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TravelGuides – After Escribá’s sacking where will Elche’s new owners take them now? | La Liga

TravelGuides – After Escribá’s sacking where will Elche’s new owners take them now? | La Liga

Pissing off the boss is rarely a good plan and losing lots of football matches is even worse. Do both and it can only really end one way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a season ticket holder and possibly the most important coach your club has had in half a century, the man who took them up for the first time in 24 years and returned again as saviour six years later to keep them there, if you’ve taken charge of more games than anyone else, or even if you were in charge every time they finished above the relegation zone in primera since 1977, and Fran Escribá knew that. Which is why he told everyone he was going before they did.

Elche hadn’t yet announced Escribá’s sacking when Escribá announced Escribá’s sacking on Sunday evening. “Bragarnik informed me that I have been fired,” he said as he arrived in the press room at the Martínez Valero after their latest defeat, 3-0 at home against Betis. “I’m not going to analyse the game; doing so doesn’t make any sense now. This is a chance to say goodbye. I bid farewell to you lot and to the fans, who I love.”

There wasn’t much analysis to offer, even if Escribá had wanted to, his sacking not that much of a surprise. His team have won just twice all season – 1-0 against Getafe and against Celta – picking up two of the last 18 points. This was Elche’s seventh loss, their fourth in six, leaving them second bottom. It was also their worst. Only Villarreal had defeated them by more than one goal but Betis blew them away, 3-0 up after 26 minutes and able to take the rest of the afternoon off, which Escribá can now do too. There were no more goals, Darío Benedetto mostly watching from the touchline where, left out of the starting lineup for a fifth game running, he warmed up without getting on even though they needed goals and he’s a striker who joined Elche having scored 45 at Boca Juniors and 17 across two seasons at Marseille.

He is also the club’s owner.

Well, he is one of them. Benedetto is a client and now business partner of Cristián Bragarnik and a shareholder in Score Group, the company Bragarnik set up and which has owned Elche since buying control in December 2019. Bragarnik doesn’t talk all that often, which is a pity because he would have quite a story to tell, one with a cast of characters to carry a Netflix series, or so it goes. How much of it is true is another matter but this is the man who one interviewer spoke to in his office below a picture of Al Pacino as Tony Montana, two bullets balanced on the frame it was in. “I haven’t found a film that represents me like Scarface,” he told Roberto Parrottino that day, citing memories of the madness he found in Mexico. And if there is one thing Bragarnik knows it is films. That and football.

Bragarnik was a striker who played in Primera D – the fifth tier of Argentinian football – but didn’t score a lot of goals, and walked away after a game in 1999. His team scored seven but even then he didn’t get any of them, which he took as a sign to stop. A qualified lawyer, he started working in the Leyland Video Club in Flores, Buenos Aires, where in quiet spells he started taping over VHS tapes no one wanted to watch with clips of football, conjuring up visions of Trainspotting in reverse. One day a customer and a footballer from Tallares called Mariano Monrroy told him he was struggling to get a club. Bragarnik offered to help, and had soon secured him a move to Mexican club Irapauto. And so, it began.

More deals followed. Impressed, Querétaro (effectively Irapauto’s owners) employed Bragarnik as an advisor to run the club but it turned out that the main investor there was Tirso Martínez Sánchez. Known as El Futbolista, Martínez Sanchez was extradited in New York because of his connections to the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels, led by Chapo Guzmán, and sentenced to seven years in jail. That ended Bragarnik’s time there but he later returned to Mexico with Club Tijuana, owned by one of the sons of a famous, charismatic former city mayor with a private zoo. Jorge Hank Rhon was arrested in 2011, 88 firearms and almost 10,000 rounds of ammunition found at his home but subsequently released without charge and Bragarnik insisted that the inevitable association of everything in the city with crime was as unfair as it was facile: Tijuana, he insisted, was just a normal club.

Bragarnik became one of the most significant figures in Argentinian and Mexican football, representing over 50 players and advising clubs. He took Défense y Justicia up from the second tier and Diego Maradona to Mexico. When there were rumours that Maradona might become the new manager of Elche, he reportedly gave the squad Maradona shirts telling them that was as close as they were going to get but other Argentinians and other clients did come. There are seven Argentinians in the squad now. Elche were promoted to the first division in summer 2020, but Bragarnik – who bought it five months earlier, later expanding his shareholding to over 90%, in a deal valued at a total of around €28m plus the debts taken on – had already informed the coach José Rojo “Pacheta” that he would be leaving anyway, denied the chance to continue. They began in primera with Argentinian Jorge Almirón in charge instead.

Nabil Fekir scores Real Betis’s third goal – a nonchalant toe-poke – during the 3-0 win over Elche.
Nabil Fekir scores Real Betis’s third goal – a nonchalant toe-poke – during the 3-0 win over Elche. Photograph: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

It was his first time in Spain and it didn’t go well. Elche started by winning three of their first five matches but then didn’t win again under Almirón. He was sacked after 21 league games, having picked up four points from 36. Fran Escribá, born up the coast in Valencia, the man who had taken them to the first division in 2013 and then left in 2015 when despite finishing 13th they were administratively relegated because of the financial crisis that could have put them out of business, returned to rescue them. They survived on the final day with a 2-0 win over Athletic Club, 3,518 people in the stadium on the first day any fans had been allowed in for 18 months. “This is the most important moment of my career,” Escribá said at the end of a dramatic final day. “I’m exhausted and just want to go home now.”

Back in May, Bragarnik had given a long press conference to explain his approach. He returned to Elche after the pandemic, taking a hands-on role, no absentee owner. There was a commitment to keep Escribá, a man he described as “belonging” and at the start of this season Elche made eight signings. Then to everyone’s surprise and excitement too, they added Javier Pastore. Those new players included Benedetto, not just a footballer but – along with Gustavo Bou, a striker at New England Revolution – a shareholder in Score Group. Part owner of the club he plays for, in other words.

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Levante 0-0 Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona 1-0 Espanyol, Atlético Madrid 1-0 Osasuna, Sevilla 2-2 Alavés, Celta Vigo 1-1 Villarreal, Real Sociedad 0-0 Valencia, Elche 0-3 Real Betis, Granada 1-4 Real Madrid, Getafe 4-0 Cádiz

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Elche were only beaten once in the opening five games. But now it’s over; now Escribá has gone home. “The president hasn’t taken into account the many things I have done for this club,” he said. “But that’s not a reproach: he’s the owner and he does what he wants. All I can do is respect that decision.” The decision is not without its reasoning, either, and not just because of a disconnect and a hint of distrust revealed by the way it all ended. As Escribá himself put it: “this club’s place is higher up.”

Even last year saw them forced to wait on the pitch for the score from Huesca in order to stay up on the final day, their fate not in their own hands. In the end, they survived with 36 points, 18 points from 17 games only just a good enough ratio to remain in the first division extrapolated over a season. Cautious by nature, there has been little creativity, a sense that Escribá has not been sure of his best side as he tries to accommodate a changed squad. Edgar Badia’s absence in goal – out of the blue, he played for the second time this weekend – has been symbolic of that. Lucas Boyé has impressed again, but of the new signings Lucas Pérez has not been consistent, Guido Carrillo hasn’t scored, Pastore has started four times, and Benedetto has scored twice, but not started in five. And the bottom line is simple: they are in the relegation zone.

“I felt able to turn it around,” Escribá insisted but Elche have begun the search for a new coach, who they hope can get more from those players and who they hope to have in place within 48 hours. Hernán Crespo is one name to have emerged.

“I hope they get the right man,” Escribá said. “Beyond the fact that people might be angry now, when times goes by that will pass, the bad results will be forgotten and all the good things that have happened will be what’s left behind. I’m proud and happy of everything we did at this city and at this club and no one will take that away from us. You can buy a club but you can’t buy the love of the people and in the end that’s what I take with me.”

TravelGuides – After Escribá’s sacking where will Elche’s new owners take them now? | La Liga