Man United won't find anything easy against resilient and proud Sevilla
SEVILLE, Spain -- Sevilla's Sanchez Pizjuan stadium stands in the wealthy Nervion district of Spain's fourth biggest city of 700,000. It's a buzzy area of bars, restaurants and, on Monday, Manchester United chants from the early arrivals.
Seville's a football city, with a high percentage of match-going fans. Real Betis average 47,000 at home this season, Sevilla over 32,000 in their nearly 43,000 capacity ground. There are only a few tickets left for Wednesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Manchester United, the cheapest at €100 behind the goals. Don't think that 90 percent of the home fans will be paying anything like that; those are the prices for the one-off visitors, but the original decision to charge United fans €100 was met by outrage among those fans and the Old Trafford club.
A ridiculous compromise was found when United increased the price of Sevilla's tickets to €100 and offered to give the difference to their own fans...only for Sevilla to say they'd pay the difference. It's a shame that the argument sullied a fledgling relationship between two clubs who have yet to play each other in a competitive game. A shame too that United fans with no reason to dislike Sevilla suddenly had one.
Sevilla are a successful club from a magnificent city who do much right, though not on this occasion. Close to the ticket office and the famous giant mosaic which shows past visiting teams at the front of the redeveloped stadium, Sevilla's trophies are picked out in silhouettes at each end of the stadium. Nine of the 13 top-division titles from their entire history have been won since the 2006 UEFA Cup triumph against Middlesbrough. Sevilla have a chance of adding to the silhouettes this season -- they're in the final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona and they're no longer novices in the Champions League.
It hasn't been an easy time for Betis fans who haven't won a single trophy in that time, but Betis have their own virtues and they're still talking about last month's 5-3 derby win at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
Manchester United have not scored five goals in a game since a 5-1 over Midtjylland in 2016 or conceded five since a 5-3 defeat at Leicester in 2014. Sevilla, meanwhile, have conceded five on four occasions this season: Spartak Moscow, Real Madrid. Betis and Eibar. They have a goal difference of minus four in the league and sacked their manager Eduardo Berizzo before Christmas after less than four months in charge.
It didn't look good since Berizzo had cancer and Sevilla were accused of being unsympathetic, but, according to journalist Juan Jimenez, who covers the clubs for AS: "People that work at Sevilla knew exactly what Berizzo's situation was, they knew he had a 99 percent chance of recovery. It's true that it's an ugly situation but quite simply Berizzo did not have a good connection with the players. The team was not progressing, they were playing worse with each week, the club detected that he hadn't connected with the players and hadn't transmitted his footballing ideas to the team as he had at Celta Vigo, and they took the decision to sack him.
"Sevilla is a club that looks at the human side more than anyone because this is a club who saw one of their own players die on the pitch. They tried to manage the Berizzo situation as well as they could and they made the decision in the club's best interest, and they did take into account the coach's situation. Obviously, it looks very uncomfortable, but if you think Sevilla took an inhumane decision in sacking Berizzo, you're wrong."
Sevilla also saw sporting director "Monchi" depart for Roma in 2017, the man who is widely credited with making them a success after helping discover players like Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Ramos, Jose Antonio Reyes, Antonio Puerta, Seydou Keita and Julio Baptista. A book paying tribute to his methods is on sale in the club's shop. Important players Coke, Vicente Iborra and Vitolo have also left while Nico Pareja and Daniel Carrico, the two captains of the team, have been injured.
Given all that has gone against Sevilla, they've done well to be fifth in the league, reach the domestic cup final -- they knocked Atletico Madrid out along the way -- and still be in the Champions League. And, like United, this season could still see success in the cups.
Sevilla's success has only extended to their first team. Their reserve side -- Sevilla Atletico -- are one of only two in Spain's second tier along with Barcelona's, though they're almost certain to go down this season. After passing through the airport where the 'Welcome to Sevilla' sign is accompanied by a "Home of Sevilla FC" sign (and nothing representing the better supported Betis), this writer watched Sevilla Atletico on Sunday morning at the club's impressive training ground and reserve stadium. In the Sunday noon sun, 993 resigned fans watched another defeat with barely a murmur.
Huddersfield away on a raucous Saturday evening it was not, but Sevilla's attitude is best summed up by the huge flag behind one goal that reads: "It is said we never surrender". Those words, which are sewn into Sevilla's shirts, are accompanied by more silhouettes of all those recent trophies won, including a record five UEFA Cup/Europa Leagues. Manchester United might have tried something similar after the treble season.
Sevilla have a strong identity, they remember the homegrown star Puerta, who was just 22 when he died after collapsing on the pitch in 2007, with a statue at the training ground and his face painted into the side of their stadium.
Most of Sevilla's fans are local and from the city. Traditionally they were the more middle-class supporters with Betis the team of the working class, but the demographics have been blurred like in many cities.
New coach Vincenzo Montella may have been at AC Milan until November, but Milan were poor under the former striker and he was an underwhelming appointment for fans and started his tenure disappointingly with two league defeats. But Sevilla have won five and drawn one of their six cup ties under the Italian this year and they've won their last two league games, though they were hammered 5-1 at Eibar on February 3rd.
Jose Mourinho won his first European trophy in Seville, the 2003 UEFA Cup against Celtic. He returns to the beautiful city for his first Champions League knock-out tie as Manchester United manager. These are the games that he -- and United fans -- live for, but Sevilla will continue not to make it easy for them.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.