Expelled from Spain’s second division and with no players left, the story of Reus Deportiu is a huge cautionary tale for clubs who don’t play by the rules
The 18-19 season had already began with something fishy floating in the air.
Back in August, in weeks where many Segunda sides tried further strengthening their teams once the competition had already begun, uncertainty was all around the place inside Reus Deportiu’s locker room.
Two years before, the team had achieved something incredible. Reus had been promoted to La Segunda for the first time ever. And they had fought to remain there two seasons in a row.
Then, everything went wrong. Joan Oliver, the club’s biggest shareholder, had a few meetings with potential investors and buyers interested in the club. A deal seemed in place, but it fell through in the last minute. So players and coaching staff had to proceed in the second division with the few tools they had available, fighting against much more powerful sides.
They managed to avoid the relegation spots for a few months, but soon their biggest fear became reality: their salaries weren’t being paid by the management. Not in August, not in September, of course not in October. This further aggravated their bad form and sunk them even deeper in the standings. Players started becoming desperate, as their income was far more modest than the millionaire sums paid to football superstars.
It was October 30th when Oliver finally spoke out: Reus had a $6 million debt, so they had to file for bankruptcy.
The situation spun out of control. While Oliver promised the players a solution was on its way, he failed to back his promises up with cash. They were fed up of lies. They showed their drama in the only way they could: protesting while on the pitch in the game against Alcorcón on December 9th.
— David Punzano (@dapuol) December 9, 2018
The debts with players and workers kept piling up month after month until it became apparent that nothing positive would come out of this. So many players decided to report the fact to LaLiga. As the current regulations state, any player who is unpaid for three months can ask to be released from his contract with immediate effect. LaLiga tried helping out with the issue, but the players refused a half-arsed attempt to patch things up. They wanted their salaries or they were out.
Slowly but steadily, players began to flee. They were able to scrape past the half-way mark in the competition but only had 11 professional players in their first squad (they had to complete the match day squads with B-team and U-18 players). The club’s president, Xavier Llastarri, had resigned from his position on December 21st after being “fed up” of “insults” towards his family and himself.
Oliver, meanwhile, kept meeting with potential buyers. An official statement on January 21st announced that US-born investors Russel C. Platt y Clifton V. Onolfo had bought Oliver’s shares (99.7% of the club’s capital). They promised to clear the debts and once again put the club in good terms with LaLiga.
It was too late: on January 28th, LaLiga expelled Reus from the competition, banning them for playing in that division for three years and dictating a $283,000 fine due to unpaid player salaries. This, in turn, removed all their points this season. Seven players left the club three days later, after another unfulfilled payment promise made by Oliver.
Reus Deportiu were born in 1909. This year they were about to celebrate their 110th birthday. With Platt and Onolfo as their new owners, their lawyers are trying to reduce the harshness of the sanctions. They claim Oliver hid from them official documents signed with the first squad players and that this fact “sabotaged” their plans of saving the club.
Joan Oliver’s whereabouts, at this point, are unknown.
And sometimes, even tragic news can even get worse: Xavi Bartolo, Reus’ former coach, hasn’t only been stripped from his salary for the last five months. Due to current and inexplicable regulations, he has also been negated the chance of managing another side for the rest of the season.