Dark suit, elegant walk, smiling, Javier Ribalta takes care of his appearance. The Spanish leader apologizes for a slight delay by remaining very available. It came from a lunch stretched with Pablo Longoria and the management of the Annecy club. A tradition in the European Cup, less so in the Coupe de France or in Ligue 1, but who cares, the two thinking leaders of the new OM want to perpetuate the tradition in France.
“It’s important to discuss with other captains, to know their ideas and to have a strong bond. We set it up with Damien Comolli (toulouse president) at the end of December and since then we’ve been trying to have lunch with our opponents before matches,” the Catalan slips in almost perfect French.
Strictness and requirements
Ribalta arrived in Marseille in June 2022, already fluent in Molière’s language – “a matter of respect for the country in which I live” – sixth after Spanish, Catalan, English, Italian and Portuguese. Let’s cut to the chase: The Barcelona native is a traveler. From the Monumental de River Plate he visited a Superclasico evening in 2013 to supervise Leandro Paredes (ex-Boca) in the meadows of the Old Continent, Europe and Latin America hold some secrets for him.
At 42, he already has a well-stocked resume: recruiter at Turin (2008-2009) and Milan (2009-2011), recruitment director for Juventus (2012-2017) and Manchester United (2017-2018), and finally sports director at Zenith Saint -Petersburg (2018-2021) and Parma (2021-2022).
Over the course of trials, the interested party makes his apprenticeship exhilarating, his younger dream of working as a halfback, his lifelong passion. He draws lessons from this: “winning mentality” in Russia, “football culture, education, fans’ respect for referees and clubs” in England, “professionalism, rigor, organization and the way football is lived” in Italy.
“The players shouldn’t be more important than the club”
On the other side of the Alps, Barcelona forms its perception of football which it modifies in Provence. “The club must always control the message sent. The line of your project must be clear, and that is why the club must be at the top. Then the coach is the most important: we must support him and allow him to express himself as he sees fit. Finally, the players are of course very important but They should never be more important than the team, the coach or the club. We want to work as a group to ensure respect for the institution “, explains the person who supervises all the athletes in the OM, the first team, the training center, the scouts (looking for players) and therefore the transfer window, the women, etc.
The structure here is based on trust, permanent exchange, delegation and respect for directions by the heads of departments: Mark Otero (Academy), David Frio (first team), Alban Sanchez (women) and Matthew Luis Jean (Head of Recruitment).
“Action instead of talking”
Ribalta works personally to ensure that the message circulates well in the different layers of the club. “I had resigned from Parma and Pablo needed someone trustworthy to run the football sector. He was very involved in football and wanted to see things surrounding in a bigger perspective. Working at a club at Champions League level was something interesting. I know what he wants for OM and I should I set his strategy,” he says.
Renowned for his discretion and business sense – selling Paredes du Zénith to PSG (42 million euros) in 2019 – the man continues: “I would rather work and do, than speak or present myself.”His huge network facilitates transactions during the transfer window.
“You have to recruit the players who fit best with your squad, your club and your coach, the Catalans drip. For many it’s about taking out a nugget but today it’s impossible because the world is global. In the Brazilian second division, you already have Scouts…personality is also very important. To play OM, you need it. After nine months in Marseille, he is clearly in the business of improving the club but he “welcomes these changes which testify to the smooth running of the project”, and second place remains a priority.
“Doing great things with Pablo and the club”
The Spaniard praises the unique local environment in his eyes: “This connection, this fusion of city and club, it’s incredible. Here, you have a city for a club and a club for a city. You feel it every day. Every game sold out. It shows that the city lives for the club,” It’s too strong. “
Ribalta insists: “I don’t have personal goals. We work as a group with Pablo, Pedro (Iriundo) and Stefan (Tessier) for the club. When you discuss with experienced people, it’s easier to take a step back to get a strategic vision. If you have a project and ideas, you should “Be away from the immediate results. Of course, we have to take that into account, but it’s hard to say to ourselves that we’re going to win every match. That was the case at the beginning with Igor Tudor for example.”
And what about his future? “I didn’t look at the contract or the money, it’s not important to me. I mainly look at the people I work with and how I can work. Today, it’s a good structure in which I’m happy. I hope to do great things with Pablo and the club. Coincidence: the phone starts to vibrate The “Pablo Longoria” symbol appears on the screen.