Partly held by his striker, Argentina-themed Elche problems worsen in La Liga
Dario Benedetto, a striker for Spanish football club Elche, has the keys to the kingdom. As well as leading the line for the Alicante-based team, the 31-year-old Argentine is one of its owners.
He also can’t get a match at the moment. Nor can it solve the structural problems around it. After parting ways with head coach Fran Escribá, the club which surprised more than one by reaching La Liga two seasons ago is destabilized. Executed chaotically and grappling with a relegation fight, it’s a tough time for Benedetto and company.
Elche’s rise to the Premier League was unlikely, qualifying as the least expected contender via the playoffs. Since maintaining his top-flight status – barely – the last time, a second-season plunge has ensued. For a team of this size, this is hardly surprising. The mechanics behind the scenes, however, are.
The man at the center is not Benedetto but the Argentine majority owner Christian Bragarnik. Under his watch, fan favorite Escribá announced his sacking before the club did, which is not good looking. The boss came out bitterly after a loss to Real Betis, calling on those above. “You can’t buy the fans,” he replied – sharp words.
Bragarnik is not just any owner. He’s also a super-agent, a profession that snowballed at a video store in Buenos Aires, according to El País (Spanish). It was here that in addition to movie rentals, he found a niche in editing screening videos for up-and-coming footballers, culminating in his agency, Score Club 2019, which represents many South-South professionals. Americans. Benedetto has since become a shareholder of the company. As the football owners disappear, Bragarnik – once a representative of Diego Maradona – has torn up the rulebook.
The success of his takeover will depend on the games to come. If the disappointing scores persist, Segunda football will become increasingly important and potentially leave the project in tatters. His arrival sparked excitement, with established names like former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Javier Pastore, former Marseillais Benedetto and a host of other Argentines on the squad. So far, there has not been a dramatic increase in fortunes.
Struggling Elche still has one of the lowest spending caps in La Liga. This will not change if he goes to the second level. The club has little at its disposal. Now that Escribá is gone, some of the energy that helped him escape relegation last season has evaporated. With contacts all over Argentina and Mexico, Bragarnik is not new to the sport, but with him at the helm, it’s unclear where Elche is heading at the moment.
Compared to other La Liga teams, Elche is on a risk. The power of fans in the form of social ownership has traditionally been strong. Wealthy homeowners are not uncommon either. Just look at Robert Sarver in Mallorca and billionaire Fernando Roig in Villarreal. As for powerful agents? Well that’s another thing, not to mention players like Benedetto.
Football agents are more influential than ever. When you think about it like that, Elche’s show mirrors today’s game. The rise of middlemen is apparent when transfer windows present themselves, with names like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola often mentioned. They even make occasional appearances in the media.
With the right people in place, Elche has it all. In Spain, Alicante has never been known for football, despite having a large catchment area. Hercules, not far from Elche, has already played in La Liga but is no longer part of the conversation. Given the conditions, arriving in one of the most desirable areas to invest in football seems an attractive proposition. An active academy means it’s the perfect place to nurture future stars.
Those days seem far away, however. Elche is alive, with Benedetto a capable striker and Bragarnik, despite the mess surrounding the sacking of Escribá, still a footballer. How well his experience will translate into victories on the pitch is another matter.
One thing is certain. Mini-Argentina on the coast is unconventional. For a struggling club that is not used to big hits, there may not be too much to lose. To remain a Premier League team, they need a strong vision – and a manager – to stabilize themselves again, with separate relegation. More starts and goals from Benedetto would help too.