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Hinchas y Jugadores - Granada with Heath Chesters (5th May, 2017)

Heath Chesters runs the official Granada English Twitter account, which has over 10,000 followers! You can check it out here. On that note, Granada has an English website too, which you can check out here.

Finally, I would highly recommend following Heath on his personal Twitter account here.

A bit about yourself and your background...

I moved to Granada province in Spain at the end of 2005, so this is my 12th year living in this marvelous area and as far as I’m concerned, I’m here for good. It’s a fantastic location to live and the people are very welcoming. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I’ve always been a keen follower of football and with a particular interest in the European game. Living here offered me a great opportunity to watch games at all different levels locally in Andalusia, helping me to develop a rich knowledge and understanding of Spanish football.

Obviously, this has been useful for the various freelance content I’ve produced, especially whilst running the Inside Spanish Football website for a number of years previously, along with a wide variety of content for other local, national and international media outlets. I’ve also looked after the official English language social networks and web content for Granada CF since 2012, drawing me even closer to the club.

How long have you been a fan of Granada and what made you support them in the first place?

My first match watching Granada CF was Sunday 26th February 2006. It was an away match at the old San Francisco ground of CD Loja in Tercera División Group 9, the Spanish fourth tier, on a dirt pitch and in front of around 500 spectators. Loja is a small town on the western edge of Granada province, so the game was somewhat of a local derby. I’d spotted a banner advertising the match in a shop window whilst shopping in the town and thought: “That’ll be interesting, I’ll go take a look.”

I was impressed with the technical quality of the players, which I thought was better than I’d seen watching countless lower league or non-league matches in England. CD Loja ran out 3-1 winners, but during the match I talked with a couple of elderly Granada CF fans, who told me about the history of the club, about when the team fought in the top-flight during the 60’s and 70’s, an era in which they achieved giant-killing victories against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona at home. They also told of the economic problems and subsequent slide down to the dungeon divisions. It piqued my interest and thus, I started following the team more.

Since then I’ve seen the club gain promotion from the Tercera, struggle to stay alive economically in Segunda B, then the arrival of Gino Pozzo and Quique Pina in 2009, which literally saved the club from death and changed the landscape completely, with back to back promotions to La Liga. It’s certainly been a roller-coaster ride and a fantastic adventure for me personally, following this club so closely.

Given the transfer windows and the squad that was assembled at the start of the season, is Granada where you want it to be?

In all honesty, this season has been a complete disaster for Granada CF in La Liga. On paper, the arrival of Paco Jémez promised a positive footballing approach. However, a complete sea change in the playing staff really didn’t help matters, nor the lack of players arriving in time to suit his preferences. The core of the team was torn apart and pretty much an entire new squad assembled. The inevitable sluggish start to the season was a sign of things to come.

Although many of the new arrivals were technically very good, the fact the majority were on loan and/or young and very inexperienced, either in La Liga or playing top-flight football, meant a lengthy period of adapting would be required. Unfortunately, La Liga is far from forgiving. There’s no grace period for players to settle in, they have to hit the ground running.

After the swift departure of Paco Jémez, it was hoped the arrival of Lucas Alcaraz would bring some stability, but even with spells where things looked as though they might pick up, Granada have stayed entrenched in the bottom three throughout the season. More squad changes were made during the January transfer window, but unfortunately, not enough to turn things around. All in all, it’s been a very frustrating season for everyone, not least the fans.

Of the signings made this season, which one worked out the best/had the most impact and why?

Whilst it has undoubtedly been a hugely disappointing season for the team, there are some players who have caught my eye with good performances and some consistency individually. Andreas Pereira on loan from Manchester United has been excellent and when he returns to them in the summer, I think he will benefit from the regular playing experience here. I’ve also been impressed with his level of determination, professionalism, focus and humility, which are great assets for a young footballer.
Since the January transfer window and if I had to pick one more, Héctor Hernández on loan from Real Sociedad has been very impressive. He’s the kind of player who I think would slot into any team, plus he busts a gut in every match with his determination and desire to do well. His quality at left-back has been notable, especially getting forward on the overlap and whipping in crosses.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Granada this season? Any standout players?

Individually, there’s some very good players in the squad. However, as a team things just haven’t worked out and that’s perhaps been the biggest problem. I think we’ve only seen very brief glimpses of what this group of players is capable of achieving, such as the 4-1 home win against Real Betis.
Defensively the team has been very poor, whilst at the other end of the pitch, not making the most of scoring chances created means that potential draws turn into defeats, or potential wins turn into draws. Undoubtedly the biggest problem is the lack of confidence. Mired in such a poor run of results and form, it’s hard to turn that around.

Aside from players such as Pereira or Héctor mentioned earlier, Memo Ochoa in goal has arguably been one of the most important players, because otherwise it’s likely the team could have conceded many more. Mubarak Wakaso has been exceptional since his arrival, very much the physical blood and thunder kind of midfielder I’ve always liked, who also has plenty of technical quality to his game too.

List some things you appreciate and some things you can’t stand about the club management. Rant away :)

The best way to describe how the new project got going, is rushed. The sale took additional time to go through last summer, therefore provided less time for the new owners and management to hit the ground running.

That said, the management of Media Base Sports (MBS), Pere Guardiola’s company, just doesn’t seem to have worked out positively. Sports director Javier Torralbo was a great bloke, but this isn’t a popularity contest and he was perhaps too inexperienced to be the leading figure in the sports directive.

Club president John Jiang clearly wasn’t impressed with the lack of progress and mistakes made. Javier Torralbo was sacked after the January transfer window and John Jiang put DDMC, his own sports management company, in direct control of all sporting matters. That’s what lead to the arrival of Tony Adams, who is vice-president of DDMC, working on player and staff recruitment for next season. After the club parted ways with Lucas Alcaraz, the additional responsibility for managing the first team squad has also fallen to Adams.

I do believe the owners have learned a great deal during the turmoil of this season. Unfortunately and with the inevitable relegation after such a frustrating season, it seems the club now needs to take one step back, to take two forward. I genuinely believe that will happen, particularly now that DDMC and Adams have appointed Manuel Salvador as sporting director, a man with huge experience and a proven track record of success building squads. Overall, I remain positive the club will bounce back much stronger and will return swiftly to the Spanish top-flight in much better shape.

What has the mood among the fans been during the campaign? Do you generally agree/disagree with them?

No fan likes to see their team suffer so much. For Granada CF fans the “suffering” has lasted for each of the last six seasons in La Liga, narrowly avoiding relegation for five campaigns and for three of those on the final weekend of the season. Sadly, this sixth top-flight season has concluded with relegation.

Expectations were very high at the start of the season, failing so spectacularly is a bitter pill to swallow for the majority of fans. Especially when hopes were for a more tranquil season in mid-table and that as a springboard for better things, perhaps even a push for Europe in two or three seasons.
There have been protests from the stands towards the back end of the season, with fans making it clear how they feel. However, much of the protests have been aimed towards remnants of MBS, rather than the Chinese owners particularly. Whilst some will be critical and angry whatever happens, the core of Granada CF support is more accustomed to having experienced difficult times with their team before, if you recall where I first started watching the club just over ten years ago in the fourth tier.

Rather than be too woeful about what’s happened this season, there are those who see relegation as a potential opportunity to wipe the slate clean, with owners who are serious about their ambitions and investment in the club, committed to building a much better structure from the ground up, keen to bounce back as a much stronger club.

Granada CF fans are faithful, loyal and proud. During the weekend in which relegation was confirmed, amidst the inevitable sadness, the vast majority took a more positive view with an outpouring of feelings in social networks with hashtags such as #Volveremos (we’ll be back), or #OrgullosoDeMiEscudo (proud of my badge).

Are there any talented youngsters at the club that you expect to have a big future?

One of the biggest problems currently at Granada CF is there’s still a huge cache of players from the Gino Pozzo era. Of around 100+ players between the first team, B team and Juvenil A team, there’s only around 44 players who actually belong to Granada CF. It’s hard to say what will happen with all of those players, whether Pozzo will cherry pick the best and leave the rest, if he leaves any at all, but it could make for a complicated situation. Most of the best young players currently at Granada CF are part of that Pozzo cache of players, so it remains to be seen how that will all work out.

However, the Chinese owners and DDMC are committed to investing heavily in the Academy and youth system. They realize that the club being able to develop and nurture its own talent, regionally and nationally, is the road map for the future. Granada province has never really been a hotbed for producing talented footballers, but the aim is to change that. The club is actively strengthening relationships with other clubs throughout the province, to help that goal, accompanied by serious investment in further improvements to facilities, coaching staff and educational needs.

Currently one of the brightest “local” talents in the ranks is Juanan Entrena, who has already made his first team debut this season in the Copa del Rey. He’s from my nearest village of Huétor-Tájar, so we’re all keen to see him make it. Perhaps next season in Segunda he’ll get chances to play regularly, which will be a boost for his development if he grasps the opportunity with both hands.

If you could make one realistic signing for Granada this summer who would it be?

One signing I would love to see realised is that of Wakaso on a permanent basis. He signed on loan from Panathinaikos during the January transfer window, but Granada CF have an option to make his move permanent for around €1.5m. The club wants him to stay, the player himself appears keen to stay despite relegation, so now it’s just a matter of getting the agreements in place. It’s certainly a deal the fans would be delighted with, given he’s demonstrated the determination and desire they like to see in their players.

Finally, predicted finish for Granada?

With relegation now confirmed, I don’t suppose it really matters whether we’re 18th, 19th or 20th in LaLiga come the final day of the season, as they all mean the same thing: We’ll be playing in Liga 123 season. However, at the very least I would hope we don’t finish rock bottom in 20th position and that in these final games, the current crop of players can at least give the fans something to cheer about.

A huge thanks to Heath for taking the time to do this!

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