Just over two years ago, Real Valladolid made the long trip from Castile and Leon to Catalunya where they faced Barcelona in a game that would ultimately define the season for both clubs.
It was the final day of the 2009-10 Primera Division campaign and the fixture was a must-win for both the Catalans, who were on the verge of a second successive League title, and Javier Clemente’s visitors, who were staring into the precipice.
Despite sitting two places above the drop zone going into the match, Clemente’s side were level on points with Racing and Malaga immediately below them and in grave danger of relegation.
Few expected el Pucela to deny Barca the victory needed to put them beyond bitter rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table, and this proved to be the case as the game ended in a fairly routine 4-0 triumph for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Valladolid’s fate was subsequently sealed as Racing beat Sporting Gijon 2-0 at el Sardinero and Malaga secured the decisive home point against Real Madrid. It was the third time in three seasons that Valladolid had gone into the final day looking to avoid the drop and after two previous last-gasp escapes, it was third time unlucky.
However, Real Valladolid will take their place back in Spain’s top flight this season after finally securing promotion from the Segunda Division play-offs at the second time of asking.
Their 2-1 aggregate victory over the plucky underdogs Alcorcon in June may have been one that left many neutrals disappointed, but it was an outcome that was richly deserved for the team now coached by former Deportivo sweeper Miroslav Djukic.
Although Juan Antonio Anquela’s Alcorcon were looking to cap a remarkable rise from the Madrid regional leagues to a place among Spain’s elite, Valladolid proved worthy winners after just missing out on automatic promotion in the regular season. Ironically it was Alcorcon who ultimately finished Valladolid’s hopes of going straight up with Depor after they held them to a 2-2 stalemate at Santo Domingo on the penultimate day of the season.
The hard work will now begin in earnest for the Pucela as they prepare for life back in the top flight. The quagmire that developed at the bottom end of La Liga last season proved a dangerous place, just ask Villarreal, but Dukic has a side more than capable of securing a mid-table finish.
In fact it could be argued that the three promoted sides are the strongest to come up in some time. Deportivo were dominant all season while their Galician rivals Celta Vigo just pipped Valladolid to the post on the final day after also having a fantastic campaign.
Valladolid could be the surprise package however and certainly have the players and Coach to ruffle a few feathers on their return to the big time. Former Valencia striker Javi Guerra finished the season with an impressive 17 League goals and scored in both play-off final games, while in support Nauzet Aleman and midfielder Oscar both put in some eye-catching performances over the year.
It won’t be easy for the club of course but President Carlos Suarez has assured fans he has no intention of selling any of the club’s prized assets over the summer – despite filing for bankruptcy in December with debts reported to be in the region of €70m.
This may prove difficult to avoid of course but Suarez also claims Valladolid will have a budget over twice that of the €11m they began with in the second division last season – no doubt bulked by television rights that will increase seven fold from their two-season stay in the second tier.
Financial strife is nothing new to Spanish clubs, however, and Suarez has said there may even be a few new faces coming to the Estadio Jose Zorilla – although fans will not be holding out too much hope over that suggestion.
Nonetheless, Real Valladolid will make a very welcome return to the Spanish Primera Division this season and there is a feeling that they may just provide more than a few headaches for any side who take them lightly in the coming months.