Sebastián Nadal came in for much teasing from his family over the jacket he wore to watch his son play Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final. It wasn’t his jacket, he complained; he didn’t have one before the match began, he asked Benito Pérez, his son’s press chief, to see if he could come up with something, and the best Benito was able to come up with was a dark blue jacket with vertical silver stripes that, along with the dark sunglasses, made him look, somewhat discordantly in the strawberries-and-cream setting of the Centre Court, like a third-rate Sicilian mafia boss. That was how his brothers described him, at any rate, and it was an impression the justice of which he himself struggled to dispute.
There was a sense in which the gangster look was not entirely inappropriate. There is something Sicilian about the closeness of the Nadal family circle. They live on a Mediterranean island, and more than a family, they are a clan—the Corleones, or the Sopranos, without the malice, or the guns. They communicate in a dialect only the islanders speak; they are blindly loyal to one another, and they conduct all business within the family, be it the terms of Miguel Ángel’s contract with Barcelona Football Club, the glass enterprise Sebastián runs, or the real estate deals in which they have all profitably dabbled.
Take the five-storey building the family bought in the very heart of Manacor, next to the ancient church of Our Lady of Dolours whose tall
Spire dominates the town’s skyline. When Rafael was between ten and twenty-one years old, all the Nadals—the grandparents, the four brothers, and the sister, plus their spouses and their gradually mushrooming offspring—lived in the same apartment block, one on top of the other, the front doors often open by day and by night, converting the building into one great big family mansion.
In Porto Cristo, the seaside resort eight kilometers away from Manacor, they had a similar setup. On the ground floor, the grandparents; on the first floor, Sebastián’s family; on the second, Nadal’s godmother, Marilén; on the third, Uncle Rafael. Then, across the road, Toni, and a little way down the street, Miguel Ángel.
Rafa’s grandparents were the masterminds behind an arrangement that is not entirely unusual in a society as intensely familial as Mallorca, where it is still not unusual for sons and daughters to remain living with their parents well into their thirties.
“Keeping everybody together was a task that my wife and I set ourselves,” says Don Rafael Nadal, the musical grandfather. “We did not have to struggle too hard to convince my children to make the effort to acquire the building. I’ve mentally conditioned them all since they were very small to keep everything inside the family.”
That was why, when Miguel Ángel signed up as a professional footballer, there was no question of anyone other than his big brother Sebastián acting as his agent, and doing so for free. It would not have occurred to Sebastián to ask for a cut of his brother’s winnings. If you live by the Nadal family code, Sebastián explained, you just don’t do that. What three of the brothers—Sebastián, Miguel Ángel, Toni—and Rafa have done is set up a company called Nadal Invest that has put money into real estate. As far as Rafa’s multiple sponsorship deals with Spanish and international companies, initially Sebastián oversaw them himself, principally the first deals with Nike. The person on whom the important decisions ultimately rest is Sebastián, who has taken over where his own father, Don Rafael, left off as family patriarch: definer of the values, keeper of the rules.
“I’d lose anything, I’d give up anything—money, property, cars, anything—rather than fight with my family,” Sebastián says. “It is inconceivable for us to have a bust-up. We never have and we never
It is, because the principle is taken to such extremes that they shun what would otherwise be the entirely natural impulse to congratulate Rafa when he wins. Marilén, the godmother, did try it once, and immediately Toni and Rafa’s response was to look at her incredulously and say, “What are you doing?” “They were right,” Marilén says. “It was as if I were congratulating myself. Because if one of us wins, we all win.”