The women’s Spain under-17s recently beat Germany 4-0. / J.R

Marbella, a growing force on the world football scene

More than 200 teams, including national sides, will train and play 300 matches across their 29 pitches this year

JULIO RODRÍGUEZ

If Malaga was already globally renowned for its museums, monuments and gastronomy, Marbella is now making a name for itself in world football, enjoying a remarkable boom since the worst of the pandemic passed.

Business has gone much better than anticipated, exceeding the best figures from 2019, with foreign football clubs leaving a huge cultural and economic mark on the Costa del Sol.

Indeed, a whopping 200,000 euros have been injected into the local economy by the German club Borussia Dortmund alone, training in Marbella during the winter break from their competitive season back home.

This sum comes from their stay at the five-star luxury Don Pepe Gran Meliá hotel, the exclusive accommodation for the Dama de Noche pitches maintained by the Marbella Football Center, plus organised friendly matches, transportation and other services - all for just 42 people.

The money - when multiplied by the 40 teams from 12 countries currently staying and training on 29 fields spanning Marbella, Estepona, Guadiaro, Coín, Sotogrande and the Alicante coast (also managed by the centre) - equates to an eight-million-euro turnover.

No global destination rivals the climate, hotels and services provided in the area. The closest competitor is Antalya in Turkey. Although it's more affordable for football clubs, it has poorer weather and facilities on offer.

One major plus is the international feel on offer. If you take a walk around Marbella, you can find guest teams from Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, South Korea, Canada and the United States.

Andrés Roldán, the manager of Marbella Football Center, has managed to turn seasonal trips into bustling annual visits. Throughout the year, the football crowds don't go away.

"We're back [this year] with 200 teams and more than 300 matches," he says. "The weather is on our side, and the clubs are delighted to have undergone another pre-season and return to their leagues in shape."

"The trickiest thing is squeezing them all in, sorting out who plays who. They all want to test themselves against rival teams from superior leagues outside of their own country. We have to strike a balance between dates, preferences, the divisions they play in and the levels of each team.

"It's never easy, but we have 20 years of experience to draw on and the most important thing is that they leave satisfied. And they always do. Because they come back."

The change in the nature of the camps these clubs go on is clear to see. Five years ago, clubs would come to unwind and disconnect. Now, they come in search of peak fitness and maximum competitiveness. As a result, the most notable change has been the growing presence of international teams, including women's sides.

"We have many agreements with federations, including those from Spain and Germany," says Roldán. "We've turned the Costa de Sol into the global hub for women's football. Just look at February, when the season for FIFA matches begins. Senior teams from Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and others, like France and Italy, will come here to compete."

"Women's football is becoming more attractive, developing very well and there is more media attention and economic interest." An example of this was the last game Spain's women's under-17 team played against Germany, whom they thumped 4-0 last Thursday.

And there are agreements with the Norwegian federation too. "We've got Norway to sign an agreement to make Marbella its exclusive headquarters, where they will have to bring over all their sides from under-17s to under-23s. And we took the opportunity to invite other teams, like France and Italy too, so that we could organise a tournament that will be televised to the whole world," Roldán told SUR.

Not only that, football agents travel in to meet players and directors while keeping tabs on the transfer market. For them, it's the perfect spot. Engaging in business, they meet budding talents - from lesser-known leagues with short contracts to high-end footballers like Jude Bellingham. The latest visitors are American, from Major League Soccer.

"It's an emerging market. FC Dallas have just arrived, and now we are waiting for Seattle Sounders," said Roldán.

An attraction for fans too

Borussia Dortmund waved goodbye to their camp in Marbella after two friendly games, one a 5-1 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf (from the German second division) and the other a 5-0 win over Swiss champions Basel. Some 500 fans paid a 12-euro entry to watch the latter from the Dama de Noche stands.

The media hype surrounding teams and players continues to attract more supporters during the opening three months of the year. In the few training sessions that Dortmund opened to the public, the average number of supporters of various nationalities following the players didn't drop below 300, with fans holding out for selfies from the outset despite meetings with players and staff not being actively encouraged.

Antonio, a devoted father, was one to position himself at the hotel doors to grab a picture with the most coveted player on the market.

"I called various departments and press to ask where the players were meeting because my son is a devoted Dortmund fan, and we have travelled from Antequera to get a glimpse of them and get him to meet Bellingham," he told SUR.

Speaking about fans, Roldán recalled: "Yes, it's true that about 300 people queued up early to see the team. The knock-on effect is that it spreads the word and helps us position the Costa del Sol as a global focal point for teams during the winter."

As far as football is concerned, Marbella is the gift that keeps giving.