Rayo Vallecano: Perennial Strugglers On the Cusp of History

It is a big week for the teams of the Spanish capital of Madrid as Real prepare for their mammoth Champions League tie with Manchester United while Atletico continue their defence of the Europa League against Rubin Kazan.

Neighbours Rayo Vallecano however, will have to wait until Sunday for their big trip to the Bernabeau to play Real, with aspirations of joining their neighbours in Europe next year becoming increasingly realistic.

Vallecano, in administration and operating on the smallest budget in La Liga, are sitting in fifth, just two points off Malaga, having beaten Athletico 2-1 at the modest 14,000 seated Campo De Futbol on Sunday night.

Their stadium is flanked at either side by a brick wall and an empty stand. They have only competed in Europe once before, via the fair play award in 2001, and were in the third tier as recently as 2008. They had to wait until the final day of last season to avoid relegation after a catastrophic mid-season collapse and they went on to lose a total of 13 players in the summer.

Yet, with the odds firmly against them, they are miraculously just two points off the Champions League places after recording their twelfth win of the season on Sunday.

One of the players they lost in the summer was Michu, now Swansea’s top-scorer for whom they forked out just £2 million. It was a forced sale due to financial constraints which means, as expressed by club president Felipe Minambres, that replacing their best players is extremely difficult.

“We can’t offer potential new players anything tangible” said Minambres, “what we can offer them is affection and a shop window”. As well as Michu, significant exits from Rayo in the summer also included Movilla, Arribas, Armentaros and Diego Costa, leaving the Vallecanos shorn of their five best players and relying on nothing but free deals in order to replace them.

Such is the wretched financial situation at Vallecano that the club have a dozen players on contracts due to expire in the summer and can’t renew them until they are sure of safety. Even then they will sell those who can be sold.

Francisco Medina Luna, the club captain known as “Piti”, has been with club through its rise back up the leagues and his departure doesn’t seem far off given he is top scorer with 10 goals. Leo Baptistao was a Brazilian futsal player who joined the club when he was 15, is next on seven. Denmark Nicki Bille, on loan from Villarreal, was their most highly-billed signing, but he tore an achilles tendon and has already left.

Piti is regularly accompanied by Ghanian Lass and Argentinean Alejandro Dominguez in a line of 3 behind Bapitstao and they have both scored 3 goals. The attackers operate narrowly in order to press opposition defences high up the pitch, whilst relying on full-backs Tito and Jose Casado to get forward and provide the width.

Manager Paco Jemez is an advocate of two deep-lying midfielders, usually Roberto Trashorras and Javi Fuego, but that doesn’t mean his side is defensive. In fact, it is anything but, out of the relegation zone only Athletic Bilbao have conceded more than Vallecano’s 39 but only Real Madrid have taken more shots, while Barcelona and their neighbours are the only teams to have created more chances.

Jemez’s side shipped five goals against Barca, four against Real Sociedad and six against Valladolid but when asked about his style, the coach said “if you’re going to lose by two, what difference does it make if you lose by three of four”.

Jemez is an interesting character indeed. He said “his face would fall off in shame” if his side replicated Celtic’s ultra-disciplined style in getting a draw against Barcelona in the Champions League. His previous spells with Alaca, Cartegena and Cordoba in the lower reaches of Spanish football, where he experienced promotions with each, gained him a reputation for a free-flowing, high pressing football and it is a philosophy he has continued at Vallecano.

Paco Jemez.... key to Rayo's stunning rise.

Paco Jemez…. key to Rayo’s stunning rise.

Not only that, but Jemez is also wonderfully hospitable, it is well-established that any visiting manager willing to learn from his methods would be welcomed in to the training ground with the most open of invitations.

Jemez will predictably take his team to the Bernabeu with the gung-ho attitude that defines his side and will, in all likelihood, lose to Jose Mourinho’s team of expensively-assembled stars.

Though, as Vallecano continue to prove, fairytales can happen on the scarcest of resources and Europe beckons for the next stage of their miraculous journey against the odds.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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