"There can be no surprises" is a good summary of this part of my work.
Describe us your position and function in LaLiga.
First, a little bit of history. Since 2015, when the ownership of the audiovisual rights of the first and second division competitions was granted to the National Professional Football League, a revolution has occurred in Spanish football, with revenues from audiovisual rights growing from € 850 million from the 2014/2015 season to close to 2,000 M € at present.
This upward evolution, together with a distribution of the same according to scales agreed upon by the 42 clubs that make up LaLiga, has led, especially the small clubs, to increase their income significantly.
As a tool to achieve this objective, in the 2016/2017 season the LaLiga Television Retransmission Regulations were published, which includes all the aspects that must be fulfilled by the clubs in order to offer a television product that is as attractive as possible. Among them, there is a chapter dedicated to grass, which is the first step in LaLiga's commitment to the quality of the playing fields. This first regulation included a series of parameters that the grass had to comply with, as well as audits of the playing fields.
The next logical step was to have within the LaLiga organization itself a professional from the soccer field maintenance sector who could take the next leap in quality; Therefore, it was decided to create the position of Coordinator for the Quality of the LaLiga Fields of Play.
When they interviewed me for that position, they made clear to me the two main objectives that were pursued with their creation:
- Avoid suspending matches due to the state of the field of play
- Continue to improve the quality of the playing fields beyond what has been achieved so far
On the one hand, my work has to be subordinated to the immediacy of the competition. You have to be on top of adverse weather conditions, know the maintenance tasks that are carried out in each field such as transitions, scarifying, etc. and its possible impact on future encounters; be aware of the problems presented by each playing field: structural problems such as a low infiltration rate, poor planimetry, shadows, etc. as well as punctuals of the bad germination type in some area, failures in the application of products, diseases, etc.
"There can be no surprises" is a good summary of this part of my work.
On the other hand, the quality of the playing fields must continue to be improved day by day. Understanding quality as a compendium of its biomechanical behavior, its adaptation to the needs of use and the aesthetic aspect.
Soccer stadiums in Spain are located in highly varied climatic conditions, each with its own particular challenges, which in turn are altered by the stadium's own typology, with more or less draft, shadows, new substrates on silica sand or with decades behind it with hardly any drainage capacity. All this variability makes the work of a local Groundsman, with knowledge of the stadium, irreplaceable and essential for achieving quality results game after game and season after season. The technical part of my work is to support and advise this important figure, proposing solutions that perhaps had not occurred to him or products that he was not aware of. Maybe just a conversation with someone who understands what he's talking about and helps you sort out his ideas.
On several occasions I have had to spend the day in a stadium during the end-of-season renovations to decide the working depth of the Universe blades, even adjusting it in person, as this was the first time it was carried out in that stadium and not they were clear to what depth they could put it.
However, most of my time is dedicated to non-technical tasks. The awareness of the different parties involved: helping the person in charge of the pitch to go “upstairs” to obtain resources or make him understand that he does not maintain a park and that sporting interests are not always the best from an agronomic point of view; but they are the ones that prevail. Calm down, negotiate and look for alternatives.
My work could be defined as “the voice of the grass in LaLiga and the voice of LaLiga in the grass”. The main part of my job is to be the link between all the actors involved in ensuring that each match the grass is in the best conditions: Clubs (responsible for the pitch, managers, technical bodies ...), LaLiga (TV Production, Directors Party, Competitions ...), and Administrations (Town Halls, councils, communities ...), when the stadium is publicly owned.
Throughout the three years that I have been in the position, different actions have been implemented that contribute to the achievement of this quality objective.
- Meetings of those responsible for the playing fields, in which not only technical aspects are raised or are a forum for those involved to express their concerns, but they have become the seed of a community in which everything can be shared what is related to our work, in which we all support each other and help those who need it at all times.
- Study of growth light needs in stadiums, depending on the weather, uses and shadows.
- Collaboration with the State Meteorological Agency to obtain the best possible forecast with sufficient scope to alert the clubs of possible problems related to inclement weather.
- Audits of the playing fields, although they have been neglected a bit due to the fact that the inspections that I carry out during my travels and the constant communication with those responsible for the 42 clubs give a much more dynamic and updated idea of the condition in which they are find.
- Design and implementation of irrigation audits in which the existing installation in each stadium is compared with an ideal model, so that areas for improvement are detected and recommendations can be made for their total or partial remodeling. They are beginning to be carried out during this season and will be completed in the next.
- Collaboration with the working group created by AENOR to draft the new quality standards for natural sports grass.
- Present and give value to the work of the manager of the pitch through interviews, articles, informative videos, presentations at congresses, etc.
- Acquisition of quality parameter measurement kits (hardness, rotational resistance and infiltration rate), which will be delivered next season to LaLiga Smartbank clubs.
- Launch of the Greenkeeper APP where reports are collected on the state of the grass for each game that is played. Not only is it more convenient to transmit information among those involved, but it also creates a database with all the information that is recorded from each party, which helps in decision-making or study of trends.
How you have found the status of the 1st and 2nd division football stadiums.
The quality of the playing fields is quite good in general, although it is obvious that the different budgets and, even more, the involvement of the management have a direct consequence on the quality of the playing field. Throughout the season the courses have their ups and downs in quality, which is normal, the good time of the southern courses not coinciding with those of the north or those of the interior with those of the coast; although there are always fields in which the most stable quality is maintained and fields more dependent on the climatic conditions and the level of use. That is why it is so important to make the technical bodies aware that the level of use that a lawn can withstand in spring is not the same as in January or August.
At what level are we in comparison with other European leagues, both in the quality of the stadiums and in that of maintenance professionals.
Since ten or fifteen years ago, when the professionalization of the sector began and advanced techniques for lawn care began to be implemented, quality has taken a gigantic leap. LaLiga's intervention has maintained and, above all, extended this path that seemed reserved for elite clubs. In just three years I have been able to see how the average level of quality increases and how more and more modest clubs are betting on it. This high technology is attracting more and more professionals in the maintenance of sports turf from other sectors or countries, who also contribute and enrich the sector.
Currently we can look face to face with any league in the world in terms of the quality of our playing fields.
Audits will continue in 1st and 2nd division.
I am firmly convinced that the data allows us to make correct decisions and therefore the performance of audits should not be ruled out as a very powerful tool for the person responsible for maintaining each pitch. For now, we have put them aside a bit in LaLiga because they do not give me the dynamism in the information that my position requires; However, redoing them is not ruled out and from here I encourage club managers to monitor the physical, chemical and microbiological parameters to help them with maintenance decisions.
What should be done to improve both natural and artificial surfaces, in lower categories (2ªB, 3ª). Minimum rules for maintenance and renewal should be established by the federations.
The increase in the quality of the pitch that has occurred between the LaLiga Santander and LaLiga Smartbank clubs has not gone any lower, which means that the leap between the second-B clubs and those of LaLiga Smartbank is increasing. that is observed each year in the four ascended.
The lower categories clubs do not have the budget or the necessary drive to maintain the pitch at the level that is currently being demanded in LaLiga, so I find it difficult to demand levels of quality that would be unaffordable for them. Despite these limitations, I believe that there is always something that could be done. Simple technical advice from the federations themselves would be a good first step, which would allow a better use of the resources allocated to maintenance.
Many of them dispute their matches on artificial grass due to the high cost of maintaining natural grass in our climate and the enormous number of hours of use that a field of this type can have. I would say to them that an artificial grass pitch is neither eternal nor completely maintenance-free. You have to unpack them to prevent them from hardening too much, lift the bent fiber and buried by the rubber, vacuum up the filth; there are machines that do it, and you can't imagine what they come up with. In short, the frequency of these tasks will depend on the number of uses and the budget; But taking into account that, unlike natural fields, maintenance tasks can be carried out at almost any time of the year, it is not unreasonable to think of an external team that spends the year carrying out these tasks in the fields.