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The rise, fall and resurrection of Sevilla FC

After several years of success, the Andalusian football team recently came back down to earth. But new coach Manzano might be the man to put things right.


Glory days: Sevilla's players and fans hope new coach Manzano can bring back the good times. Photo:

On March 16, CSKA Moscow scored one of last season’s biggest Champions League upsets by knocking a half-hearted Sevilla side out of the competition at the last-16 stage with a 2-1 win at the Andalusians’ Sánchez Pizjuán stadium.

“It’s a bad result and I ask our supporters to forgive us for that,” said coach Manolo Jiménez afterwards.

It was the first time in several years that a Sevilla coach had needed to apologise to fans, after a run that saw the club leave its cross-city rival, Betis, standing and establish itself as a European force.

Sevilla announced its arrival at that peak by winning the UEFA Cup in 2006, its first major European title and the fruit of several years’ work by coach Joaquín Caparros, who brought Sevilla up from Segunda in 2000-01, and later Juande Ramos.

The following season, Sevilla repeated the feat with Ramos still at the helm, capping UEFA Cup success with a third-placed league finish to gain entry into Europe’s elite club competition the following year. When Ramos was lured to London club Tottenham Hotspur, Sevilla president José María del Nido saw little cause to tinker with a winning formula and promoted Jiménez from the club’s reserve team. Jiménez, much like Ramos, quietly guided the team to fifth in his first season, and third in his second, much to the delight of Del Nido, who has always stressed that Champions League qualification is a large, factored-in chunk of Sevilla’s budget. But Jiménez’s tenure –and apparently the club’s purple patch– ended earlier this year after the CSKA Moscow débâcle, a subsequent loss to Espanyol and a draw against bottom-of-the-table Xerez. Little matter that Jiménez had become the first manager to beat Pep Guardiola’s European champions Barcelona in a knock-out competition in the King’s Cup; Champions League qualification was in doubt.

The trilby-hatted Del Nido may resemble the typical steward of a Spanish coastal club –his peers spend their spare time masterminding corruption rackets, fixing matches and, in the case of one second division club president, emptying a handgun into the door of a brothel to which he had been denied entry– but he nonetheless runs Sevilla with rare prudence. Once again he ignored the big names to go for a home-grown coach and promoted long-time assistant Antonio Álvarez to the big chair.

Not only did Álvarez resemble his predecessors Jiménez and Ramos with his taciturn persona and gritty demeanour, but he also looked set to continue their on-field success by winning the King’s Cup and clinching Champions League qualification.

The importance of reaching the competition itself was only marginally more important to Sevilla than retaining the players that had done so in a World Cup summer, such as striker Luis Fabiano.

In recent years, Del Nido has kept the club financially afloat partly by selling star players to big clubs without, for the most part, hurting the team noticeably on the pitch. Sergio Ramos, José Antonio Reyes, Christian Poulsen, Dani Alves, Júlio Baptista and Seydou Keita have all departed the club in the last few seasons. But Del Nido stood firm on Fabiano. Adriano, another Brazilian, was sold to Barcelona but Álvarez dipped into Serie A and strengthened the midfield with Tiberio Guarente and Luca Cigarini.

The team intact, a favourable third qualifying round draw and the promise of Champions League riches all bade well for the new season.

And then Sporting Braga tore up the script. The unfashionable Portuguese side, making its first appearance at any level of the tournament, pulled off an unlikely hit-and-run and Sevilla was eliminated at the first hurdle.

Del Nido, in keeping with his policy of patience, backed Álvarez but a lacklustre start to the league campaign and an opening loss in the Europa League, Sevilla’s consolation prize for Champions League failure, compelled the president to reach for the axe.

And then the president made perhaps the finest decision of his eight-year tenure. Casting his net further afield, Del Nido enlisted the services of one of La Liga’s wisest heads, Gregorio Manzano. The well-travelled coach has rarely remained at one club for more than a season but in his second spell at Mallorca –which he led to King’s Cup glory in 2003– Manzano worked nothing short of a miracle, driving a cash-strapped club to European qualification at the end of last season.

Unfortunately for Mallorca, its parlous finances would prevent it from retaining Manzano and incur the attentions of Uefa president Michel Platini, who barred the Balearic team from the Europa League.

Attacking intent

Mallorca’s loss is Sevilla’s significant gain; a listless team, devoid of direction and adjusting to a new fiscal reality seems a perfect match for a thrifty manager robbed of his hard-earned European soirée. Manzano has worked with a stable of international players before at Atlético Madrid and encourages attacking football. His first two matches in charge brought victories over Borussia Dortmund and Atlético, the latter match electrifying the Sánchez Pizjuán stadium as Sevilla tore a previously solid-looking team apart. With forwards of the calibre of Fabiano, Álvaro Negredo and Frédéric Kanouté, and the electricity generated by wingers Diego Perotti, Jesús Navas and Diego Capel, Manzano need not worry about where the goals are going to come from and he has a proven track record of keeping them out – Sevilla scored 65 last year but leaked 49. Mallorca’s defensive record, 44 conceded, was inferior only to that of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia.

A top-four finish is a realistic aim for Sevilla, which currently sits in fifth, and a tenacious defence of its King’s Cup title assured. What price a return to a European final to cap it all?

It could be that far from the end of an era that Álvarez’s Braga disaster signalled, Del Nido has laid the foundation for a resurgence in Sevilla’s fortunes. Moreover, it seems that finally the enigmatic Manzano has been given the opportunity to prove himself as a truly world-class coach.

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Published: Oct 13 2010
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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