Best stadium of 2021? Osasuna’s Estadio El Sadar

STADIUMDB has named a La Liga football venue as its stadium of the year for the first time, and it’s not one of the league’s blue riband clubs. The award, which was the outcome of a user poll, goes to none other than Club Atlético Osasuna, the team from Pamplona, a city renowned for its Running of the Bulls festival.

Despite the pandemic, geopolitical problems and rising concerns about climate change, stadium building continues around the world. There has been a rise in construction of sports venues in Turkey, Qatar and USA,  in fact these three countries account for 14 of the top 23 stadiums in the survey.

In addition to new builds, a number of clubs are embarking on redevelopment or expansion of their existing arenas, such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa. And in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona are at various stages of refurbishing  their iconic stadiums.

Osasuna’s Estadio El Sadar has a modest capacity – 24,000 – compared to the homes of the Spanish giants, but it has a very striking appearance. The cost of building exceeded the originally estimated € 16 million and eventually came in at around € 23.3 million, largely due to the inclusion of a roof that covered all corners of the ground. 

Architects OFS effectively won a beauty parade, their design, which made use of the club’s red colours, was called Muro Roja, the red wall, and appealed to the fans. The financing of the project was assisted by a loan from the Navarra Province.

The Estadio El Sadar is named after the river that runs alongside the stadium, it is located in the southern part of Pamplona and 2.5 kilometres from the city centre and 4 kilometres from the railway station. 

A notable aspect of the Osasuna stadium is that it was the cheapest among the contenders for the StadiumDB award. The average investment of the nominees was € 136 million, working out at € 4,000-plus per seat. The El Sadar’s cost, € 23.3 million, represented less than € 1,000 per seat.

Coming in behind the El Sadar was the Estadio Único Madre de Ciudades in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. The 30,000 capacity stadium is the home of Central Córdoba FC, who play in the top division in Argentina. The construction of such a site during the country’s deep financial crisis was heavily criticised, especially as the region in which it is located has one of the worst unemployment rates in Argentina. Nevertheless, the new stadium went ahead on the Dulce riverfront where Santiago meets neighbouring La Banda. The area has good new municipal rail connections and easy access to other major transport hubs.

Another South American stadium, Estadio Banco Guayaquil in the province of Pichincha, Ecuador, was placed third in the StadiumDB poll. This is the home of Ecuadorian champions Independiente del Valle and has a capacity of just 12,000. This was built with private money – the total cost was around US$ 12 million – raised by Banco Guayaquil, the third largest bank in Ecuador.

Fourth was Stadionul Steaua, the home of CSA Steaua, a club that has been grappling over its identity for some years. Based in the Ghencea district of the Romanian capital, the new stadium replaced the tired old ground from the communist era. The neighbourhood, which was once dominated by plastic and textile industries, has a poor infrastructure although this doesn’t stop fans from all over the city attending games. The Stadionul Steaua cost around € 95 million to build and has a capacity of 31,300.

The top five was completed by the Europa Park in Freiburg, Germany, which has had to overcome a number of hurdles to reach completion and to become fully operative. Owned by the city of Freiburg, it has a capacity of 34,700 and cost € 76 million. There were issues over the nearby airstrip and the ability of light aircraft to land, noise pollution complaints concerning the hosting of matches and other problems around conservation. These have largely been dealt with, so Freiburg now have an impressive new home.

One thing that seems to be clear in modern stadium development is the desire to create visibly stunning designs that not only please aesthetes but are also complementary to the environment. This is a trend that will surely continue as architects and clubs try to be more sympathetic to the broader environment. Furthermore, football grounds are increasingly local landmarks and tourist attractions. Nostalgists might rue the passing of wooden stands and crumbling terraces, but the state-of-the-art football grounds springing up across the globe really do represent the game of the future.

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