The transfer window may be over for LaLiga Santander clubs, but the league itself has made six exciting signings, bringing in Samuel Eto’o, Xabi Prieto, Julio Baptista, Luis García, Aintzane Encinas and Carlos Valderrama as their new ambassadors, while Patrick Kluivert returns as an ambassador after a break.
The LaLiga Ambassadors programme is now in its fifth year and brings together former players from various different continents and countries with the objective of promoting Spanish football on the Iberian Peninsula, across Europe and overseas.
The ambassador team has expanded to become a similar size to a LaLiga club’s squad and the new or returning recruits join Fernando Sanz, Fernando Morientes, David Albelda, Carles Puyol, Vero Boquete, Ismael Urzaiz, César Sánchez, Frédéric Kanouté, Marcos Senna, Christian Karembeu, Milinko Pantic, Gaizka Mendieta, Xavi Hernández and Kiko Narváez in representing the league’s values around the world.
Three of the new recruits are Spaniards, while there are two from South America and one from Africa.
Former Cameroon international and current Qatar SC striker Eto’o is the African representative and although he couldn’t be at the presentation ceremony for the new additions to the team, he sent a video message to express his excitement at the opportunity.
Brazilian Julio Baptista and Colombian Valderrama are the two new South American additions to the squad and they were both present at the gala, where they and their fellow new signings were presented with LaLiga shirts with their names and numbers on the back.
Like Eto’o, Baptista is still playing, in his case with Romanian side CFR Cluj, but he has spent time at three LaLiga clubs, namely Sevilla, Real Madrid and Málaga. Over 151 top-flight appearances, the Brazilian scored 62 goals in Spain and won the title on one occasion, with Real Madrid in 2007/08. Retired Colombian legend Valderrama didn’t have quite as long a career in Spain, spending just one season with Real Valladolid in 1991/92, but he left his mark on the league and will now represent it in a fresh capacity.
Of the three Spaniards to be selected, two are Real Sociedad legends. Xabi Prieto retired last year after spending his entire professional career with the team from San Sebastián, making 479 league appearances. Aintzane Encinas, the second woman to become an ambassador after Vero Boquete, also lived out her playing days wearing the blue and white stripes, playing for La Real for 13 seasons.
Finally, there’s former Spain international Luis García, who represented six different clubs in Spain during his playing days, most famously donning the colours of both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. He has been working as a pundit since returning, discussing the league, and now he’ll represent it in a new capacity.
For league president Javier Tebas, the project is doing well and he was extremely proud to welcome the new recruits into the team. “You are key to our international strategy,” he said, addressing the new ambassadors. “Your representation will help us a lot. Your prestige is important for us and will enable us to keep growing.”