Nothing warms the heart, takes the cake or inspires a sappy tear-jerker like an underdog story and if nothing else, Granada are Spain’s underdog. In a world swarming with money, talent and stardom in walks in a club that has not just changed the air around Spain but give others hope for the future.
Spanish football, for those outside the Premier League, is a two-team league. Or atleast that’s how the cliché goes, Real Madrid and Barcelona run the league and everyone else fight for nothing but the scraps. That’s despite all the legendary players, teams and even brilliant football on show over the decades since but the modern La Liga is two pantomime villains ruining football for everyone else so much so that fans take on a second club. Especially for fans of an “inferior” side supporting their team seems almost hopeless and it’s why Spaniards have started rooting for one of the two giants.
But then in walks in a side like Manuel Pellegrini’s Villarreal, the 99/00 Deportivo La Coruna, and naturally Rafael Benitez’s Valencia amongst so many others. They pave the way for the inferior teams and give them hope that maybe one day they can all be Leicester Cities. But in the fifteen years since Rafa’s Valencia won the league title, the El Clasico Twins have dominated Spain. There was that lone year where Atletico Madrid and their sheer scrappiness proved to be more than a match for Real Madrid and Barcelona but barring that and since then we’ve had nothing but a duopoly on the trophy.
And then, in walks in Granada and for the first time in almost fifty years, they manage to reach the summit. It wasn’t the longest stay in the world, lasted just one gameweek, but it was a sneak peek into a world they never believed they would have a chance at. And for a newly promoted side after the misery of relegation and all the humiliations that follow it, they needed that shotgun blast of hope and more importantly, Spain needed it. It took Granada two years to recuperate in the Segunda division but clearly their plan has worked wonders for them.
Yet the question for El Grana is can they sustain this start and their early run?? Before going on their current of form, a three-game losing run, Diego Martinez had led the team to their best start in the Spanish top flight. A run that saw them win six, draw two and lose just two matches in a run of games that pitted them against Villarreal, Barcelona, Sevilla, Real Madrid and Real Betis. Not the easiest fixture list for anyone but El Grana proved that they could punch above their weight and they held their own rather well.
Sustaining this might be easier said than done but doing that in a league where broadcasting money really plays zero part makes it even harder. Unlike the Premier League, the other four European top leagues have two sides dominating their title race. Things might be changing in both the Serie A and the Bundesliga but if history does repeat itself, and it usually does, then the phrase changes to out with the new and in with the old. Yet for Granada, they only have to look towards their Andalusian rivals in Malaga in the wrong way to do things.
With a hoard of impressive managers at the helm, Malaga managed to sustain a rather impressive run in the La Liga after their promotion at the end of the 2007/08 season. Their first season back saw them finish eighth in the league and just seven points off the top six. They continued to perform going as high as 4th under Manuel Pellegrini but couldn’t sustain that. Which is where El Grana walk in and they need to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes. The loss of players –Santi Cazorla, Nacho Monreal, Isco Alarcon, Willy Caballero, Salomon Rondon – and bringing in the wrong men saw them, Malaga, struggle to survive.
It’s the same thing Granada went through before they got relegated but their circumstances were much worse. It was a clueless team, which was run into the ground by a myriad of backroom decisions. However, that changed during their time in the Segunda division and now they have a long-term plan. Somehow they have established a perfectly balanced team with the right mixture of youth and experience. In Diego Martinez, they have a young and someone who’s on his way towards becoming Spain’s version of Julian Nageslmann, a young, highly thought of coach and someone touted as a future superstar, and he’s hasn’t lead them astray so far.
His tactics have been spot on for the team he has and as a product of the Monchi factory, Martinez plays astute football. Smart, brutal, hard-working and value for money football that Monchi’s teams, as a sporting director, have loved playing and even flourished. But more importantly, in the Spanish league, it’s the bang on strategy for a team as small and with the financial restrictions that Granada have. And their restrictions are immense which is why their plan should, hopefully, help them survive in a league that doesn’t help the underdogs but instead favours the favourites.
It’s the way the league makes their money which in this harsh world may never favour the little kid. Yet Granada have a chance here to prove to Spain, all their haters and more importantly all the minnows looking for that ray of light. That there is space for clubs that have that willingness to never give up and fight till the very end.They may never get Champions League football but the hope is, atleast within the club, that they can aim for Europa League football. And given that they sit just five points off the summit – four points of fourth and three points off fifth – they carry the weight of Spain and all the underdogs on their backs.
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