Last weekend’s Annual General Meeting at Racing was stormier than most, with police charging to disperse protesters who were trying to stop Syed’s legal team entering. Inside there were jeers and whistles from supporter delegates and fans’ group AUPA (la Asociacion Unificada de Pequenos Racinguistas) attempted to put forward their own candidate for the board.
“This is the candidacy of dignity, against the candidacy of shame,” said AUPA President Bernardo Colsa. “We are the customers of Racing, which is nothing without its customers.”
Alí’s control of 99.2 per cent of the club’s shares won the argument and his place-men were voted in, along with former ONCE cycling team boss Manuel Saiz, ex-world champion sailor Antonio Gorostegui and colourful local businessman Jose Campos.
Saiz is no shining white knight, having left the cycling world after being implicated in a doping scandal. Hotelier Angel Lavin is said to be close to former club President Francisco Pernia (not a popular man at El Sardinero). Ali associates Shahereyar Ali Baig Mirz, Husain Ahmed Mohamen Aldailmi and his lawyer Horst Weber make up the unpopular new board. Gorostegui has already resigned, having apparently thought better of getting involved.
Even the most pessimistic of Racing fans could not have expected things go this bad this quickly. ‘Mister Ali’ arrived in Cantabria in January 2010, promising to invest €90m in the club and proclaiming: “My objective is to lead Racing for many years and carry them to the great heights of European and world football”. He replaced unpopular manager Miguel Angel Portugal with fan favourite Marcelino and, with loan signing Gio dos Santos impressing, the team's results improved.
AlI was widely popular, waving his green club scarf from the centre circle before and after games and dancing jigs of delight in the directors' box whenever his team scored. A row with Sevilla president Jose María del Nido helped his fame, and Marca gave him a soft-focus double page spread. There was even a welcome from regional president Miguel Angel Revilla, who accepted a public €3m pledge to fund a local cultural foundation.
However, the dream soon faded – players went unpaid as scheduled transfers from Ali’s Swiss banks did not arrive. There were accusations in the Australian media of an AUS$100m fraud and a bodyguard got seven months in prison for assaulting a Spanish policeman. It was soon rumoured Ali was looking to sell up – Marca headlining the story ‘Ali runs away from Santander’.
Only €4.5m has been invested to date and the club, now about €40m in debt, entered administration under Spain's 'Ley Concursal' last July. The club began the new season poorly under first Coach Hector Cuper, and ended it without a victory in 20 matches, with last boss Alvaro Cervera accusing his own players of not trying in their final games as they were relegated from La Primera. Meanwhile, Ali has not been seen in Spain for months, and is reportedly wanted by Interpol.
Cervera said he had no intention of sticking around under the current regime, long-serving player Pedro Munitis left in tears and many teammates will follow as the club needs to radically cut the wage bill. The next steps in the sorry saga could now be in a Spanish court, with supporter groups and the local Cantabrian government looking to find a solution to the mess.
For the moment, though, Ali holds the shares, so he calls the shots. Racing were founder members of La Liga and competed in Europe as recently as 2008, but the club’s chances of regaining Primera Division status any time soon look slim.