“The team does not want to settle just for good results but now we must upgrade our aims for the season, and a top half finish would be incredible. Europe? That will be a big ask but the players aren’t ruling out anything, although it will obviously be a big effort from here on in.”
These are the words of Eibar Coach Jose Luis Mendilibar, but the thing is, he really should not be saying things like this. That is not because he is wrong, or because he is being too optimistic or even unrealistic, it is because he is the Coach of Eibar, the smallest team in La Liga who are not finished with their fairytale story just yet.
Monday night’s 4-0 thrashing of Granada at Ipurua saw them move up to seventh place, just a point behind Villarreal who occupy one of the Europa League places. The victory was an impressive one, because despite Granada struggling in the relegation zone, Mendilibar’s side tore them to shreds, and the performance showcased exactly why the Basque side are doing as well as they are, despite limited resources and being based in a town of just 27,000 people.
This is just their third season in La Liga, and they have continued to improve each year at an admirable rate. It would be harsh on the rest of the team to single out individuals because it really has been a huge team effort, but Sergi Enrich and Pedro Leon have certainly stood out. They have scored nine and seven goals respectively, plugging the huge gap that was created by Borja Baston’s departure in the summer to ensure that the side continue to score goals.
It is not just their goals though – both players have consistently performed to a high level all season, acting as the sprinkle of stardust needed to complement the same core values that have always been present at the club. There is so much commitment, fervour and zeal to what Eibar do that when they come up against teams of a similar level to them, they often blow them away.
Take the Granada game on Monday. The majority of the Andalusian side is made up of loanees, and of course they want to win the game and avoid relegation, but their levels of dedication to the cause cannot match those of the Eibar players, who are tied down to the club; basking in the community and family spirit that demands you give everything for the claret and blue shirt whilst out on the pitch.
Mendilibar has taken advantage of this ethos and Los Armeros are only seven points off their overall points total from last time around with 16 games still to play. The thought of a team as small as Eibar playing in Europe is difficult to comprehend, but then again, so was the thought of a team as small as Eibar playing in La Liga.
They shouldn’t qualify for Europe and Mendilibar should not be even be talking about it, but as we should all be aware now, anything is possible with this club.