MADRID – A trip to Madrid... What a joyride.
It was full of incredible lessons and experiences. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor a few times upon realising that my country isn’t as football mad as the people here claim. Spaniards are football crazy.
I was fortunate enough to be one of six journalists invited to Madrid by La Liga to watch the El Clasico between Real Madrid and log-leaders Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. But I also realised Spanish football was more than just these two teams.
First up on the menu was dinner at a famous restaurant absolutely loved by footballers - the Menson Txistu - and there were picture of these superstars in every room.
A little too much on the bistro’s part if you ask me, but it proved the point that we were all sceptical about walking in.
The next day we were at the old La Liga offices with marketing gurus and social media experts there to explain why Spanish football needed rebranding. I was nervous that this was some kind of brainwashing exercise - why did I need to hear from a marketing guy and a social media specialist?
But I went in with an open mind nonetheless. It paid off.
You see, it’s not that hard to sell football; people already have emotional ties to a club and everything else is a bit of a sideshow. But La Liga also wants everyone to know that Valencia have a success story this season and are building a new venue that will be even better than the majestic Estadio Mestalla, while still carrying with it the architecture.
They are eager to remind football lovers that Atletico Madrid have finally completed the Wanda Metropolitana, a project that has been 17 years in the making. The itinerary was full of these moments and more.
I was also there to observe why it is that the gap between my continent and Europe is so wide when it comes to both the game and administration.
We really need more forward-thinking people in Africa - and not everyone has to have a football background, I learnt. For instance, that La Liga’s head of communication worked for Netflix; they’ve hired someone from Facebook and Nike. So far, at least, it looks like everyone is going to enjoy the taste of what they are cooking.
The El Clasico was incredible, especially because of the proximity of my seat (I watched this spectacle before at Camp Nou in 2012, but the players looked like miniatures from where I was sitting then), but it was when we conducted interviews with club officials and former players that my mind was absolutely blown.
The professionalism, the work ethic and the planning behind supplying content was unmatched. It’s a lot of work, but it seemed normal. Incredible.