In exclusive negotiations to become OL’s majority shareholder, American businessman John Textor is not at his first attempt. In Brazil, he became the first foreigner to afford a club, Botafogo. Arrived like the messiah, he quickly professionalized a historic club in danger.
By Alexandre Berthaud, in Rio de Janeiro
Santos Dumont Airport, Rio de Janeiro, January 7, 2022. Hundreds of people in black and white chant chants in praise of Botafogo. The club did not win a title or even a match. The fans are waiting for John Textor, the club’s new owner. The American puts on an FFP2 mask, waves a club flag, and enters the hall clapping the hands of the torcedores. He is the one who will bring the club back to its former glory. He is the saviour.
Davi Barros was there at the airport. He works for the newspaper Globe – number 1 in Rio de Janeiro -, it has specifically covered Botafogo for three years: “That day, he made a strong impression on the supporters. He wasn’t just the wealthy owner who came to lift the club out of the financial abyss, he was emotionally involved. » Pedro Dep, club supporter, was also present: “99% of supporters were in favor of his arrival. We were a zombie club, we went back and forth between the first and second division. Even if we had just gone up, we had little hope given the size of the debt. Optimism has returned. » John Textor signs in January the takeover of 90% of the club: the debt is erased and the rich ex-president of fuboTV invests immediately. In total, he signs a check for at least 350 million reais (63 million euros) and changes Botafogo from the status of an association to that of a public limited company. “You can celebrate, Textor has signed”. The titles of the editorials devoted to Botafogo are not misleading.
Textor everywhere, improv nowhere
Internally too, we are blowing, because the American quickly gets to work. “Before Textor, the club sometimes had difficulty paying its employees” says journalist Davi Barros. “It’s clear that the working conditions have changed: the fact of having a long-term vision, of making all the decisions internally” , describes Mario Andre Macuzzo, the sports director. John Textor modernizes the equipment, the qualification of the personnel, he creates a real cell of scouting to scout for talent. The organization as a whole is becoming more professional, both administrative and sporting, because the native of Kirksville, Missouri, has ideas about everything, even football to practice. “He is directly involved in football, he brought in the new coach, even though the old one had managed to bring the team upexplains the sports director. What he wants is for the club to have a clear identity on the pitch. » An identity personified by Luis Castro, experienced coach, passed by Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, whom Textor knew how to convince. “He likes football, possession, going forward, with a lot of passing passes, let’s say attacking football” , describes Davi Barros. To stick to this, recruits arrive, including Patrick de Paula, 22-year-old defensive midfielder, swiped at Palmeras, yet reigning South American champion (Copa Libertadores). Victor Sá, former Wolfsburg, comes to bring a dose of thrill on the wings. In total, 65 million reais (12 million euros) are spent during the first transfer window. John Textor does not only want to impose this style on the professional team, but on the whole club. During his speeches, he insists on the importance of training. Nothing like getting supporters in your pocket. Those of OL have already succumbed to Textor’s speech on this subject.
To please, right away, is important, especially in Botafogo. “We are known to be superstitious supporters, a little mysticalexplains Pedro Dep. But Textor seems to have a specific project in mind, even in a short time you can feel it. » Further on, in the street, we chat with a big guy, Afro cut, big smile, jersey with a white star on his shoulders. “This season, even when the team loses, people sing, that’s the difference. We see the glorious past, when Botafogo was not a secondary player in Brazilian football ” , says Jael. This “glorious past” (Garrincha, Didi, Jairzinho, Botafogo players and key men in Brazil’s world titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970) is the very identity of the club, which has not won anything since. 1995. “I have the impression that he understood this, he speaks of the Botafogo institution with great respect” , believes Pedro Dep. Also, Textor gets involved, in speeches, in tweets. When he is given the intention of increasing his participation in the Crystal Palace club, he says: “You can have two loves in this world. But the difference between the two is that I feel responsible for Botafogo. » The socios are enthusiastic, their number rose to 45,000, while the record so far stood at 38,000.
The arrival of the American in a big club like Lyon did not moderate the enthusiasm, on the contrary. During his press conference alongside Jean-Michel Aulas, Textor thus mentioned his other clubs (Botafogo, Crystal Palace, Molenbeek) by speaking of “family”. “The negative side would be to say that he will be less involved in Botafogo, but the positive is that exchanges could be facilitated between these teams” , deciphers journalist Davi Barros. Sebastian Joffre, player of the U23 team of Crystal Palace, has already come to fill the ranks of the stable botafogense. The strategy, already used by many multi-owners and mastered by the Red Bull galaxy (Salzburg, Leipzig, New York, Bragantino), is it being put in place under Textor? This is what Pedro Dep, our supporter, hopes: “With Lyon and Crystal Palace as sister clubs, it will be easier for us to attract young Brazilian talent. » Spending, being part of a project, communicating, respecting history: John Textor has understood the imperatives of the profession of popular owner. In Brazil, it’s almost new, and it’s causing a sensation.
By Alexandre Berthaud, in Rio de Janeiro