Seville is the most seductive city in Spain. Clean and historic streets populated by energetic and animated inhabitants live beneath a permanently blue sky, accepting the Andalusian sun with open arms while living with its intense heat. This paradox gets at the heart of life in the city, a battle between low wages and a sky-high quality of life.
Once, while working on a farm in a small pueblo called Quesada in Jaén, Football España asked one of their colleagues, a granadino, what the difference was between people from Granada and people from Seville, the two most famous cities in Andalusia. “Granadinos are more contemplative,” he said. “Sevillanos live life full-blooded.”
And they most certainly do. They say that Seville is a city of a thousand parties that you aren’t invited to, but once you begin to build a network in the city you become engrossed in a truly different way of living. This intensity is reflected in its football culture. Everybody is either Sevilla or Real Betis, it doesn’t matter whether you even like football or not. These are two clubs divided by football and just football, not religion or class.
And both of them are flying high this season. Sevilla are second in La Liga, embroiled in a title race with Real Madrid. They’re just four points behind the club from the capital with the same number of games played and can look forward to welcoming them to the Sánchez-Pizjuán for what’s shaping up to be a real showdown toward the end of April.
Betis are just six points behind their city rivals in the dizzying heights of third. They’re four points clear of Atlético Madrid and five clear of Barcelona, and based on current form it would look as though only one of those two historically and commercially bigger clubs will finish in the top four and thus qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But it’s Sevilla who’ve captured the narrative this season. We’re now in February and they’re Madrid’s sole challengers for La Liga and fully acknowledge that they’re riding the crest of a unique opportunity. That’s conditioned their behaviour during the summer and winter transfer markets; it led them to turn down sizeable offers from Chelsea and Newcastle United for Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos respectively as well as sanction an expensive six-month loan deal for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial.
Football España attended Sevilla’s defeat of Getafe at the Sánchez-Pizjuán last month and on the final whistle, when the players were thanking their supporters, the crowd were in absolute unison. “La Liga, La Liga,” they chanted. A title challenge has gone from something that was unmentionable to a clearly defined goal. They’re going for it.
“I think for us it’s the same as everybody else,” Ivan Rakitić, a veteran Croatian midfielder and one of Sevilla’s co-captains, told Football España. “You begin with the best of intentions at the start of the season. But every week we’ve been getting better and better and now we are where we are. We know we’re in a good situation but there’s still a long way to go. All we can do is prepare for our games in the best way, improve on the small details and be sure we’re ready for the tough games that are ahead of us.”
Rakitić is into his second season of his second spell with Sevilla having returned in the summer of 2020 after six trophy-laden years at Barcelona. He’s enjoying himself. “For me it’s my hometown,” he continued. “If there are still people who don’t know what the city is like they have to come and see it for themselves. It’s an amazing city with an unbelievable atmosphere and even during this difficult situation that’s been covid-19 the people have been really open. There’s an amazing history to the city. Here we say that when people come once to the city they stay, even if it’s just for a weekend. And it’s got the best ham.”
Even aside from the title challenge, Sevilla are aware that they have a unique opportunity ahead of them from a commercial perspective. They’ve enjoyed incredible sporting success since the dawn of the 21st Century but now face the challenge of translating that into the financial might that will enable them to continue growing and developing.
“I think it’s pretty amazing what this club has achieved in the last 15 years,” Jorge Paradela, Sevilla’s general manager, told Football España. “They’ve won seven European trophies – six Europa League titles and a European Super Cup – and made 20 final appearances. It’s really stunning. This is a club that’s become a top ten UEFA ranked club and it’s definitely a club that’s challenging the status quo.
“We also say that it’s a club that never surrenders and challenges their supporters to aim for the highest goals and break barriers. This is the result of a lot of hard work and professionalism and I’ve been very impressed by the calibre of people I’ve found since I joined the club six months ago. Today Sevilla is a truly global brand but we still only rank 23rd in the world with regards to brand strength. My job is to narrow the gap between the club’s UEFA ranking and their brand value. That has to be our obsession.”
The man most responsible for this glorious period of success and glory for Sevilla is undoubtedly their sporting director, Monchi. Renowned as one of the smartest men in the European game and a genius in the transfer market, he’s been key to Sevilla buying and selling players at the correct time to ensure their squad remains profitable and strong.
“Every time the transfer window opens it’s an opportunity that the club has to be able to improve and strengthen our squad and also make decisions that directly affect the team’s performance,” Monchi told Football España. “The January market has been very active, a market where there’s been more movement than normal. There’s been departures. Óscar Rodriguez went to Getafe, Ousmane Idrissi went to Cádiz.
“We also had the arrival of two great players. One is a player who we’ve always been interested in, Tecatito Corona, who came from Porto. And the other is very important due to the club’s he’s come from as well as his quality, which is Anthony Martial. That was a very difficult negotiation that’s taken almost two months to come off but we managed to achieve it. So generally we’ve been happy with how the market has gone and now we’re waiting for these players to settle in and help the team.”
This triumvirate of men are a good representation of what makes Sevilla the club they are today. They operate with level-headed industry, taking things step-by-step and never allowing themselves to be sated. Deploying their past experience in a manner that brightens their future. Always sharpening and honing their tools. It means that the Andalusian club are lean and focused on the pitch, hungry and ambitious in the boardroom and incomparably savvy in the transfer market. Whatever happens in this title race, one imagines, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with throughout the coming years.
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