Atlético Ottawa CEO: ‘We want to replicate all the passion of Atlético de Madrid’

Fernando López has a lot on his plate these days.

López serves as CEO of Atlético Ottawa, and ever since the Canadian Premier League announced the team from the nation’s capital as its first expansion franchise in February, the 33-year-old Spaniard has been hard at work.

Foremost on López’s agenda has been trying to put together a player roster for Atlético Ottawa’s inaugural CPL season. But that’s not the only item on his to-do list, as he also has to hire support staff and club employees before the team even kicks a ball.

What’s it like to build a professional soccer team from scratch? chatted one-on-one with López to find out.

This interview took place before Atlético Ottawa players and staff returned home from pre-season training camp in Madrid due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CPL DEEP DIVE: How a steak & fish dinner in Madrid led to the launch of Atlético Ottawa

What can you tell me about Atlético Ottawa’s system of player recruitment? Why did you settle on making Ben Fisk the team’s first player signing?

We’ve been collaborating with the CPL’s (soccer operations department) on signing players. The job they have performed with us has been amazing – without them, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now. We are in motion.

At the beginning they shared a list of potential targets, because we were limited in our knowledge about Canadian players. Ben Fisk was on the initial list, and from there we made evaluations with the scouting department of Atlético de Madrid.

One of the things we liked about Ben was that he played in Spain. That connection with Spain, and him speaking Spanish fluently – we liked that.

I really like him as person, apart from the technical side and what he does on the pitch. He was one of the key players for Pacific last year. We really liked his technical ability on the attacking side. We believe we need to be very strong at his position, with someone with good technique. Ben is very fast and a smart player, and we need that kind of player close to the goal.

Was it important that Ottawa’s first player signing be a Canadian?

Absolutely. Our first thought was that it needed to be Canadian. Ben truly represents the Canadian experience – in how he carries himself, he speaks French which is important to keep that connection with Ottawa; he has good (playing) experience outside of Canada.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to building a new team in Ottawa?

We have a lot of challenges, but every day that passes by I’m more happy and more enthusiastic about everything. It’s true that it has been, not complicated, but due to the timeline, it’s hectic. We have to start from scratch. We are not in the same position as other CPL clubs; we’re still looking at players. Players and agents reached out to us when we announced (the launch of the team), and we could have easily fielded a roster. But we prefer to stay calm and take it step by step, talking to our scouting department and taking our time to make the right decisions.

Club Atlético de Madrid’s Fernando López, who will oversee operations for Atlético Ottawa, discusses the CPL coming to the nation’s capital.

How would you describe Atlético de Madrid’s ethos? What is the club’s philosophy?

I was an Atlético de Madrid player when I was very young. The problem is I was very bad, and that’s why I work in the office now. [Laughs]. But I know our values and philosophy.

We are a very hard working people. We don’t have the same resources as Barcelona or Real Madrid. So we have to be very creative, very imaginative, very passionate and be in love with what we do every day. That is Atlético de Madrid – it’s like a big heart with two arms and two legs, every day working hard to get better.

What we are trying to do in Ottawa is, we want to replicate all the passion of Atlético de Madrid. We want to align the same things in Ottawa. I want the players to feel the passion and the love, the hard work, and humility that we all have here in Madrid.

The reason why we started (pre-season) training in Madrid is because we wanted the players to come here to see the facilities, the hard working people in the office, to see how we train, to meet our coaches and our people. We want them to feel what it is to be Atlético so they can take that back to Ottawa

What about tactics? Do you envision Atlético Ottawa playing the same way that Atlético de Madrid does under manager Diego Simeone?

A team’s tactics depends on the coach. We have a broad experience with our international franchises around the world, and with every team it’s up to the coach – the team has to match the coach’s style while adhering to Atlético de Madrid’s core values. We’re going to ask the players to run, to pressure, to work, to put all the effort, to have the winning spirit. All of that is what defines Atlético de Madrid. But the type and style of play is going to be determined by Mista.

We have to continue to build our roster to see how we can take advantage of our players and make the team better. I don’t know what formation we will use. But what I know is we are going to press, we are going to run, and we are going to be very competitive, and we are going to fight for wins.

Why did you settle on Mista as the club’s first coach?

For sure, the most important thing is the person, the man. Even if you had the biggest playing career or a good reputation, if you’re not a good person, it’s very difficult to work at Atlético de Madrid. Mista is a very nice person, a dream to deal with, and very kind. When we first met, this was one of the things we valued the most.

Aside from this, he was once an Atlético de Madrid player, so he knows what our philosophy is, our vision and our core values. He had that fight in him when he was a player, he was national team player, and all of that was an added value for him.

He played in Canada (for Toronto FC), so he knew the culture, he knew MLS, and North America; it is very important to have that. He’s also a new coach who needs to grow, so this is a perfect opportunity for him.