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Depor looks to super Mendes for spirit of 1991

Newly promoted Galicians determined to make a fist of Primera División

Depor midfielder Andrés Guardado after sealing promotion last week.
Depor midfielder Andrés Guardado after sealing promotion last week.GABRIEL TIZÓN

Twenty-one years ago, a young and pugnacious Augusto César Lendoiro stepped onto the balcony of the A Coruña City Hall and shouted "Barça, Madrid, we have arrived!"

Lendoiro's exclamation was tongue-in-cheek; Deportivo, the team he has been president of since 1988, had not been in Primera División for almost two decades. But the flamboyant Lendoiro, who presided over his first (amateur) team at the age of 15, had a plan: to look the big boys in the eye and not roll over.

"I wouldn't say it now," he admits when looking back on that afternoon. La Liga's smaller fry are now more so than ever in comparison to Barça and Real. It is fanciful in the current sporting climate to mount a project such as that which Lendoiro cultivated, leading to the golden years of Super Depor and Liga glory. "It was a special moment, but it would be impossible now. The project was backed by turning the club into a public limited sports company and using the proceeds to invest in players like [Brazil internationals] Bebeto and Mauro Silva."

But where Lendoiro has an advantage over his Liga counterparts is his relationship with Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes, who represents Cristiano Ronaldo and José Mourinho, among a plethora of others. What Lendoiro achieved in 1992 with the support of shareholders and amenable banks is unrepeatable, and television revenues and marketing for a club the size of Depor will not make much of a dent on the financial rapaciousness of the big two.

Nonetheless, Lendoiro is optimistic: "We are going to try to reignite the expectation there was then," he says. To achieve this, Depor has two aces up its sleeve; the Abegondo sports city, which will provide youth talent and financing, and also the loan market, in which Mendes is a prime mover.

The bond between the two men stretches back 16 years, when Mendes made his first move in the soccer transfer business, arranging the signing of Portuguese goalkeeper Nuno for Deportivo. It was the foundation that would lead to Mendes' empire, but the agent never forgot who gave him his first deal.

Two weeks ago Mendes and the man he calls "godfather" dined in Lisbon, after the former received a medal of distinction from the Portuguese government. "He will be very important in the evolution of Deportivo," Lendoiro said. Already in Depor's successful promotion charge, Mendes' hand was influential. He arranged the arrival of two Portuguese wingers, Salomão and Bruno Gama, the former on a loan deal. Their retention is almost assured: Mendes has a vested interest in displaying his wares on the grander stage of Primera.

Also remaining on the Riazor hotseat is coach José Luis Oltra, whose contract was automatically renewed on achieving promotion, and veteran schemer Juan Carlos Valerón, the heartbeat of the team. "At the moment I need to take a breather," said Oltra. "I didn't so much live the promotion as suffer it."

Depor's plan is to create a competitive team that will stay up without too much drama. On Mendes' books are Portugal striker Hélder Postiga, currently at Zaragoza, Atlético's Diego Costa, who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Rayo last season, as well as Pizzi, also a loanee at Atlético, and his compatriot Juan Carlos, of Sporting Braga. All would slot nicely into the new designs of Deportivo.

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