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Betis are back after a trip to hell

After a shambolic time on and off the football field, Betis are back in Spain’s top division. A few legal and financial issues notwithstanding, the club could make an impact on its return to La Liga.



Next season Betis could once again give La Liga's best sides a run for their money.

Two summers ago, long before the indignados and 15-M, there was Yo voy Betis and 15-J. Following the relegation of Real Betis, and amid growing anger at the alleged pilfering of millions of euros by club owner Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, over 60,000 angry green-and-white clad supporters marched in protest through Seville’s city centre. The evening culminated in a mass rally, where former Spain and Betis left-back Rafael Gordillo demanded Lopera’s departure to cheers from a jam-packed Plaza Nueva.
Similar to the 15-M movement’s calls for politicians to reform themselves and banks to play fair, the initial practical impact of “15-J” was difficult to spot. The club’s 2009/10 campaign was shambolically unsuccessful. While off the field, investigating judge Mercedes Alaya slowly unpicked the knot of investment vehicles, shell companies and besuited lackeys that Lopera used to control the club for 18 years, on the pitch, the team careered between easy victories and hapless defeats before finally missing out on promotion on the final day of the season.

Then, last summer, Lopera surprisingly sold out to former associate and fellow oily character Luis Oliver, whose arrival was not welcomed by rightly skeptical fans. Alaya though, came to the rescue, ruling the sale illegal and granting control of the shares to fans’ groups headed by Gordillo. Supporters rejoiced and soon were further celebrating a surging start to the season, which included a 3-1 dismantling of Barcelona in the Copa del Rey.

Despite a small wobble after Christmas, Betis then more or less cantered to the Liga Adelante second division title. Gritty manager Pepe Mel could call on enough quality – 27-goal forward Ruben Castro, Cameroon world cup schemer Emaná, Basque youngster Beñat, Brazilian midfield general Iriney, raiding left back Nacho – to overpower teams without too many problems. However, fans of a club whose unofficial motto is manque pierda (andaluz for ‘although we lose…’), know that plenty of clouds remain.

Lopera’s main legacy to the club is a debt of €85 million. The guy seems to have really disliked paying his bills. Outstanding transfer fees are due to Valencia, Zaragoza, Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Bahía, PSV, Deportivo, Córdoba, Elche, Villarreal and Benfica. Millions in unpaid wages are owed to current and former players and managers. Unpaid taxes add up to a barely (okay, sadly) credible €40 million.

Worse than the Nazis?

Also, neither Lopera nor Oliver have gone quietly. Lopera, in a legal tangle too complex for a football column to explain, has ordered his lawyers to fight on. As you’d expect him to, with a possible 15 years in jail to come should all the various fraud and thievery charges against him be proven. Oliver is not going quietly either. In January he vented his unhappiness at Alaya’s rulings, calling her “crazy” and “worse than the Nazis”.

Gordillo and Mel appear confident that Betis can put this kind of buffoonery firmly behind them. The club’s recent transfer dealings seem well thought through. Steady goalkeeper Fabricio (from Valladolid) and tough right-back Javi Chica (from Espanyol) have already arrived, with promising schemer Matilla and Bolivian winger Jefferson Montero also apparently lined up to come in from Villareal. There are also rumours of international investors waiting for the legal mess to clear before launching a bid to take over the club and wipe out at least some of the debts.

With a shareholders’ meeting set for this week, we should soon learn more about the club’s future prospects. Although it wouldn’t be Betis without a few swings and roundabouts to make things interesting, there seem to be solid reasons for the current optimism among most verdiblanco fans. The chances of everything falling smoothly into place in the boardroom and Betis challenging for the La Liga title in 2011/12 are small, but Alaya looks to have got the better of Lopera and Oliver and a steady mid-table finish should be possible. There are also two tasty derbies against local rivals Sevilla to look forward to.

The lesson for the 15-M indignados seems clear. Don’t give up, because if Betis can get their house in order, then positive change in Spain really is possible.

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Published: Jun 28 2011
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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