Fidel Moreno’s team

Real Esteli’s advantages in Nicaraguan soccer

Although Real Estelí F.C. has done an excellent job in the CONCACAF Central American Cup 2023, its good soccer level is not comparable to that of the other nine clubs that make up the Nicaraguan First League and neither is it a reflection of the National Team. The high cost of its roster and the monetary sponsorship of Fidel Moreno, secretary general of the Managua City Hall and head of the club, have been the key for the “Tren del Norte” to always be the favorite to win the national championship, which, according to experts, is built to its measure, and compete in international scenarios

Real Estelí

Real Estelí F.C.’s qualification to the CONCACAF Central American Cup 2023 quarterfinals has generated an explosion of positive comments about the level of soccer of the “Train of the North” and the national football. Some of these compliments point out that, based on the level of the northern team in that competition, the quality of the league and the national team is comparable to that of the other Central American countries. An exaggerated claim according to experts who follow the development of soccer in Nicaragua.

“The success of Real Esteli is undeniable. But the comparison of the First League with the other Central American leagues or of Nicaragua’s soccer level with that of other countries is exaggerated. Yes, Estelí is getting good results, but behind that success there are many aspects that must be taken into account to understand why they compete so well at this level and why it is not comparable to other national clubs”, explained a source linked to the Nicaraguan Football Federation (Fenifut) consulted by DIVERGENTES.

The “Train of the North”, whose top leader is Fidel Moreno, secretary general of the Managua City Hall and trusted man of the Ortega and Murillo dictatorship, made it to the quarterfinals of the 2023 Concacaf Central American Cup by defeating the powerful Olimpia of Honduras (winner of the last edition of the Scotiabank Concacaf League in 2022), beating the historic Fas of El Salvador and defeating Xelajú, champion of the 2023 Clausura Tournament in Guatemala. Their only setback came against Club Atlético Independiente of Panama, losing 2-1.

Real Esteli's advantages in Nicaraguan soccer
Bayron Bonilla is one of the most important players in Real Estelí. He was champion in Costa Rica and landed in Nicaragua to play with the “Tren” | EFE

Real Esteli’s high level of competition in the Copa Centroamericana has to do with the quality of the players on its roster. The northern team has practically the backbone of the National Soccer Team: Juan Barrera, Byron Bonilla, Harold Medina, Marvin Fletes, Josué Quijano, Oscar Acevedo, Bancy Hernández, César Salandia and Widman Talavera. These are players who, according to a Nicaraguan soccer expert consulted for this article, earn the best salaries in the country.

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The Real Esteli players that make up the national team participated in a tour of South America this year, playing against Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile. Last year they played friendly matches against Ghana, Qatar and Suriname. In soccer, according to the soccer expert, process and continuity are important. That international exposure is what has generated confidence, security and experience, so that these players perform in highly demanding tournaments such as the Central American Cup.

“Why does Real Esteli have the backbone of the national team and the best foreigners in its team? Because it is the club with the most money and because it has the godfather of national soccer in Nicaragua, Fidel Moreno,” said the source linked to Fenifut.

Fidel Moreno: The eternal godfather

Real Esteli's advantages in Nicaraguan soccer
Fidel Moreno, secretary general of the Managua City Hall, has been determined to make Real Esteli the best team in Nicaragua. He has never hidden his passion for the club | El 19 Digital.

An investigation published by DIVERGENTES revealed, through documents and testimonies, that the first division clubs playing in the First League receive money from the Mayor’s Office of Managua and other government institutions to pay their players. One of the sources consulted in this report explained that the teams were offered this option and that Fidel Moreno was the one who promoted it.

The general secretary of the City Hall of Managua, in addition to being in charge of Real Estelí, also ordered the remodeling of the Independencia Stadium, home of the “Tren del Norte”. Precisely, another investigation published by DIVERGENTES in 2020 revealed that the reconstruction of that stadium was in charge of Santiago Chávez, the great contractor of the Mayor’s Office of Managua, who has been benefited with millionaire contracts that have been irregularly delivered to build public works.

Moreno, besides coordinating the remodeling of the Independencia stadium (which was paid with funds from the Mayor’s Office of Estelí), is the person to whom the team’s authorities continue to be accountable. Although he is not in the structure because he was sanctioned in 2018 by the US Treasury Department and this prevents him from signing legal documents, he is the main team benefactor.

According to the national soccer expert, Real Esteli pays the best salaries in the league. Young players with great projection who play in the first team earn US$800 per month, however, the squad has foreigners and national players with salaries between US$2,000 and US$6,000.

“Real Estelí is not a reflection of the First League. Their roster is very expensive, it does not compare to that of other teams. The comment that because of the good level they have in the Cup they can be taken as a reference for clubs like Ocotal, Jalapa, Sébaco, is exaggerated”, reaffirmed the Federation source, who added that the club’s value on the specialized page Transfermarkt is 710,000 euros.

Estadio Independencia en Estelí
The Independencia Stadium, home of Real Esteli F.C., has the best facilities to play soccer in Nicaragua. It has been built with public money from the Estelí City Hall | Carlos Herrera.

According to the national soccer expert, Real Esteli is the only club that has the luxury of hiring foreigners, having them sign for a tournament or two, and discarding them if it does not like the player’s performance during the pre-season.

“All those conditions that Real Esteli has, the fact of having someone powerful behind it, makes it a team different from the rest. There is no doubt about that. No team can do what Esteli did of discarding players. Even a team like Diriangén, which also has money because it is sponsored by the grandson of the president of Nicaragua, does not have the capacity to dismiss signed players and buy others”, the source explained.

According to the national soccer expert, the advantage that Real Estelí has over the other teams is that even the money that Concacaf is supposed to give for participating in this Cup and which should be used to pay for the team’s travel to play matches in other countries or for stadium remodeling, is saved because its facilities were renovated with public money from the Estelí City Hall, as revealed by DIVERGENTES in its investigation.

“For participating in the group stage and playing the matches, Real Esteli received US$160,000. This money was used by the team to buy the contracts of some players, among them Arley Bonilla, goal-scoring champion with Walter Ferretti in the previous tournament”, the source explained.

A league created to always be won by Real Estelí

Real Esteli's advantages in Nicaraguan soccer
Several Real Esteli players celebrate after winning first place in the first division league final in Managua, Nicaragua, May 9, 2020 | EFE

The First League is the championship organized by the Nicaraguan Association of Soccer Clubs. Its president and legal representative is Reynaldo Mairena Vallejos, former Sandinista representative, and an important member of Fidel Moreno’s circle of trust in the Mayor’s Office of Managua.

Ten teams participate in the League and are currently playing in the opening tournament. These are Real Estelí, Walter Ferretti, Managua F.C., Sébaco, Ocotal, Jalapa, UNAN Managua, Diriangén, Matagalpa and Masachapa.

An investigation conducted by DIVERGENTES in 2022 revealed that La Liga Primera, created in 2016 to professionalize the sport, became a drain of public money. A project that is not profitable, but is a whim of Fidel Moreno who has ordered to deliver up to 14 million córdobas to finance it in recent years. “It is a League that is supported by our taxes and does not generate any profit,” said an official of the Mayor’s Office consulted for the report.

However, the source linked to Fenifut, considers that there is a benefit but this is taken by Real Estelí and rarely by the team of the grandson of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: Diriangén FC.

The expert in national soccer pointed out that the league is competitive but among the teams that do not have the facilities of Real Estelí. In short for this source it is a competition that is not played on equal terms and therefore the level of the “Tren del Norte” cannot be a reference for the other clubs.

Real Esteli's advantages in Nicaraguan soccer
Real Estelí’s roster is the best paid in national soccer. No team in the Liga Primera competes with the salaries offered to players to join their ranks | EFE.

“Esteli has the structure and money to compete in any league in Central America because it is the best team in Nicaragua and has great conditions. Is it unfair that the club has all these facilities and the rest do not? Of course it is. Nobody else has the money that this team has. Esteli has all the facilities to always win the championship. That is why they are strongly questioned when they lose it”, the source affirmed.

Regarding the comments that if Real Estelí has a good level, the other teams in the league should also perform similarly, the expert explained that this point is easily dismantled by comparing the last team in the Nicaraguan table, which is Ocotal, with the last team in the Costa Rican competition, for example.

“The teams in Central America have another level, their structure, the training of their players, the administration and organization. It is complex to compete with them. In soccer, all this is important and Ocotal, for example, does not have it. If tomorrow they make a league between the last places of each league in the region, I don’t see ours competing,” he said.

Regarding the statement that the level of Real Esteli is a reflection of the national team of Nicaragua and that it can even compete with teams like Honduras, Costa Rica or Guatemala, both the soccer expert and the source linked to Fenifut, agreed that although the level of the “Blue and White” has increased, the level of the other teams has also increased, so they see complex even that dream that the directors of national football have sold with the attendance to the 2026 World Cup.

“The national team is made up of the Estelí players and seven more who are playing abroad. But that is not enough. The quotas for the World Cup are 3.5 and in the region you have teams like Panama, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Curacao, who have great players. We do not have the level yet to go”, indicated the soccer expert.

The information we publish in DIVERGENTES comes from contrasted sources. Due to the situation in the region, many times, we are forced to protect them under pseudonymity or anonymity. Unfortunately, some governments in the region, including the Nicaraguan regime, do not provide information or censor independent media. For this reason, despite requesting it, we cannot rely on official, authorized versions. We resort to data analysis, anonymous internal sources, or limited information from the official media. These are the conditions under which we exercise a profession that, in many cases, costs us our safety and our lives. We will continue to report.