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 were bought by Pique’s Kosmos Holdings in 2019 as a fifth-tier club. Nearly four years later, they are in the second tier of Spanish football, La Liga 2.
After eight games they have 14 points and sit in sixth place, a play-off spot. Early days, but an extraordinary 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 is fair to say that is starting to be realised.
“We are very happy and excited by how we have performed in the last few years, it has been an astonishing accomplishment,” Villaseca, speaking at the World Football Summit in Seville, tells BBC Sport.
“We have realised part of our dream, we have a very strong sporting department – we now need to have that in the youth teams, and the club itself, the club structure.”
FC Andorra were founded in 1942 and joined the Spanish league system six years later, but had never played above the third tier until 2022-23.
Until December 2018, the club were drifting in the regional leagues. Then Kosmos took over, inspiring an immediate upturn in form. Andorra won the fifth-tier First Catalan Division in 2018-19 on the final day.
This was when their rich new owners really started to pay off. A spot in the third-tier Segunda B opened up as CF Reus Deportiu were relegated amid financial problems.
Andorra were able to pay to take Reus’ club licence for nearly half a million Euros, assuming their place in the Spanish league pyramid and securing a highly unusual double promotion.
“We have also had some luck,” admits Villaseca. “We pursued our luck, we were always aiming to be lucky.”
‘We have grown too fast!’
The speed of Andorra’s rise has left Villaseca scrambling to ensure their infrastructure can keep pace with the on-pitch performance.
The most glaring example is the Estadi Nacional ground they share with Andorra’s 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 pipeline, but Villaseca has also been hard at work growing the club behind the scenes.
“We have to grow in human resources,” he says. “We focused on sporting talent, now we are making acquisitions in the administrative departments. A new marketing director, commercial director, a financial director.
“The club was in the fifth tier, and was like that at all levels – we only had three people. So we need to grow in that direction, and in the infrastructure – we need to build our own training facilities.
“As Andorra, we don’t have much – we are not a powerhouse, we are a small village in the middle of the mountains so we have to offer something different. We need to offer players the best quality of sporting living, that is very important.
“We now have one of the best playing pitches in Spain – a hybrid of turf and artificial, it’s heated which none of the other clubs in the second tier have – but the training facilities are all artificial, and he [sporting director Jaume Nogues] said: ‘I cannot offer that, we need quality training facilities or no-one will be willing to join’.
“We need to make the club a second division club, and in some places we are still far away. It takes time – we have grown too fast!”
‘Our DNA is similar to Barcelona’
Under Pique’s ownership, the links to Barcelona have been demonstrated by his choices of manager. Former team-mate Gabri oversaw the rise to the third tier, while ex-Barca B player Nacho Castro coached the club for just under a year until January 2021.
This was when Eder Sarabia – who served as number two to Quique Setien during his brief spell at Barcelona – was hired to his first senior managerial role, guiding Andorra to the second division 18 months later for the first time in their history.
A 1-0 win at home to UCAM Murcia sparked wild celebrations, and saw Sarabia come good on a promise to cycle from Andorra to Bilbao should promotion be secured.
“After Barcelona we had plenty of options but after Gerard’s [Pique] call, I analysed the project and I realised 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 club model, the management and the ambition to grow, with firm and solid steps and to be able to do important things.
“It has been fast, on the field we have advanced and grown a lot and we are getting stronger in every way.”
Villaseca adds: “We understood what we wanted, and from a sporting direction created a DNA around that. When you play FC Andorra you know the way we play, it is similar to Barcelona DNA. We have been very clear since day one with the coaches we’ve had, and so we have had no issues adjusting among the players and staff.
“Culturally, Andorra is very similar to Barcelona – we are neighbours to Catalonia, and Barcelona is the most followed team in Andorra.
“Also the way we want to play, the players who understood it best were former Barcelona players, so we identified players who left Barca, maybe they have left to play abroad, we capture those players and utilise the skills they learned in Barcelona. We piggyback on their time in the youth squads in Barcelona.”
Andorra’s dramatic rise has not been without controversy. The European micronation has lower income tax levels than Spain, meaning players were paying 10 per cent if their contracts were more than €300,000 per year, compared to 47 per cent for clubs in the mainland.
Now under the control of La Liga, new rules have been brought in forcing them to limit the cost of their squad on a par with their Spanish counterparts.
“We don’t like them, they are not fair at all,” says Villaseca. “Spain is a country which does not have a unified tax system, so for one team these rules apply and for the others not. We’re just studying what we should do next.”
‘We’re not just Pique’s corner of Andorra’
So far Andorra have been bloodying the noses of the expected promotion candidates. Home victories over Granada, Eibar and Levante have proven Sarabia’s team are much more than a famous owner’s vanity project.
They have some former Barca youth players impressing, such as centre back Mika Marmol and midfielder Jandro Orellana. Up top Sinan Bakis, a summer acquisition from Dutch side Heracles, leads the club scoring charts.
“We see the type of players we need, not the best ones, but the most suitable ones with a specific profile and assessing how they behave on and off the field,” Sarabia says.
“Our objectives are to play very good soccer and that the game leads us to our goals, which is to consolidate our position in the league and continue growing.”
The Pique connection has been the aspect of FC Andorra which has drawn the most attention, but Villaseca is at pains to point out the club has an identity in its own right.
“We try to avoid just being Pique’s corner of Andorra,” he says. “Gerard loves the project but he is not involved in the day to day – he is there to celebrate when the good things happen, and also to help when decisions have to be made.
“One of the things we like to do is work on statistics – Gerard loves his statistics, we are very much involved in the Moneyball style of recruitment.
“He likes to give his opinion on the sporting direction, he is a footballer after all and he says what he thinks. But it is more as a fan than a manager, his primary business is playing for Barcelona.”