Any eagle-eyed Rovers supporters who are heading to Prague for their summer holidays could be forgiven for double-taking when they see some of the local advertising for a leading bank.
That’s because the star of the adverts has been working right here at Ewood Park for the past three months!
Thanks to an EU-led coach exchange programme, we've been benefitting from playing host to Victor Esteban Solé, who has been working closely with the Community Trust, Academy and ladies setup, bringing a different approach to numerous coaching sessions and giving him new skills to take home to his role as sporting director at Spanish club CF Pallejà, based just outside Barcelona.
However, he enjoyed a week's break in the middle of his 12-week stay to jet out to Czechia and spend a week filming a new advert for Raiffeisen Bank, as the talented all-rounder also doubles up as an actor in his spare time. As well as fronting the bank's Czech advertising output, he has also enjoyed cameo roles in a string of Hollywood movies, including Cloud Atlas and In The Heart Of The Sea, as well as the eponymous 'Messi' feature film.
"It’s a bit curious when you’re in a restaurant and you can see people not knowing whether to come and talk to you or not," he explained, when asked about his experiences in the Eastern European capital. "People do recognise me when I’m over there, especially if they’re clients of the bank.
"Each time I go over to shoot some of their nice movie-style adverts, I have to try and learn some short lines in Czech, but then they dub me anyway!”
After a 20-year career working internationally for the United Nations and the World Bank among others, Victor decided that he wanted to try something different with his life. At that point, his two favourite passions came calling. He continued:
“I’m a late arrival to both football and acting. I used to have a corporate life; I have an MBA, a masters in psychology, and I worked around the world. However, there came a point where I said ‘what do I want to do with my life… I’m turning 40 and I’m not happy?’. I decided to live happily ever after and started exploring the things that made me tick. Football and acting were those things.
“I more or less started both simultaneously, getting my badges in football and my experience in movies. I was very fortunate that I got into big Hollywood movies pretty early on – small roles, but nevertheless I was lucky enough to be working alongside Tom Hanks and on set with other great actors like Jim Sturgess and Jim Broadbent, which gives you some knowledge and the confidence that you can act.
“While I was working with the Academy, one of the coaches told me that he was currently going through one of the very elite levels of training for coaches. One of the most interesting training sessions that they put on for him was when they sent all the coaches to acting school and they explained to them how the life of an actor is very similar to the life of a football player.
“The way that all the decisions are made for both seems to be very similar, there are a lot of crossovers. Though a football player is a sportsman, he’s also an artist; he’s a person who wants to create something on the pitch. With the ball or without the ball, they’re constantly making decisions and creating beautiful things – that’s why people go to watch.
“My ID on social media is ‘@victorartsport’ because art and sport are two sides of the same coin. There are constant overlaps with that willingness for both to express themselves. People want to be entertained by artists of the ball in the stadium in the same way as the actor on the screen in the cinema. I think that is what makes football so beautiful.”
Victor confirms that football remains very much the day job and the acting an exciting sideline, hence why he was so keen to broaden his horizons with a three-month stint in the UK, which has come to a conclusion this week.
"What I wanted was to go to the origin of football," he admits. "When I was offered this scholarship by the European Union, and the Spanish Federation, one of the options was to go to France, but I didn’t see the point because they didn’t invent football. Some of them play good football, but I wanted to go to the place where it was created, and that’s England, so that was my main objective.
“There is such a tradition here… the crowds, the stadiums, the Premier League. I was very lucky that I was assigned to Blackburn Rovers and when I knew that it was where I was going, I was delighted, because it’s one of the only teams that has won the Premier League… even Liverpool haven’t won the Premier League! Therefore I was very proud to be coming to Blackburn Rovers.
“My objective was to know a big club inside-out. I also wanted to see the full Academy system and how it worked, as well as seeing the excellent ladies' coaching infrastructure – I think I have achieved my objective by far. Blackburn Rovers, despite relegation, is a big club, and it functions as a big club, with the good things and the bad things that come from being that way.
“I also wanted to see the famous Community Trust system, which is unique here, and it doesn’t exist in Spain, nor do I think it exists in many other countries in Europe.”
Ticking all of the boxes that he had listed before his arrival has made for a very satisfactory stay for Solé, who cites two 4-2 victories as major highlights of his stay - accompanying the under-18s to Manchester United for their final day victory against the Red Devils and coaching the Community Trust's BTEC in Sport team to a victory over Accrington Stanley by the same scoreline. All the experiences have given him plenty of food for thought to take back to his parent club, adding:
"We (Pallejà) are a league club, but we don’t have the Community Trust concept. I want to absorb some of the good job that the Community Trust is doing here and implement it in my club.
“For example, the Community Trust has a session once a week for elderly people to come and walk around the edge of the pitch. That is a great idea, because you are helping those people to stay active.
"Walking football doesn’t exist in Spain, but I think that it’s something that we can try and do to help people who are starting to get a little bit less mobile. I think it can only be a good thing to keep people like this involved in football.
“The Community Trust is also educating people and helping in schools; I think that is perhaps something that a club like ours could do in schools nearby. It makes the club more social and connected with local people.”
He leaves having also experienced British Sunday league football at its finest with some cameo appearances on the famous playing fields at Pleasington, before graduating to a higher level as he got the chance to play in a number of community fixtures at Ewood Park at the end of the season, including a memorable goal against Preston North End's staff team.
He concluded by expressing his thanks to everyone across multiple departments who helped to make his stay such a success and hopes that the same people will help the club to achieve an upward trajectory next season, admitting:
“I will miss being with the Community Trust staff, especially my tutor, Nick, and his family who have put me up while I’ve been here. I will miss all the meals that Cath, my host, has been making me every night. I have learned a lot from the Academy and ladies coaches who welcomed me in so well.
“I’ve also really enjoyed being a part of the first team matchdays as well and seeing the team play.
"Tony Mowbray and David Lowe are doing a great job and I hope that they can have a very positive influence on the team next season. I am lucky enough to have a season ticket at Barcelona and in the last ten games of the season, you could see Rovers moving towards the Barca mentality of keeping the ball, staying firm, and using a defence that is squeezing the opponent, trying to switch the ball when it’s the right moment.
"I hope that the fans can go full steam next season and support the club. It’s a massive stadium and it needs big crowds to get behind the team."
The thanks of everyone at Ewood Park are extended to Victor for his contribution next season and we hold high hopes that the new found friendship between Blackburn and Barcelona will reap rewards for both parties for many years to come.