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Depor’s glory a distant memory as team slides out of Liga

Not so long ago, “Superdepor” rode high in La Liga and even dazzled in Europe. But years of decline have finally led to the team’s relegation after a disastrous season.


Happier days: Juan Carlos Valerón celebrates during Depor's 4-0 win over AC Milan in 2004.

The only real drama during Saturday’s conclusion of the Liga season was at the bottom of the table, where Deportivo la Coruña were relegated after losing 2-0 at home to Valencia. After a see-sawing 90 minutes which could possibly have seen Mallorca, Real Sociedad, Osasuna, Getafe or Zaragoza drop instead, once-proud Depor followed Almería and Hércules down to next year’s La Segunda.

Although they became the first side to be relegated with more than 42 points in a 20 team league, you could not really say Deportivo were unlucky. Their failure to score on Saturday was telling, and familiar. Under the restrained tactics of coach Miguel Ángel Lotina, the Galicians have been poor in front of goal all season, with only 31 goals in 38 La Liga games.

This failing was even more pronounced when it mattered most against Valencia. After falling behind to a simple Aritz Aduriz strike within three minutes, Depor rained 28 shots on the opposition goal, without success. Even during the five minutes of added time they had chances – the ball pinballed around the area before a shot was driven wide, Depor keeper Daniel Aranzubia charged up to almost head in a corner and his opposite number César Sánchez saved well from a Xisco header.

Right to the end one goal would have kept Depor up. Thirty-five thousand desperate supporters packed into the Riazor stadium continued to try to cheer, will or blow the ball into the net. The Valencia players seemed to be affected by the atmosphere, and did not exactly bust a gut to stop Depor scoring. But the relegation trap-door yawned. When the final whistle eventually came players slumped to the ground as the impressively loyal crowd waved a sea of blue and white flags.

It was a sad culmination to the club’s 20 consecutive years in La Liga, especially for those who remember the Superdepor teams of the 90s and 00s. A genuine third force in Spanish football, the club won the La Liga title in 2000 and two Copa del Reys, including a famous final win over Real Madrid at the Bernabéu on Madrid’s 100th birthday in 2002.

Depor fans became accustomed to stylish teams featuring the attacking likes of Bebeto, Rivaldo, Fran González, Roy Makaay, Diego Tristan, Djalminha and Juan Carlos Valerón, urged forward by offensive-minded coaches such as Arsenio Iglesias and Javier Irureta. There were thrilling away wins at Arsenal, Manchester United, Juventus, Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich, and the fantastic 4-0 comeback trouncing of AC Milan at the Riazor in 2004.

It might have been even more glorious too – Depor were a missed penalty away from winning La Liga in 1994 and blew probably their best chance of a Champions League in 2004, losing 1-0 on aggregate at the semi-final stage to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. From that night on though, it was mostly all downhill.

On Saturday, Valerón, now 35 and hampered by a string of serious injuries, strained to create chances only for hapless forwards to fluff them all. It was difficult to watch, but not overly surprising to see. After a gradual decline through the last decade, Depor has struggled against the drop for a number of seasons now. There was something sadly inevitable about this year’s final slump towards La Segunda.

The Galician curse

Things might now get even more painful for Depor fans. La Coruña, a city of about 250,000, is unlikely to see Champions League football for a long time. Lotina, who has now managed teams to relegation on four separate occasions, jumped before the club could sack him. It’s difficult enough to imagine those who stay from the current squad finding the enthusiasm and, well, goals to mount a successful promotion campaign next year. Furthermore, with the club reportedly at least €83m in debt, few exciting new signings are expected.

Most worrying for Depor fans might be the example of Galician neighbours Celta de Vigo, who followed some European success a decade ago with relegation and financial disaster in 2007. Celta narrowly avoided dropping further down to Segunda B, almost went out of business completely and are generally a pale shadow of the club they once were. Deportivo’s fans will now be hoping a similar fate does not await them.

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Published: May 25 2011
Category: Sports, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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