Gerard Pique may be entering the twilight of his playing days at Barcelona, but his career as a club owner is really starting to take off.
FC Andorra was bought by Pique’s Kosmos Holdings in 2019 as a fifth division club. Almost four years later, they are in the second tier of Spanish football, La Liga 2.
After eight games they have 14 points and are in sixth place, a place in the play offs. Early days, but a superb fourth promotion in five seasons – and a meeting with Pique’s Barcelona – is not off the cards.
President Ferran Villaseca has extolled the “great potential” of FC Andorra. It’s fair to say it’s starting to materialize.
“We are very happy and excited about our performance in recent years, it has been an amazing achievement,” Villaseca, speaking at the World Football Summit in Seville, told BBC Sport.
“We have achieved part of our dream, we have a very strong sports department – now we have to have that in the youth teams and in the club itself, in the structure of the club.”
FC Andorra was founded in 1942 and joined the Spanish league system six years later, but had never played above the third division until 2022-23.
By December 2018, the club was relegated to the regional leagues. Kosmos then took over, inspiring an immediate recovery in form. Andorra won the 2018-19 First Catal Division fifth division on the final day.
This is when their wealthy new owners really started to pay off. A place in the third division Segunda B opened up as CF Reus Deportiu were relegated amid financial problems.
Andorra were able to pay to get Reus’ club license for almost half a million euros, taking their place in the Spanish league pyramid and securing a highly unusual double promotion.
“We also had some luck,” admits Villaseca. “We chased our luck, we always wanted to be lucky.”
“We’ve grown so fast!”
The speed of Andorra’s rise has left Villaseca scrambling to ensure its infrastructure can keep up with performance on the pitch.
The most glaring example is the Estadi Nacional stadium shared with the Andorran national football team. It has a capacity of 3,306 – smaller than all but one in the third tier of Spanish football, let alone the second.
A new 6,000-capacity, €26 million stadium is in the works, but Villaseca has also been hard at work developing the club behind the scenes.
“We need to grow in human resources,” he says. “We focused on sports talent, now we are making acquisitions in the administrative departments New marketing director, commercial director, financial director.
“The club was in the fifth division and it was like that at all levels – we only had three people. So we need to grow in that direction and in terms of infrastructure – we need to build our own training facilities.
“As Andorra, we don’t have much – we are not a power, we are a small village in the middle of the mountains, so we have to offer something different. We have to offer the players the best quality of sporting life, which is very important.
“Now we have one of the best pitches in Spain – a hybrid of grass and artificial, it’s heated which none of the other second division clubs have – but the training facilities are all artificial. [sporting director Jaume Nogues] he said: “I can’t offer that, we need quality training facilities or no one will be willing to join.”
“We have to make the second-tier club, and in some places we’re still a long way off. It takes time – we’ve grown too fast!”
“Our DNA is similar to Barcelona”
Under Pique’s ownership, the links with Barcelona have been demonstrated by his managerial choices. Former teammate Gabry oversaw promotion to the third division, while former Barca B player Nacho Castro coached the club for just under a year until January 2021.
That’s when Eder Sarabia – who served as Quique Setien’s number two during his brief spell at Barcelona – was hired into his first senior coaching position, leading Andorra to the second division 18 months later for the first time in their history.
The 1-0 win at home to UCAM Murcia sparked wild celebrations and saw Sarabia make good on his promise to cycle from Andorra to Bilbao if promotion is secured.
“After Barcelona we had many options but after Gerrard’s [Pique] I called, analyzed the project and realized that I had made the right choice and I am very excited,” Sarabia tells BBC Sport.
“Above all, it is a family club, I like the model of the club, the management and the ambition to grow, with firm and strong steps and to be able to do important things.
“It’s been fast, on the pitch we’ve progressed and grown a lot and we’re getting stronger in every way.”
Villaseca adds: “We understood what we wanted and from a sporting point of view we created a DNA around it. When you play FC Andorra you know the way we play, it’s similar to Barcelona’s DNA. We’ve been very clear from day one with the coaches we’ve had, and so we had no adjustment problems between the players and the staff.
“Culturally, Andorra is very similar to Barcelona – we are neighbors with Catalonia and Barcelona are the most followed team in Andorra.
“Also, the way we want to play, the players who understood it best were ex-Barcelona players, so we identified players who left Barcelona, maybe left to play abroad, we capture those players and use the skills they learned at Barcelona. We piggyback on their time in the youth teams in Barcelona.”
Andorra’s dramatic rise has not been without controversy. The small European nation has lower levels of income tax than Spain, meaning players paid 10 percent if their contracts were more than €300,000 a year, compared with 47 percent for clubs on the mainland.
Now under La Liga control, new rules have been put in place forcing them to limit their squad costs to the same level as their Spanish counterparts.
“We don’t like them, they’re not fair at all,” says Villaseca. “Spain is a country that does not have a single tax system, so for one group these rules apply and for the others not. We are just studying what to do next.”
“We are not only Pique’s corner in Andorra”
So far Andorra are bleeding the noses of the expected promotion candidates. Home wins over Granada, Eibar and Levante have proven that Sarabia’s side are much more than the vanity project of a famous owner.
They have some impressive former Barca youth players such as centre-back Mika Marmol and midfielder Jadro Orellana. Top scorer Sinan Bakis, a summer signing from Dutch side Heracles, leads the club’s scoring charts.
“We look at the type of players we need, not the best, but the most suitable with a certain profile and assessing how they behave on and off the pitch,” Sarabia says.
“Our goals are to play very good football and that the game leads us to our goals, which is to consolidate our position in the league and continue to grow.”
The Pique connection has been the aspect of FC Andorra that has attracted the most attention, but Villaseca is at pains to point out that the club has an identity of its own.
“We’re trying to avoid being just Pique’s corner in Andorra,” he says. “Gerard loves the work, but he’s not involved every day – he’s there to celebrate when good things happen and also to help when decisions need to be made.
“One of the things we like to do is work on the stats – Gerard loves his stats, we’re very involved in the Moneyball style of recruiting.
“He likes to have his say on the sporting direction, after all he’s a footballer and he says what he thinks. But he’s more of a fan than a coach, his main job is to play for Barcelona.”