Club Atlético de Madrid welcomed as owners of CPL team in Ottawa

OTTAWA – After a short hiatus, pro soccer is set to return to Canada’s capital city … with a dash of Spanish flair.

On Wednesday, Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan announced that Ottawa, Ontario has been granted an expansion franchise – the league’s first – and will enter the CPL as its eighth team in April of 2020.

“We are thrilled to welcome Ottawa as the Canadian Premier League’s 8th Club, and Club Atlético de Madrid as our newest owners of the Ottawa club,” said Clanachan. “We are very excited to launch the club with one of the world’s most iconic and successful soccer brands and look forward to them taking to the pitch for the 2020 CPL season.”

The new Ottawa team is owned by La Liga outfit Club Atlético de Madrid, and will play its home games at TD Place Stadium. Club Atlético de Madrid’s leadership includes President Enrique Cerezo and CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín. The club’s manager, Diego Simeone, leads a team of world stars that includes Jan Oblak, Koke, João Félix, Diego Costa and Saúl.

“We are delighted to be part of such an exciting project in an amazing country. We would like to bring our expertise to a very strong and structured league and will work together with the CPL and the rest of the clubs to contribute to the growth of Canadian soccer. We want Ottawa soccer fans to be able to feel proud of belonging to the Atlético de Madrid family so we can start sharing our values with them,” said Atlético de Madrid’s CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín. 

Club Atlético de Madrid’s ownership also announced that Ottawa businessman Jeff Hunt will serve as a strategical partner for Ottawa’s CPL club. Familiar to Ottawa sports ownership as the owner of the Ottawa Redblacks football club of the Canadian Football League and the Ottawa 67’s hockey club of the Ontario Hockey League, Hunt brings proven success from both local teams and will be a key asset to the Ottawa team as they prepare to launch.

Hunt along with Club Atlético de Madrid’s ownership and Clanachan will be in Ottawa at a public unveiling event to be held at TD Place on February 12.

It hardly comes as a surprise that the CPL is headed to Ottawa. Clanachan has long said the league was committed to bringing a team to the city, telling in a 2018 interview that “in order for us to be a truly successful Canadian league, we need to be in our nation’s capital.”

Still to be determined is whether or not Ottawa will participate in the 2020 Canadian Championship, and if so, how the tournament will be restructured to accommodate the new CPL side.

With the start of the CPL season slated for April, this new Ottawa team will have a number of pressing priorities, foremost among them being cobbling together a roster of players, putting a management structure in place and hiring a head coach.

Ottawa entering the league means the CPL will have a balanced schedule, which in turns means less arduous travel for the clubs, thus improving the product on the pitch.

But beyond that, going to the nation’s capital means the CPL will be in one of Canada’s biggest and most important media markets, not to mention the league will be bringing the sport back from the dead in the city.

The future of pro soccer in the nation’s capital prior to Wednesday’s news looked bleak when the Ottawa Fury announced last November that it would cease operations after it had not been sanctioned to play in the 2020 USL Championship season.

The Fury, owned and operated by Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group – who also own the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks and the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL – received sanctioning from Canada Soccer, but not from the U.S. Soccer Federation and Concacaf. All professional soccer clubs in Canada need sanctioning from all three governing bodies to play in a league that’s based in the U.S. The Fury debuted in the old North American Soccer League in 2014, and had played in the USL Championship since 2017, and was the league’s only Canadian team.

Bringing on Club Atlético de Madrid as an owner is a major coup for the CPL, considering the Spanish club’s rich history and its standing in the sport. To have one of the world’s most prestigious soccer brands involved raises the profile of the CPL and could help the league attract more high-profile owners in the future.

General view outside the stadium before a UEFA Champions League match. (Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez)
General view outside the stadium before a UEFA Champions League match. (Photo: REUTERS/Sergio Perez)

Founded in 1903 as Athletic Club Sucursal de Madrid, the club merged with Aviación Nacional to become Athletic Aviación de Madrid in 1939, before eventually adopting its current name, Club Atlético de Madrid, in 1947.

This marked the beginning of the modern era of the club, as it became a dominant force in Spanish soccer over the ensuing decades, winning a host of domestic, European and international honours. Among the silverware won by Club Atlético de Madrid: 10 La Liga championships, 10 Copa del Reys, three UEFA Europa League titles, three UEFA Super Cups, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup.

Club Atlético de Madrid was also a three-time finalist in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, losing to Bayern Munich in 1974, and twice to bitter city rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.

Currently coached by former Argentina international Diego Simeone, Club Atlético de Madrid has seen some of the game’s biggest stars in recent times don its iconic red-and-white, vertical striped jersey (the club is nicknamed Los Rojiblancos, The Red and Whites), including Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Antoine Griezmann, Diego Forlan, Thibaut Courtois, Radamel Falcao and David Villa.

This isn’t the first time Club Atlético de Madrid has invested in a foreign soccer club. It previously co-owned the Indian Super League franchise Atletico de Kolkata, before ending its partnership with the ISL club in 2017.

Also in 2017, Club Atlético de Madrid bought a major ownership stake in Mexican team San Luis Futbol Club and renamed it Atletico San Luis. The team went on to win promotion to the Mexican topflight from the second division last year.

Miguel Angel Gil Martin, the son of former club president Jesus Gil, is the majority owner of Club Atlético de Madrid.