Monchi: The man who made Sevilla
It was in the autumn of 2003 that I first realised that it was time to know a hell of a lot more about Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo. Also known as "Monchi." Also known as the brains behind Sevilla FC's football operation since retiring as their goalkeeper about three years previously (and subsequently for the ensuing 11 years).
Monchi, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason that the city of Sevilla, one of Spain's most prodigious and important talent factories, has a team in the Primera Division.
He may, although this is hypothetical and hard to prove, also be the reason that Sevilla still has two football clubs. Because how this organisation would have survived the dearth of money for clubs outside the big three or four over the past handful of years if they didn't have this 45-year-old 'Big Brain' of football watching over them is a mystery to me.
Temporarily, however, back to the autumn of 2003. A friend of mine, a football lawyer by trade, had been at Highbury to do business and spotted a taxi being called for a Ramon Rodriguez. It was evidently a football matter given the fuss being made over the Spanish visitor and, one tip-off later, I was on the case.
The deal turned out to be Jose Antonio Reyes, about whom most Gunners will have mixed feelings -- but not so in Sevilla.
He's back there now, with his hometown club, but the 2003 sale to Arsenal -- for significantly more than it cost Barcelona to buy Ronaldinho six months earlier -- was the beginning of a selling spree where Monchi's prodigies, like Julio Baptista and Sergio Ramos, earned Los Rojiblancos close to a 90 million-euro profit.
In fact, rather than Monchi, his nickname should be "Margin". His metallurgical ability to spot, sign and plump up a player other clubs are simply not interested in and then sell him for a huge profit is simply remarkable.
Not every single time. Not everything he touches turns to gold or else he'd be "Midas" not Monchi. But I don't believe that in modern times there's a trader of horseflesh anywhere in football with a record to compare to his.
In his time he's either helped promote from Sevilla's youth structure or signed to the club: Dani Alves, Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano, Julio Baptista, Sergio Ramos, Jose Antonio Reyes, Andres Palop, Adriano, Renato, Gary Medel, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Seydou Keita, Christian Poulsen, Alberto Moreno, Kevin Gameiro, Enzo Maresca, Carlos Bacca, Diego Lopez and Ivan Rakitic.
Not all have been sold, a couple were allowed to leave for free given their age. But every single one of those players has brought, or will bring, vastly more to Sevilla in terms of sale price, prestige, sponsorship and trophies than they cost to acquire.
By the time they are all sold, I'd estimate it'll be at a net profit of around 200 million euros.
And the cherry on the icing, certainly for me because this is not an accountant's column, is that Monchi the Margin Man's driving philosophy is that he and his network can buy short and sell long but all the while, win trophies. Thus it is that during his time as the grey matter behind the club, Sevilla have reached 10 finals (including Tuesday's UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid) and won seven of them.
Some context, in case you happen to be either a little short on Random Access Memory or new to the Rojiblancos history, is that after the Copa Del Rey in 1948, the club didn't win another major trophy (I'm discounting the second division 20 years later) until the Monchi era and the UEFA Cup in 2006.
I'm particularly interested in him this week mainly because of two reasons.
Real Madrid patently went through a stage between David Beckham's signing and the purchase of Gonzalo Higuain, Marcelo and then Ronaldo, when they found the idea of signing the right coach and the right players at the same time and for the right price to be mutually exclusive.
Los Blancos flirted with Monchi. At one stage it was the biggest open secret in Spanish football that he was on the verge of signing for them.
But, for various reasons including the pull of sentiment, better terms and a fearfully persuasive president (Jose Maria Del Nido, who is now in jail), it didn't happen. Just as well for Sevilla, really.
After the break up of the club's greatest-ever squad -- Kanoute, Fabiano, Adriano, Alves, Palop, Renato, Javi Navarro and the late Antonio Puerta -- Monchi's ability to buy frugally, unearth an effective, often thrilling, player and then sell him on for a profit hit the buffers. The team was moribund and the signing policy wasn't on full throttle.
Yet whether there was a causal connection or it was simply time for him to hit a sweet spot again, Monchi's run of form massively improved just as the economic crisis began to devastate the coffers of La Liga and to scare the wits out of their main creditors -- the banks.
Now there is a new economic reality. The grade of players he succeeded with before are outwith his wildest dreams. He now must target those who are still in development or have hit a dip in form and their careers need reviving.
Yet the Cadiz-born former keeper is replicating his form of a decade ago in buying players who eventually blossom at Sevilla, who are head hunted at a raging profit and who, last May, won the Andalucian outfit their fourth European trophy.
He looks on the past 12 months with pride over another triumph.
"Last year we really needed to sell because we were coming off the back of two pretty disastrous seasons economically and there was a debt of about 22 million euros," Monchi said. "If a club like ours is even slightly badly run or planned and faces a debt like that, then there's a fair chance that it'll sink them and they'll never properly rise to this level again.
"The problem is that because we sell well, clubs try to make us pay over the top for their players -- but those clubs don't realise how much we are committed to paying in salaries. For example, for a club like ours to have players like Bacca or Marko Marin or Kevin Gameiro, the quality of player that other equivalent clubs don't and can't get, we have to offer pretty high average salaries.
"That means that often when we sell players it's not to reinvest in signings or the club, it's to pay some of the salary bill. These days it's not feasible to have the salary bill we had when we signed or renewed Dani Alves, Freddie Kanoute or Luis Fabiano.
"So we have to reinvent ourselves."
Already this summer, between purchases, players returning from loans and sales, there have been 21 moves in and out of Sevilla. And you wouldn't bet against Bacca, who with Gameiro, has added 42 goals since the pair were bought for a total of 17 million euros, leaving for a more sizable Champions League club before the market closes.
This is chaotic for a meticulously planned coach like Sevilla's Unai Emery and it cranks up the pressure on Monchi not to make a single slip. And there are so many areas wherein that slip could occur: who to sell, how much for, who to buy, what type of guy to bring into this flexible, intelligent, technical but very hard-pressing football philosophy.
You'd think it would stress him. But last year he spent the majority of the season in London, conducting his business from a rented flat there and learning to speak English. Such an endeavour will augment both his market skills and his market viability when, as eventually must happen, he follows the route favoured by his pupils.
What a black day that will be for Sevilla FC.
Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.