The excited atmosphere in Vigo ahead of the visit of Manchester United for this Thursday’s Europa League semi-final has been almost tangible, with a countdown clock proudly on display and with even more bars and shops than usual sporting light blue colours, in addition to most of the city’s statues. They really are rolling out the red carpet for the Red Devils, but there is a genuine chance that this could be the last time the city of Vigo welcomes a European football team to town.
That’s because Celta Vigo president and largest shareholder Carlos Mouriño dropped a bombshell in April by announcing the club was “irreversibly” planning to move out of the city, departing the Estadio Balaídos, where the week’s other Mourinho will lead his players out on Thursday night. “From this moment on we will start to study alternatives outside of Vigo,” he told the stunned fanbase.
The reason for the move has to do with the fact that Balaídos is not owned by the club, instead belonging to the city council. The local government is willing to grant a license to Celta to use the stadium for a further 50 years, but are refusing to sell it, which has led to a long-running dispute between Mouriño and city major Abel Caballero. The tensions have grown in recent years as a result of a number of stadium issues such as the lack of funds made available for maintenance, an issue which was made very public when Celta Vigo’s home match against Real Madrid had to be postponed last February due to roof damage and will now be very inconveniently played just a few days before the LaLiga season’s final round.
“Caballero has promised that Celta will never leave Vigo, but I would remind the mayor that he may be in charge of Balaídos, but he is not the owner of Celta,” Mouriño said of the mayor and his complacency that the team wouldn’t take off. “I wouldn’t tell him what to do in parliament so he shouldn’t tell me what to do with Celta.”
Yet there is more to the club’s wantawayness than an personal dispute, as Mouriño’s ambition is to grow Celta as an institution and he does not feel that can be done in a crumbling 30,000-capacity ground which was last significantly redeveloped for the 1982 World Cup and which even failed a UEFA inspection in 2003. “It is not a fight between me and him, but he has one idea for the city and I have one idea for the club,” the president said in a public statement. “With or without him we will try to make sure that Celta’s growth is not stopped by anyone and if this growth is not in Vigo with him then it will be outside of Vigo without him.”
With an allocated €50m for a stadium and €20m for a training complex, Celta are now looking at potential landing spots, with the neighbouring municipalities of Mos, Redondela and Nigrán all having expressed some interest in adopting the team. Of the three, Mos is the one which has been mentioned the most and club representatives have already inspected the area and researched a possible move.
It is not too far out of Vigo and can be considered a suburb of Galicia’s largest city, but it is still very much out of the way a lot more remote, sitting 15 kilometres outside the city centre. Such a move would, therefore, distance the fanbase and Mouriño’s claim that the club would find sufficient new supporters in its new area is a difficult one to buy.
It remains to be seen exactly how this all plays out and how long it will take to play out, with there likely to be more serious discussions once the season wraps up. However, given Celta’s failure to finish in LaLiga’s European spots this current season, this Thursday’s hosting of Manchester United could well be the last time European football descends upon the centre of Vigo. They’ll hope to make the most of it.