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An ex-NBA exec and gambling maestro desires to tackle Real Madrid and Barcelona. Will his latest bet lift a lowly Spanish soccer team?

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Bob Voulgaris is betting big that he can lift a beleaguered Spanish soccer team to the following level. Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CASTELLON DE LA PLANA, Spain — On a sweltering August afternoon in a small Spanish city just a couple of miles inland from the Mediterranean coast, the mayor opens the door to her conference room and invites in her last meeting of the day. The guest of honor — a Canadian who has been the talk of her town for the last two weeks.

For greater than a decade, Haralabos (Bob) Voulgaris has been some of the well-known analysts within the sports world, first making a fortune using complex statistical models to win high-stakes bets on the NBA, then directing the analytics group for the Dallas Mavericks and owner Mark Cuban.

But Castelleon mayor Amparo Marco shouldn’t be interested by basketball. Last month, Voulgaris purchased CD Castellon, the town’s beloved — albeit beleaguered — soccer team that plays within the Spanish third division. His purchase of CD Castellon coincidentally aligned with the a hundredth anniversary of the club, which hasn’t reached the highest level of Spanish football — LaLiga — in greater than three a long time. It’s fair to say they’ve had a downward trajectory over the past half century.

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The club has spent just 11 of its 100 seasons in the highest flight, just six of its last 28 campaigns above the third division, and spent a majority of the 2010s mired within the fourth division. It finished runner-up within the 1973 Copa del Rey tournament.

Accompanied by a small contingent of executives, the brand new club owner walks inside and settles into his seat next to the top of the table, where the mayor is desirous to hear his plans. She grins as she tells Voulgaris that Castellon’s supporters are this club’s biggest attribute, before asking him about his vision.

Voulgaris told ESPN his purchase of the club was “no vanity play,” and that becomes clear as he lays out his six-year plan for the mayor. The goal is to regularly elevate Castellon up the Spanish ladder in order that by the tip of the last decade Castellon might again play in LaLiga against rival sides like Valencia, Real Madrid and Barcelona and compete in essentially the most prestigious matches European soccer has to supply.

“This team has the potential to be a LaLiga team,” Voulgaris said. “It has the local support from its fans, it has a really deep and wealthy history.”

Voulgaris is essentially the most recent high-profile sports figure from North America to take a position in European soccer, following the likes of Billy Beane — the manager vp of the Oakland Athletics — and Jeff Luhnow — the previous general manager of the Houston Astros. Each of them earned reputations as modern minds in Major League Baseball — like Voulgaris did within the NBA — using advanced analytics to seek out competitive benefits in strategy and personnel.

It’s no coincidence that in the previous couple of years they’ve each invested heavily in European soccer in what’s becoming a fast-growing trend, partly since the market inefficiencies that when allowed them to rise to the highest of their fields are actually able to be exploited on a distinct playing field across the Atlantic.

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