Racing`s new Indian owner taking on Barca, Real

Santander: Racing Santander`s new Indian owner believes the club can one day compete with La Liga behemoths Barcelona and Real Madrid and is ready to invest whatever it takes to return the club to European competition.

Ahsan Ali Syed, the founder and chairman of investment company Western Gulf Advisory who became Racing`s majority shareholder at the end of last month, told Reuters that buying into the club had been "a dream come true" and insisted there was room for a third force in Spain.

"When La Liga is watched all across the world today the first two teams that come to mind are Real Madrid or Barca," Ali Syed said in an interview at his luxury hotel suite in Santander on Spain`s north coast.

"As I have already said in public, I will provide everything possible to see Racing grow in the world of football," he added, sitting in a plush armchair with his entourage and team of bodyguards looking on.

"So I am sure there is a place for a third one. It`s all about proving your talent in 90 minutes on the field. Whoever plays best will win."

"There exists a lot of potential for Racing to be competitive with these two lovely teams (Barca and Real) who are always playing good, entertaining football."

Ali Syed, who shuttles between bases in Zurich and Bahrain in a private aeroplane, failed in an attempt to buy English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers last year.

He turned his attention instead to Spain and became the latest foreign investor in La Liga following the purchase of Malaga by a member of the Qatari royal family last year.

Racing, whose most famous fan is Spanish golfer and local resident Seve Ballesteros, are often involved in the La Liga relegation scrap, although they qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2008 with a sixth-placed finish.

Ali Syed`s takeover of the cash-strapped club, which he said had been "struggling" financially but was "not completely sick", was finalised two days before the end of the January transfer window.

That left him little time to strengthen the squad, and he said he would put that right when the window reopens at the end of the season.

"When we have more time in the summer, we`ll definitely get some more talent into the squad," he added.

"That does not necessarily mean that if you are very aggressive, with huge money pouring into the club, the club will do wonders, that is not the case."

"But I personally feel that I want to make this club grow slowly, steadily but strongly, so that it can sustain whatever position it reaches for a longer time."

There was no specific amount set aside for spending on players, Ali Syed said, adding that he would be making his own preferences known to the Racing staff.

"I love a lot of players, possibly I cannot get all of them," he said.

"But when the time comes, I will definitely disclose my love and affection for particular players."

"I have not earmarked (cash) as such and as I have said already I don`t want to be very aggressive."

"But we want to get good talent. How much the talent would be worth is for the technical experts to decide."

"But whatever it takes to get the best talent into the squad we will spend."

After speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Ali Syed was whisked off to Racing`s Sardinero stadium where he was shown on television wildly celebrating the team`s goals in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Sevilla.

Asked how long it would take the club to qualify again for European competition, he said an important step had been taken with the reappointment this week of Marcelino Garcia, the coach who led them into the UEFA Cup in 2008.

"So you can be assured that we are moving fast towards achieving that (European) goal," Ali Syed said. "How fast, time will only show but we have high expectations."

In the short term, Ali Syed plans to make improvements to the Sardinero, including possibly expanding its capacity from the current 22,222.

"First of all I want to make the stadium very comfortable and entertaining for the fans," he said, dressed in dark blue with a cravat and with two large, colourful rings adorning his fingers.

"We want to get a lot of high-tech facilities in the stadium, to make the stadium as competitive as other good stadiums across the world."

Soccer comes some way behind cricket in popularity in Ali Syed`s native India and he said that if given the chance he may put money into the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 competition, including possibly buying a team.

"Right now I don`t have investments in cricket but whenever time and opportunity comes I would definitely invest," he said.

"If ever I get a chance I would definitely associate myself with the IPL."

Racing`s victory over Sevilla lifted the club to 12th but they remain only four points above the relegation places.

Bureau Report

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