From “Best of the rest” club to relegation candidate

Sevilla FC is known across Europe as a multiple Europa League winner and as an upstart from southern Spain who has always found a way to succeed. But these days of success are over, because the Andalusians are currently mired in a mixture of institutional chaos, poor transfer policy and poorly thought-out coaching changes. Descent is imminent.

For more than a decade, FC Sevilla was one of the most influential clubs in European football. It was never enough for the Andalusians to make a big splash in the Champions League, but the Europa League was won four times between 2013 and 2020 alone. Sevilla became the epitome of ‘best of the rest’ – not good enough to challenge Real Madrid and FC Barcelona but far enough strong to dominate Europe’s second division.

Those times seem to be over for the time being, because Sevilla is currently in the middle of a relegation battle in La Liga and, in the worst case, could make their way to the Segunda División. Thanks to a narrow 1-0 win over the penultimate Cadiz on Saturday, they are now one point above the line, but the record is devastating: out of 18 league games so far, four have been won.

Los Nervionenses would not be the first big traditional club in Spain that could be affected by relegation. In the past, for example, Espanyol, Celta and city rivals Real Betis were hit. Even though the permeability in top-flight Spanish football is possibly higher than elsewhere, the same question always arises: How did this happen?

If we look at the big picture, the departure of Unai Emery once left a huge hole and set a coaching carousel rolling at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán.

The departure could then be compensated for a little less than a season by the signing of Jorge Sampaoli, but the Emery football characterized by strong pressing timing was lost and never came back. In addition, Seville’s transfer policy sank into horrendously expensive haphazardness – crowned by the signing of Ganso in 2016, who unfortunately was never able to display his playmaking skills in Europe.

FC Sevilla Lopetegui brought temporary stability

However, with the arrival of Julen Lopetegui in 2019, Sevilla was able to stabilize again and win the Europa League again. However, the fact that the lack of planning within the club was not a thing of the past was shown by another change of coach in the current season, as Lopetegui was replaced by Sampaoli – in other words: Sevilla fired a head coach who stands for structured football and brought in an intensity fanatic in his place. At best, the squad fits only fractionally to Sampaoli, who incidentally did not leave the club on good terms to take over the post of head coach of the Argentine national team.

In any case, Sampaoli has not yet had any success and must try to at least prevent relegation, if he is allowed to continue working until May. Lopetegui, meanwhile, has ended up in a Portuguese enclave – better known as Wolverhampton Wanderers – from where he probably won’t be surprised at what’s happening at his old workplace in Andalusia.

Sevilla FC: Monchi and Pepe Castro under pressure

In any case, it would be too easy to blame the Sevilla FC crisis primarily on the coaches. The club suffers from institutional weaknesses at every level – starting with the recently hapless sporting director Monchi, who forfeited a lot of credit after a grueling summer transfer window. The expectation was that the former Sevilla goalkeeper would try to make up for the mistakes of the recent past as best he could in January. But so far there have been no really big steps – Loïc Badé’s loan is all there is to book.

This has very well to do with the level above Monchi. Elsewhere, President Pepe Castro is embroiled in internal strife and is primarily focused on fending off his challenger, José María del Nido. He was already club boss from 2002 to 2013 and would like to be in charge again in the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. At the general meeting on December 29, it became clear that Castro no longer has much support compared to his adversary. In the rarest of cases, a tottering ship can be put on course under these circumstances, even if Castro has signaled his willingness to engage in dialogue with Del Nido out of political self-preservation.

To make matters worse, Sampaoli is possibly the worst-placed coach to ensure success on the pitch in a situation like this. The often erratic 62-year-old tried just about every tactical variant he could think of in the first few weeks after his return in October. In some games, he tactically threw a lot upside down after just 20 or 30 minutes.

FC Sevilla: Not a classic Sampaoli underdog

Sampaoli’s greatest achievements – most notably winning the Copa America with Chile in 2015 – were coaching underdog teams who were 100 per cent willing to implement the Argentine’s pressing football. This wave-like pressing style, in which the second and third lines follow up early and moments of pressing through are common, doesn’t suit every team.

Sevilla have been quite dominant for years, if we exclude a few games in the Champions League and against Madrid and Barça. That’s why Emery’s philosophy suited the Andalusians so well. And even the calculated Lopetegui football was at times compatible with the Seville identity of many years.

Sampaoli, on the other hand, is now trying something that could actually even suit a relegation candidate – but not Seville. The aforementioned permeability in top-flight Spanish football allows intelligently operating clubs like Sevilla or financially strong clubs like Atlético under the leadership of charismatic head coaches to establish themselves in the slipstream of the two giants from Madrid and Barcelona.

But this permeability also means that institutional instabilities and wrong decisions in the sporting area very quickly ensure that a club is passed down. FC Valencia can sing a song about it and FC Sevilla is experiencing it up close these days.

La Liga: The current table

place team Sp. Gates differential pt.
1. Barcelona 17 36:6 30 44
2. real Madrid 17 38:16 22 41
3. Real Sociedad 18 28:18 10 38
4. Atlético Madrid 18 27:16 11 31
5. villa real 18 21:13 8th 31
6. Real Betis 17 19:14 5 28
7. Osasuna 18 18:17 1 28
8th. Athletic Club 18 25:19 6 26
9. Rayo Vallecano 18 24:22 2 26
10 Majorca 18 15:16 -1 25
11. Girona 18 26:28 -2 21
12. Valencia 17 25:20 5 20
13. Espanol 18 22:26 -4 20
14 Almeria 18 20:28 -8th 19
15 Seville 18 18:26 -8th 18
16 getafe 18 16:25 -9 17
17 Celta de Vigo 18 17:29 -12 17
18 Real Valladolid 18 13:28 -15 17
19 Cadiz 18 12:29 -17 16
20 moose 18 12:36 -24 6



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