Marbella Football Center - Spain’s elite training centre

Editorin Football

As top class football training facilities go, Marbella Football Center is up there with some of the best in the world. Regularly used by elite teams from the UK and Europe, along with national sides, the pitches have to be in the best condition at all times. Salvador Lomena Santos is the man in overall charge of all things agronomic.

Marbella Football Center (MFC) has top quality natural grass football pitches, changing rooms adapted for elite teams, high performance gyms, spa area, massage area and press room.

The facilities were created to meet the highest demands of professional football, adapting to all the needs that an elite team needs during a pre-season or training camp. It ranks as one of the most exclusive sports complexes in Europe.

Elite clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund regularly use the facilities, as do the national teams of England and Denmark. Jurgen Klopp recently commented; "Excellent facilities at the Marbella Football Center, especially the state of the natural grass, the organisation, the weather, the proximity to the hotel and cycling to training sessions."

Salvador Lomena Santos is the Head Groundsman at the MFC and, in this article, he charts his career to date and discusses the requirements of this top class facility.

"My interest in grass was piqued when I was studying EGB (Educación General Básica - the formal Spanish education system) - in Istán, my hometown. I travelled from Istán to Marbella to work in the City's gardens, although I hadn't considered it my vocation as I was only fifteen years old and not aware of what life would offer me.

Salvador Lomena Santos Right: Marbella Football Center

Without knowing what I was looking for, in 2000, my father told me that Juan Villalba, who at that time was the Head Greenkeeper at Aloha Golf Marbella, one of the best golf courses in the area, needed a guy for the driving range, primarily to pick up the practice balls. At that time, I had been working on the grounds of a hotel in my home town and, without giving it much thought, I went to work with Juan Villalba at Aloha.

I transformed the small area next to the driving range, which impressed Juan so that, three months after starting, the management transferred me to the maintenance of the club's gardens and grounds. That didn't last long though; only nine months. My curiosity to learn was so great and I realised that I liked the world of grass more and more.

In 2004, I studied for a Masters in Greenkeeping at EADE University of Malaga, which was then a two year course. After completing it, I continued working at Aloha until August 2007; the greenkeeper at this time was Angel Chacón. He was the one who told me that Santa Clara Golf Marbella needed an assistant greenkeeper.

I interviewed for the position with Ramón Ramiro, who was the Head Greenkeeper at that time, and he immediately told me that the position was mine. I was an assistant for two years until Ramón was fired and they offered me the position of Head greenkeeper, until December 2019 when, not reaching an agreement with the club, I decided to leave.

Toro 3100 in action

During this period of time, I decided to continue learning and train in another branch of turfcare and did the Master of Landscape Architecture. Whilst studying for this Masters, my partner from Los Naranjos golf, Jose Antonio Lobato, called me to say he had told Andrés Roldán, owner of Marbella Football Center, about me and, after an interview with him, I started working for Marbella Football Center in May 2021. The football pitches were a very interesting challenge, both work-wise and training.

The most curious question during the interview was; Do you like football?, to which I answered honestly; "I don't like football but I do love working with grass". Maybe I risked my position there, but that's what I thought.

Marbella Football Center (MFC)

MFC is a company specialised in the management of pre-seasons for professional football teams. Since its inception in 2005, it has created sports packages designed for elite clubs (accommodation + sports facilities + matches).

Professional and personalised management has made MFC an indispensable part of pre-season planning for football teams around the world.

Through Football Impact, accommodation in selected hotels with long experience with professional football clubs, high-quality natural grass pitches for their training sessions, transfers in buses designed for athletes, together with the global organisation of friendly matches and/or tournaments, as well as the production and TV broadcasting, complete the wide range of products.

After years of intense work and creation of new destinations in Spain, Football Impact has become the most important agency in this sector.

La Quinta

Marbella Football Center offers:

  • Football centres and playing fields with natural grass of the highest quality
  • Wide range of exclusive 4 * and 5 * hotels with long experience in receiving elite football teams
  • Professional organisation of matches: Comprehensive management in friendly matches with teams, referees and TV producers
  • Exclusive transport service personalised to the needs of the club (coaches, private vehicles)
  • Exclusive use of natural grass stadiums to hold friendly matches
  • Health and Safety protocols adapted to professional football teams
  • Professional structure made up of more than thirty-five people responsible for the organisation and coordination of services
  • Professional maintenance staff made up of sixty employees, responsible for the excellent quality of the natural grass football fields

Under the MFC banner, the performance centres are split across a number of venues.

Marbella Football Center comprises:

  • Four full size football pitches (105m x 68m)
  • Four seven-a-side football pitches (60 x 40m)
  • Four tennis courts (20m x 15m)

La Quinta comprises:

  • One full size football pitch (105m x 68m)
  • One seven-a-side football pitch (60m x 40m)
  • One tennis court (20m x 15m)

Dama de Noche comprises:

  • Four full size football pitches (105m x 68m)
  • Three seven-a-side football pitches (60 x 40m)
  • Two tennis courts (20m x 15m)

Aroyo en Medio comprises:

  • One full size football pitch (105m x 68m)
  • One seven-a-side football pitch (60m x 40m)
  • One tennis court (20m x 15m)

Atalaya comprises:

  • One full size football pitch (105m x 68m)
  • One seven-a-side football pitch (60m x 40m)
  • Two tennis courts (20m x 15m)

Melia Villaitana Football Center comprises:

  • Two full size football pitches (105m x 68m)
  • Two seven-a-side football pitches (60 x 40m)

Dama de Noche

Grass quality is the most important aspect of our service.

Elite grass requires exquisite care, being the first thing that professional clubs value and something that we take care of to the millimetre so that teams can train in the best conditions in the world.

We have a great team of groundsmen that pamper the grass so that it stands out for its high quality and are a reference for the conditions experienced at the home venues. Each pitch is adapted to the demands of professional clubs.

These are the pitches that we have throughout the year, along with the La Balona de la Línea football stadium, the Coí­n Stadium and the Alahurin Hotel football pitch.

In high season (January-February-March) the polo fields of Santamarí­a in Sotogrande, Dońa Julia and the pitches of the La Cala Resort Hotel are used.

With the large number of centres that I have to manage, each one is built differently - old courses with a lot of tradition and pitches just a year of construction - it is a daily challenge to keep them in optimum condition for the high-level teams.

The pitches do not have the same orientation. The climate is very different on the coast, compared to the ones that are tucked away in the interior. Each one needs special attention in regard to environmental factors and soils. The base grass in all of them is Bermuda, but different varieties have been planted depending on the location where the pitches are situated.

The varieties that have done best for us are Bermuda Ibiza, Monaco and Riu. The transition is made with Raygras Silver Dollar and Greenland mixed in the same proportion. We have shaded areas in which we also incorporate fescue because that it is the only variety that tolerates more shade.

The biggest problem that I have found is the very high humidity that exists in the pitches that are close to the rivers, due to the high humidity and the sudden changes in temperatures. Diseases such as the Dollar Spot (Sclerotinia Homeocarpa), Rizoctonia Solani, Pytium, (Magnaporthe grisea) Pyricularia and Fusarium can occur. These are the main diseases that I have encountered since I started at MFC.

All this means that we have to be very quick to react, or even prevent, before the situation gets too complicated.

Another problem that we have is with the irrigation water, which is taken from the recycled network. It is of poor quality and, this year, with the storms of Levante, there have been leaks of seawater into the pipes and it therefore arrived with a high conductivity.

We have to fertilise with slow release or calcic fertilisers and do deep irrigation together with the aeration that has to be done every fifteen days so as not to have too many problems with the concentration of salt. I apply it according to the soil and leaf analytics that I do every three months, as I observe their evolution and responses.

I usually pass the TDR every two weeks and at the same time I take water samples, with this important information I see the state of the soil and irrigation water.

The field maintenance staff consists of twelve operators, a mechanic and a crane driver for the transfer of the machines. When the season is busy, extra personnel are hired as cover and support for the maintenance of the facilities.

All operators are trained, and refresher courses are held every year to be prepared for any unforeseen situation."

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