Getafe, a tiny team on verge of Champions League, are the story of the season in Spain
If somebody said the word "Getafe" out loud to you, what would be the first image that flipped into your head?
Perhaps the daring and flamboyance of Michael Laudrup's 2008 version that knocked out Spurs, eliminated Benfica and led Bayern Munich 4-2 on aggregate in the UEFA Cup quarterfinal with 16 minutes of extra time left, despite having played with 10 men for 90 minutes only to agonisingly draw 5-5 and exit on away goals? Or the "Geta" side that suffered what Barcelona fans recently overwhelmingly voted the greatest goal in their club's history when the 19-year-old Lionel Messi inserted a Diego Maradona microchip into his head, dribbled past about 26 players from the halfway line and finished just like his fellow Argentine legend in the 1986 World Cup against England?
That Getafe side was managed by Bernd Schuster who, drier than the Sahara, opined that his players should have kicked Messi to prevent his remarkable goal. It's a theme with this club: Schuster's players took the hint and beat Barcelona 4-0 in the second leg, having lost the Camp Nou match 5-2. Egg on Catalan faces.
The other images that might jump to the frontal lobe at the mention of one of Madrid's smallest, more pugnacious clubs could involve Pepe, at the Bernabeu in 2009, trying out for a role as an NFL kicker but choosing to do so by aiming two vicious boots at the head of Getafe's Javi Casquero, the reddest of red cards in Spanish football history. Or when Los Azulones' awful lack of fans, empty stadium and dull atmosphere caused the club, in 2011, to come up with the idea of making of a football-based "adult film" so that it might, literally, spawn an increase in the birth rate of Getafe-supporting kids? One of the plot lines involved sexy Getafe zombies. Don't ask.
Whatever your immediate association with Getafe, their current manager, Pepe Bordalas, should be overwriting it all with their remarkable 2018-19 season. Getafe, currently Spain's fourth-best club, who host a massive local derby against European Champions Real Madrid on Thursday, sent Bordalas an emergency SOS when they were second-from-bottom in the second division: played seven, won one, scored four goals, conceded 10.
That was 17 months ago. Right now they're in a superb three-way battle with Valencia and Sevilla for that precious final Champions League qualifying spot, a financial and footballing treat that Getafe have never enjoyed in their 36-year history.
One thing we know is that should Sevilla and Getafe finish joint-fourth, the Madrilenos will go into Europe's elite competition because of La Liga's head-to-head rule. To put it bluntly, the current cherry on the icing of Getafe's record-breaking season is the fact that they've humiliated Sevilla 5-0 on aggregate across their two meetings. A clinical dismantling at the Nervion not long after the start of the season and then, on Sunday, came a 3-0 thumping of a Sevilla side with a massive budget advantage and boasting, at least on paper, better players in almost every position.
And there's the rub. Here's a thought exercise: Act as if you were one of the other top four clubs in Europe's major leagues (England, Germany, Italy, France). Then award yourself the director of football role, with a robust budget, and ask yourself, seriously and in comparison with what will be available elsewhere this summer -- plus what you've already got in your squad at PSG, Liverpool, Juventus, Dortmund, Naples or Manchester City, for example -- which Getafe player would you automatically buy?
David Soria, admittedly, is in the form of his life, but would you place the former Sevilla keeper even in the top 10 for his position in Europe?
Meanwhile, Dakonam Djene is something of a phenomenon. Umbilically linked to Bordalas given that they worked together at Alcorcon, his athleticism, concentration, eagerness to win the ball in any situation and ability to play either defensive midfield or a couple of positions in the back four makes him the one standout purchase.
"Djene has been literally stellar for us since I signed him: He's capable of shutting down Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo or Diego Costa," Bordalas said recently. Djene's age, his price, his particular version of N'golo Kante's "seek and destroy" missions for Leicester, France and Chelsea all make him a nailed-on summer transfer target for an aspiring English Premier League team, where his wages would quadruple at the very least. To me, how Getafe persuade him to stay could well be the Gordian knot of the entire summer market.
After those two, I think every man in Bordalas' bunch of brigands is a footballer who stands out only for his exceptional ability to play within this unit. There will be those who make a case for Amath Diedhiou, but he's started just 13 times and has been absent with injuries since December, and for Francisco Portillo, despite the fact that there is a plethora of midfielders around La Liga who are at or above his level.
What's really beautiful about this squad, or more particularly the team, is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It's very rare -- almost unheard of -- in modern football. They really shouldn't be this good. So while it's actually the team that wins the points, and while there are lovely cameo roles from Jorge Molina, Jaime Mata and Angel up front, plus Damian "Take No Prisoners" Suarez, I think we can argue that it's Bordalas who is the central star of this era. He's the guy, in this setup, most rival clubs would most like to sign.
Bordalas' team plays a 4-4-2 formation with almost no variations. Or, at least, none since promotion, because the 55-year-old (he looks much younger) is a coach who adapts his system to the types of footballers he possesses. Getafe came up from the second division using a 4-2-3-1 playing structure and his team is, to put it mildly, robust.
I have no qualms about saying that the reason they regularly top the European chart for fouls committed is tactical in nature. Getafe are not a team of thugs. They don't go out to intimidate or injure; rather, they just don't like their opponents to find a playing rhythm. And if the rigid, sometimes smothering pressure with which opponents need to cope is somehow punctured by a rare attack, then a little clip, nudge or shirt-tug is just part of the Getafe repertoire.
Bordalas is intense. His players are intense. Something about him -- the tactical instruction, the man-to-man relationships he cultivates with his footballers, his complete dedication to the defensive organisation of his team -- is evocative of Rafa Benitez. Each of these two modern Spanish coaching icons starts with the micro, feasting on the most minute detail with each of his players, and builds outward from that. His coaching is hands-on and interventionist in nature; you'd better not treat it trivially or fail to learn if you want a starting place at the weekend.
As a man, you'd be forgiven for thinking of Bordalas as "the stereotypical Spaniard," at least the way many outside this country think of Iberian menfolk. He adores bullfighters. His individual hero is tennis legend Rafa Nadal. He'll admit to being extremely preoccupied by the increasing call from within Catalunya for independence, and he loves to watch the motorbike grand prix where, so regularly, Spain produces the sport's leading riders.
It's infamous that once, when looking for a new assistant, Alex Ferguson wanted to choose Martin Jol for his acumen but felt he couldn't because of the Dutchman's weight. Bordalas is someone who shares that concept, admitting that he's lost weight, is in great shape and watches what he eats very carefully because "one's image is very important in this profession." In other words, given that he's obsessed by his players' weight, diet, fitness and stamina, he'd be hard pressed to insist on those standards within his squad if he didn't set them precisely the right example.
Bordalas has the same approach to discipline: His fiery nature used to see him red-carded, reprimanded and fined much more than currently when, ostensibly, the pressure is higher. But he sought help from those around him, listened to their advice and attempted to "mature" on the basis that if he were sent off or suspended, it wasn't helping the team and it was sending his players a bad example.
All in all, Getafe's season is a gem of a story. Overachieving Getafe: now popular, now with crowds happy to flock to the Alfonso Perez Coliseum and with Champions League football within their grasp.
Personally, I still think that Valencia should pip them to fourth, but this week is huge in terms of how that battle shapes up. Getafe host Real Madrid -- with local bragging rights an added issue -- and then Real Sociedad away while Valencia play Atleti and Eibar before their welcome but distracting Europa League semifinal against Arsenal begins. Wonderful drama, a wonderful season for Getafe.
But whether the rumours of Sevilla wanting Bordalas to take over the side he's torn to shreds this season are true or not, I'd guess it's time for the Getafe faithful to enjoy and support him while they can.
Bigger things are ahead for Bordalas. Bank on it.