In protest, Trejo resigning Rayo captaincy sends message to club ownership

The best thing Óscar Trejo could do as captain of Rayo Vallecano was stop being captain of Rayo Vallecano, so that was exactly what he did.

Born in Santiago de Estero, Argentina, Trejo first came to Spain to sign for Mallorca as an 18-year-old, eventually arriving in Vallecas on loan in 2010. Although he was forced to walk away again a year later having taken them up to LaLiga, it became his home. He joined the club again on a free transfer in 2017, won promotion again, suffered relegation and won promotion for a third time. He led them to their best position in a decade and their first Copa del Rey semifinal in 40 years. And, a man of talent, vision and solidarity, he made more appearances for them than any foreigner ever.

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Only one man played more, and, although Trejo is 35 now, he could still catch him. After all, he doesn’t want to go anywhere else, ever. This is the place he says he wants to retire, a place where he had a family — Trejo has four children now — and where he found a family too. Every morning, when he arrives at the club, they’re there — not so much staff as his people.

“It’s like I spent my whole life there,” he said a while ago now. “It’s a humble club with tremendous values. People who are close to you, who give you everything and all they ask is for you to be with them, to listen to them, be part of their lives daily.”

So Trejo listened. He understood. He got them, felt he was one of them. He was one of them, is one of them. A former Rayo coach once described them as the last of the barrio teams: not just in their neighbourhood but of their neighbourhood. A working class, socially aware club; a community, a cause. During the pandemic, the Bukaneros supporters’ group hung huge banners from a local hospital.

“Only the people save the people,” the message read. “Health workers: you are our pride.” Trejo posted the picture with a note. “There’s a reason we’re different,” it said.

This season, he changed the name on the back of his shirt. It now says: “TREJO JP” in honour of Juan Pedro, the head of youth football who had been at the club for 45 years, making them what they are, who passed away at the age of 63. And then, 13 years after Trejo first arrived, six years after his second spell began and three years as captain, this week he handed over the armband. The decision to give up the captaincy surprised everyone. But it did not come despite all of that, despite the community, the connection, the commitment; it came because of it.

It wasn’t taken lightly, either. And it certainly wasn’t taken in a flash of anger over something small: He had thought about this for a long time, and it was the right time. Abandoning the captaincy did not abandon those people who had shown him so much affection, been his family; he stood up for them. Yes, this was in partly an act of resignation, exhaustion, the conclusion sadly reached that he was better off without this stress and the pressure. But it was also an act of rebellion, of protest, an attempt to stand up for all of them, for the family. Something had to be done, and this was quite something.

If the means are new, the causes are not. Rayo is a place where there have been endless errors, continuous injustices. There is an absence of investment or even basic care that is startling. A club, to use Trejo’s own words — and it is significant that he said so — where there is “problem after problem.” One that plays in a ground that is crumbling, where the coaching staff have to pay for some of their own equipment, where facilities are falling apart, in dreadful condition. Where supporters are treated like dirt and so are staff.

When new season tickets went on sale this summer, fans queued for 12 hours in the heat — for seats with a restricted view. There is no online sale, and just two windows had been opened to attend to supporters. “The fans do not deserve this,” Trejo said. That was two years ago and it has only got worse.

In short, to use his words: “The management isn’t good.” Rayo is a mess and it has been for a long time, a club where the fans hate the owner and he appears to hate them back, many of his actions looking deliberately provocative. To cite but one, very famous case: Owner Raul Martin Presa invited the leader of the far-right political party VOX to watch a game in the director’s box during the pandemic, when no one else was allowed in. Against Albacete, who had Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya playing for them — the same Zozulya Rayo had protested about signing and who they accused of being a nazi.

Any possibility of a reconciliation long gone, not least because there was no intention of seeking it from the club hierarchy, fans now only ask one thing of Presa: that he leaves. Every single one of them asks him that in every single game.

They have ample reason. Just listing the issues would take up the rest of this article, but here are some: The women’s team were coached by a man who had suggested the best way to create unity among the coaching staff was to rape a woman together. A young French player announced that he was signed by the club, only to find that when he got to Madrid, his contract had changed, leaving him sleeping on the floor of a flat occupied by six others with only two bedrooms. The previous summer, the finance officer and the ticket officer had resigned, sick of it all. There have been redundancies and reductions.

Caught somewhere in the middle of it all, Trejo has not evaded the issues. He has spoken in defence of supporters and of the women’s team, lamented the lack of communication and intelligence from ownership. Being a captain there is not just about playing well or wearing an armband, and nor does he want it to be; it is about taking responsibility, or trying to. It is about seeking improvement, acting when things are done wrong, speaking out when there are injustices — both privately and, if needs be, publicly.

Think of it almost as a kind of trade union leader, a shop steward. And not just on behalf of the players, but all of them. For the club itself, the people who make it. For the fans who make it too, without whom this has no worth. The pursuit of improvement is not just on the pitch, where Rayo have somehow been successful despite what has happened to them. The fact that the ground is packed and the queues for tickets stretch round the block is something to laud but something to lament too. The loyalty is wonderful; that it is tested so hard is depressing.

“It’s admirable because for a long time now the fans have been defenceless and treated badly,” Trejo said. “To see them go to the ground, queuing for 5, 10, 12 hours, all you can do is tell them you understand. You’re conscious that things are not being done right.”

That was in 2021, and still it goes on, still he speaks, still he tried to build bridges, find solutions. It’s not just telling them you understand; it is trying to fix it, taking the weight for it. And at a club like this that is exhausting. When frustration follows, even more so. There have been requests, pleas even, to mend the conflict with the fans, to look after the workers and then … nothing.

“When you have been at the club a long time, you realise,” Trejo told El Mundo last year. “I am an employee like any other [but] we can tell the owner what we think.”

As one employee noted, admiringly, of Trejo: “Things are still done badly off the pitch. It wears you down and if you have been there a long time that [tiredness] is even greater.”

Until one day, there is no way out except the way out. “I want to enjoy being with my teammates, the people who are here, inside and out, every day — those people who make [the club] special and who are its greatest patrimony,” Trejo wrote this week. “I had this idea in my head for a long time and after thinking it over carefully I have decided to stop being captain. There are many, many reasons but the most important one is that I don’t agree with the methodology or the treatment of workers and fans.”

Here was the determination to try one last thing, even if it comes with sacrifice. Sometimes, something has to give, a stand has to be taken, a statement made. Because it matters, because you care. Because responsibility weighs and people, your family, depend on you. This week Trejo handed in the armband and became even more of a captain than he had been before, an even greater symbol of everything Rayo Vallecano is supposed to be.

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