There is a simple reason why Sevilla have won more Europa Leagues than any other club – they take the competition more seriously than ever other club. Or as the huge banner unfurled in their semi-final second leg against Juventus read: ‘No one wants it more.’
There are similar levels of obsession at Real Madrid over the Champions League. Domestic seasons get forgotten, even if rivals Barcelona are miles clear in the league table, just so long as the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Champions League are brought home.
At the turn of the century Real Madrid had won the Champions League seven times – they have now doubled that tally. Barcelona had won the competition just once – now it’s four. And Sevilla had never won a European trophy. Now they have seven in the cabinet.
Sporting Director Monchi once told Mail Sport in an interview: ‘Nobody ever had an end of season parade because of positive financial results.’ You can’t hold your balance sheet aloft on the open top bus, fans want silverware – they want memories.
Two months ago the club were mired in a relegation battle, just two points from the drop zone. Their season had ‘too good to go down, but down they went’ written all over it.
Sevilla won the Europa League for a record seventh time after beating Roma on penalties
Their obsession with the competition is similar to Real Madrid’s with the Champions League
Sevilla boss Jose Luis Mendilibar deserves enormous credit for taking them from a relegation battle to the Champions League in just two months
The sane thing would have been to bin the European dream and concentrate on staying up. Relegation from the first division in Spain can be a death knell for a club. There aren’t the parachute payments that exist in England. Both Deportivo and Malaga have slid into the third tier while other big clubs have spent years trying to get back.
But Sevilla never blinked. Their focus never shifted. President Pepe Castro told Mail Sport this week: ‘Other clubs would have given up on the Europa League and concentrated on staying up. But not Sevilla. The Europa League has always been very important for us.’
And when asked if new coach Jose Luis Mendilibar needed to be briefed on that priority, he added: ‘We didn’t need to tell him. When you arrive at Sevilla and you go into the home dressing room you see all the Europa League trophies. Everyone tells the new coach as soon as he arrives what the tournament means to this club.’
In the same way when joining Real Madrid the first unofficial induction course you are sent on is the one where you learn what it means to conquer Europe. Real Madrid were founding fathers of the European Cup and won it the first five times it was held. It’s little wonder they feel that other sides are merely ‘borrowing’ it when they win it instead of Real Madrid.
There is no great footballing link between all the successes. Madrid’s early century triumphs have little to do with the three in a row with Ronaldo and Bale in the team, nor with last year’s series of comebacks to the final. But whoever wears the shirt or is sat on the bench the special spirit inspired is the same.
Sevilla’s successes also have different footballing fathers. Juande Ramos won the first, Unai Emery took over and Julen Lopetegui picked up the baton after him.
Mendilibar is the other big reason why they have turned six into seven this season. The side was a shambles when he came in. The defining image of his time in charge was him sending on substitute Joan Jordan with a sheet of white paper with instructions to the players late in a game they were losing and feisty full-back Marcos Acuña tearing it out of a team-mate’s hands, screwing it up and throwing it away.
Mendilibar was the polar opposite in his approach: the players know what to do, don’t complicate things for them. The plug was taken out of the tactics magic roundabout. It was 4-2-3-1 in every game. Even the substitutions became consistent, with Suso and Erik Lamela coming on for Oliver Torres and Bryan Gil in the big games.
The shape never changed and neither did the instructions: Play in the opposition’s half; don’t be afraid to shoot; get crosses into the box; get bodies into the box; try to win the ball back quickly and high up the pitch. It can sound unsophisticated but do it with good players and it works. Even more so with players not happy playing their way intricately out from the back under previous coach Sampoali.
The veteran helped to outfox Jose Mourinho in just his sixth European game as a manager
Sevilla’s squad is full of players like Ivan Rakitic (left) and Jesus Navas (right) who had been written off elsewhere and the club has a habit of blowing new life into their stars
The ‘Normal one’ as he was dubbed on social media last night by journalist Fernando Palomo, after he had outthought the ‘Special One’, was only taking charge of his fifth European game. But against Mourinho – on his sixth European final – he was a match, knowing when to be the protagonist and when not. He let the players decide the penalty order with Montiel due to shoot last but ultimately taking the decisive kick.
He will be the first to admit that he did it with good players and no analysis of Sevilla’s latest chapter of glory can ignore Jesus Navas. He was on the pitch in the club’s first final in Eindhoven 16 years ago when they beat Middlesbrough 4-0.
There are no stats for career crosses but the 37-year-old, who Pep Guardiola converted from right wing to right back, must have put over more during his career than any other player – and one from him last night forced the equalizer.
When he came back from City he looked to be on his last legs. That was seven years ago – Seville, the city, and Sevilla the club has a habit of blowing new life into players.
Loic Bade couldn’t get a game at Nottingham Forest. Ivan Rakitic had passed his sell-by-date at Barcelona. Former Manchester City metronome Fernando was a creaking veteran signed from Galatasaray. Winger Lucas Ocampos had moved to Ajax last summer from Sevilla and flopped.
Again Sevilla’s president Castro puts it best: There’s a song about Sevilla having a special colour to it,’ he says. ‘This club is capable of making sure players who have not thrived elsewhere do it here. And it’s a chain reaction. The more glory you reach, the more trophies you win, the more players want to come.’