This is a big deal for us.â
He was among several kids who spent their vacation morning watching the cityâs latest heroes practice ahead of a much anticipated match against Lionel Messiâs Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium on Sunday.
It will be Huescaâs first high-profile match since it earned its historic promotion last season, a feat few thought possible until the arrival of two former players who set out to revamp the modest club more than a decade ago.
â The game against Barcelona is a prize for us,â said club president Agustin Lasaosa, one of the former players who transformed Huesca. âWe already know Barcelona is expected to win. It may win 5-0. But letâs see; you still have to play the game.â
The match comes on the heels of a surprising start for Huesca, which won at Eibar and drew at Athletic Bilbao.
The last time Huesca played Barcelona at Camp Nou it lost 8-1 in a 2014 Copa del Rey game. It lost the first leg 4-0 at home in what had been the teamsâ first meeting.
Huesca was a third-division team then. It went back and forth between the third and fourth tiers after its debut in 1960 until reaching the second division for the first time in the 2008-09 season.
Its motto, âFieles siempre, sin reblarâ (Always faithful, never surrender), which includes an expression from the Aragon region where the team is based in northeastern Spain, helped guide the club as it endured life in the lower d ivisions.
But it was Lasaosa and Jose Antonio Martin Otin âPeton,â teammates at Huesca in the late 1970s, who spearheaded the project to modernize the club in the mid-2000s.
Peton is a widely known soccer analyst in Spain and a successful agent. He is touted as Spainâs Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese agent of Cristiano Ronaldo.
âWe thought it would be good to get together and try to do something for Huesca,â Lasaosa told The Associated Press. âWe wanted to begin a small revolution. But at the time that only meant to stop struggling in the third division. ... Now look where we are. We made it to the best league in the world.â
Lasaosa said that when they arrived in 2006, the club had only a handful of employees and was 300,000 euros ($350,000) in debt. Staffers took more than one role to help out as the club started its road to recovery.
âYou have to spend what you have, not more than what you have,â Lasaosa said. âThatâs what made us strong. We donât owe a single euro to anybody.â
Huesca survives mainly from the money it receives through La Liga for television rights, with the help of many small sponsors. The teamâs budget was about 8 million euros ($9.3 million) last season and is expected to reach more than 40 million ($46 million) in the first division.
âWe are getting a lot more money this year, but we have a lot more costs as well,â Lasaosa said.
The teamâs renovated El Alcoraz Stadium will go from around 5,000 capacity to nearly 7,500.
âThat may be considered a small number, but we are talking about more than 10 percent of the population,â Lasaosa said. âI remember that when I arrived you could count the fans with your fingers. There were only a few hundred people watching the matches.â
Located by the Pyrenees near France, Huesca is a medieval city of about 50,000 known mostly for tourism, with great locations for outdoor sports and good gastronomy . It is just north of Zaragoza, home to Huescaâs biggest soccer rival, Real Zaragoza.
Huesca was founded in 1960 but existed in different forms since 1910, when it was originally created by a group of Barcelona supporters, reflected in the âazulgranaâ colors on its uniform.
The club was pleased to keep young Colombian forward Cucho Hernandez, whose loan from English team Watford was extended for another year. Huesca also made the controversial signing of Ruben Semedo, a former Villarreal player who is facing attempted murder charges in Spain.
The team is coached by former Argentina goalkeeper Leo Franco, who praised the clubâs close connection with the local community.
âItâs important for the player to know where the club comes from, to know its culture,â said Franco, who also played for Huesca.
After the teamâs open practice session this week, fans were allowed to enter the field to talk to players. It ended with a group photo with the whole squad.
âHuesca used to be everyoneâs second team, after Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid or Barca,â said Sofia Avellanas, who took a group of kids to the training session. âBut things have changed. Now itâs clear, itâs all about Huesca.â
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