Behind Granada's rise - Unity, Andalusian grit and one of European football's great transfer gurus

By Sports Desk October 04, 2019

Revered sporting director Antonio Cordon was frustrated at Monaco in 2017.

Having just seen the club win Ligue 1, it was becoming apparent he had less control over player sales than he previously believed. He quit almost exactly a year after he had joined.

Although the Spaniard had no shortage of offers after departing Stade Louis II, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea among his admirers, he opted for a rather more curious option.

Had a Granada fan been told at the time the highly regarded former Villarreal transfer guru was about to become an influential figure in the second-tier side's future, they'd have assumed you'd just fallen head-first from a Sierra Nevada peak.

Yet two years on, Cordon has again displayed his brilliance with Granada not only in LaLiga, but heading into Saturday's game at Real Madrid second in the table and just a point behind Zinedine Zidane's league leaders having already beaten Barcelona 2-0 as part of their best start to a top-flight season.

Hope springs eternal

Jiang Lizhang's first season as Granada owner culminated in relegation with just 20 points in 2016-17. Change was desperately needed but, luckily, the Chinese businessman's plans were already in place.

"Hope Group was established to manage the sporting activity of not just Granada, but also other clubs Jiang's invested in, such as Parma, Tondela and Chongqing Lifan. Leading things at Hope is Antonio Cordon," Heath Chesters – a fan and former Granada club journalist – told Omnisport.

"Cordon brought in Fran Sanchez to run the sports management at Granada. Between them they started the rebuild."

Although not one to bask in media attention, Cordon is a hugely respected figure in European football having spent 17 years at Villarreal and playing a vital role in turning them from a second-tier side into one of Spain's most prominent clubs.

Scout, chief scout, sporting director – Cordon's influence at Villarreal was huge, marking himself out as a shrewd talent-spotter. Now he is helping oversee several clubs at once via Hope Group.

The new system needed 2017-18 as a settling period, but they have gone from strength to strength ever since.

Jobs for locals

"Hope's aim was to focus mainly on Spanish players and particularly those from Andalusia," Chesters adds of the club's recruitment strategy.

Nine of Granada's squad are Andalusia born-and raised, while Yan Eteki, Ramon Azeez and Aaron Escandell all came through academies in the southern region.

Hope created a centralised scouting department to give their clubs access to data, tools and information that otherwise might be out of their reach financially. That certainly appears to be paying off with Granada, who finished second in La Segunda last term.

"Something that has been overlooked by much of the media is the quality of signings, both last season in Segunda and this season preparing for LaLiga," Chesters adds. "The biggest credit for the sports directive and Diego Martinez [coach] working in unison, is they signed pretty much all of their primary targets this pre-season.

"All clubs have their shopping lists, but how many actually get to sign practically all those they've targeted? Granada did that and, for the most part, that effort has gone under the radar."

Martinez the inspiration

But for all the planning and Hope Group's influence, there's no doubt who the main catalyst has been in the eyes of supporters.

"Speak to any fan and they'll say Granada's rise has everything to do with Diego Martinez," Chesters continues. "It's his sense of humility and teamwork, plus a strong family atmosphere, which has been the biggest change."

He secured an unexpected promotion back to LaLiga in his first season, earning many admirers in the process as his side went up with the best defence in the division.

Martinez spent the formative years of his coaching career at Sevilla. In eight seasons, he coached the 'C' team, guided the academy to a first ever league success, worked as assistant to Unai Emery and then took charge of the 'B' team – Sevilla Atletico – in 2014.

It was with Sevilla Atletico when he caught the attentions of other clubs, masterminding their shock promotion to La Segunda and keeping them up in 13th. They even had a spell between October 30 and December 9 when they didn't drop below fourth.

An underwhelming one-season stay at Osasuna did little to dent his burgeoning reputation and he has been the perfect fit for Granada.

"He transmits his belief, enthusiasm and encouragement to the players, and they've responded magnificently," Chesters enthused. "Most fascinating to see is interviews with every player, all praising his leadership, sharing his vision and philosophy. It's created the most unified group I think I've ever seen at Granada in 15 years following the club."

With Cordon and Martinez working in harmony, the sky is the limit. Next stop, the Santiago Bernabeu.

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