How Getafe went from the depths of the Segunda to the Europa League

How Getafe went from the depths of the Segunda to the Europa League

Madrid, the capital city and commercial hub of Spain, has a rich football history, especially in LaLiga. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, the two big-spending Champions League regulars, garner much of the world’s attention, seeing as they have the biggest superstars and perform under the brightest lights on the grandest nights. Around them are some humbler clubs. Rayo Vallecano, who frequently go up and down the divisions, struggle to maintain a constant place in the top-flight. The same goes for Leganés, popularly known as the Cucumbers, who have only just started cementing their place in LaLiga over the last few years.

The youngest of the lot is Getafe, the club that wear an all-blue strip and who have been around since 1983. Remarkably, it’s only now, for many, that they’ve started capturing the world’s attention after a historic season in Spain’s top tier. 

Their neighbouring clubs have been around for decades, many having already celebrated their centenary years, moving to the biggest stadiums and players for massive transfer fees, but in the south-west of the capital, this is a club that is still looking make its mark, having themselves been fighting with mid-table obscurity and relegation fears in recent times.

Originally formed in 1923 as Sociedad Getafe Deportivo, they would stutter in the lower divisions, mostly playing amateur football but failing to do much of note. They would change once again after the Spanish Civil War when a group of locals decided to redesign and rebuild, officially re-forming as Club Getafe Deportivo. This team enjoyed a little more success, playing as high as the second tier and even competing against the likes of Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, but in 1982, after several years of financial trouble, they liquidated. 

Along the way, in 1976, a club called Peña Madridista Getafe (Real Madrid Supporters’ Club of Getafe) was formed. This club played in various divisions until rebranding to Club Deportivo Peña Getafe. For two years they kept that name before merging with the more ancient Club Getafe Promesas. In 1983, after the two forces came together, Getafe Club de Fútbol was officially formed, and thus, their story began.

Having started off in the local leagues, they would rise before finding their feet between Segunda División B and the Segunda itself. Promotion to the top-flight was a pipe dream at that point and in the late-90s, the fear of liquidation was rife once again. Nevertheless, they would survive, and in 1998 entered a new phase by inaugurating their new stadium, the 17,000-seater, Coliseum Alfonso Pérez – an open ground where the sun basks in all its glory. Interestingly, the ground is named after Alfonso Pérez, the former Spain and Real Madrid player who never played for or against Getafe but was born in the area. 

They would continue in the third and second tiers for a while, but in 2004, the momentous happened as they gained promotion to LaLiga, completing the remarkable feat of ascending the Spanish football pyramid in the space of just 20 years. Despite one relegation in 2015/16 – followed by immediate promotion the following campaign – they’ve been a permanent fixture in LaLiga. Relegation battles have been aplenty but they’ve been consistent in beating the drop. Sixth was the highest they finished – that was in the 2009/10 season, but it was the recently concluded campaign where the wider world took notice. 

For much of their time, it would be fair to say that Getafe have been in the shadows – even the locals ignore them. Last season, in their most successful campaign in history, they enjoyed an average home attendance of 10,836 – the fifth lowest in the division – while the season before that, they were third-lowest. Often, local papers don’t even send reporters to their games for coverage, with Getafe of little interest to the public. For years, many believed they were there to make up the numbers, but over the last 12 months, they proved they weren’t. 

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Led by the inimitable José Bordalás, the 55-year-old former forward, they finished fifth in LaLiga, just two points behind Valencia in the final Champions League qualifying place. For so long they were close to making it to Europe’s premier club competition, but even taking part in the Europa League, where the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Roma and Borussia Mönchengladbach will be involved, is no mean feat for a club of their size.

Bordalás has had a journeyman career in Spain. Over 23 years in management, he has had 15 spells at 12 different clubs, but it is undoubtedly at Getafe where he has celebrated his finest achievements. The suave manager, often seen sporting hipster glasses and a finely-tailored suit on the sidelines, joined in 2016 after Getafe were struggling upon their return to the Segunda. They won just one of their opening eight games and were much closer to an unexpected drop to the third tier than a return to the first.

A change in fortunes was immediate as Bordalás and Getafe turned things, ending up in third in the league and only narrowly missing out on automatic promotion. They won the playoffs, overcoming Huesca and Tenerife as the promised land was reached again: LaLiga action would return to the Coliseum. 

They finished eighth in the following campaign, comfortably beating expectations that they would go back down, instead challenging for a place in the Europa League. The squad he inherited and then developed is a team of work-horses, players that constantly punch above their weight and want to challenge the upper echelons of the league. In the 2018/19 campaign, a combination of effort, players giving it their all, shrewd tactics and a bit of technology propelled them to an all-time high of fifth.

At the start of the season, Getafe had the fourth-lowest budget of all 20 teams in LaLiga, with their overall squad’s value almost equivalent to the amount some of the league’s best players such as Lionel Messi or Gareth Bale earned in a month. They also had the sixth-smallest wage structure, mixing it with teams from the lower half rather than the ones they ended up finishing alongside. So how did they do it?

Crucially, this is a group of players that came together with a massive point to prove. Many of them came in on the cheap and were misfits at their previous clubs. Their first-choice goalkeeper, David Soria, arrived on a cut-price deal having been discarded at Sevilla. Nemanja Maksimović, once seen as a player with a bright future, came in from Valencia having failed to break into the first-team. Ignasi Miquel, the former Arsenal defender, joined from Málaga, who were relegated in the previous campaign, whilst other shrewd loan deals included the likes of Sebastián Cristóforo and Dimitri Foulquier.

It wasn’t just that link that held them together. Many of their players had suffered more losses than wins in their careers, with relegations aplenty on their CVs. Leandro Cabrera came from Crotone, who were struggling in Italy, while Damián Suárez, a player who had been at the club since 2015, had seen relegations with Elche and Getafe. In many ways, it could be said that Bordalás was preparing a team with a fighting spirit that could get them out of a tough spot – but they were joined by some players who wanted to hit new levels, especially 30-year-old Jaime Mata, who was one of the revelations of the season. 

In the previous year whilst playing for Real Valladolid, Mata was offered a lucrative €6m contract from Zheijang Greentown to play in the Chinese Super League. An offer like that would make anyone’s mouth water, especially if that player is in the second tier. Seeing many players – Javier Mascherano, Yannick Carrasco and Jonathan Viera among others – moving east, the offer would’ve been appealing. But Mata rejected the deal, staying in Spain and spearheading Valladolid’s charge to the promotion playoffs. They failed but Mata was on his way to LaLiga anyway, as Getafe came calling. 

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In Madrid, Mata would become Getafe’s main man, with Bordalás giving him all the freedom in attack. With 23 goals in 25 matches in the Segunda, Bordalás knew he had a useful talent to call upon. Over the course of the next year, Mata would spearhead Getafe to success, and while he was vital to an incredible team that was over-achieving, in Bordalás’ eyes, he wasn’t their key cog. That was the defenders and the defensive set-up. 

For much of the season, Bordalás’ preferred system was a classic 4-4-2, closing down space and making themselves compact, giving little room to the opposition to exploit. This was crucial and the statistics proved that. By the end of the matchday 38, they had conceded just 35 goals – only Diego Simeone’s typically solid Atlético Madrid (29) conceded fewer, while Champions League-chasing Valencia were level. 

Their midfield assists in this aspect of their play too, doing more work off the ball than on it, making recoveries and pressing high to avoid giving the opposition time and space to work their magic. A key example of this was seen in the early season league match against Real Betis, who they defeated 2-0 on home turf. With the opposition led by Quique Setién and consisting of talented individuals such as William Carvalho and Giovanni Lo Celso, Seville club struggled to create chances and were outplayed defensively. Against pressure, they held their own and came out with a well-deserved victory. 

Bordalás doesn’t mind the way in which he goes about his business. In an interview with El Mundo, he was philosophical about his methods: “What’s the point of having 30 touches in your half of the pitch without moving forward? People have started to confuse lengthy possession with good football.” The method has cost Bordalás once. That was at Alavés, who sacked him after he had led them to promotion.

It’s clear that Getafe aren’t the most attractive of teams, relying on a smash-and-grab style that has worked well with so many pragmatic managers. Contrary to their great defensive numbers, they scored just 48 goals across the 38-game season, the joint-lowest of clubs that qualified for Europe. 

That has been one of the reasons for the success of Jaime Mata: they have been over-reliant on his goals; without them, they would’ve been nowhere near the spot they finished. He scored 16 league goals last season – a third of his club’s overall tally – and even earned a call-up to the Spain side in March. 

Alongside Mata is Jorge Molina, the 37-year-old who many touted for a call-up to the national team. Just like Getafe, Molina has had a humble rise to superstardom. The forward is shy off the pitch and has completed several coaching badges as well as holding a sporting director’s license and his rise to the top has been impressive. His life is football.

Born in the same region as his manager, he spent much of his years in the lower leagues before joining Real Betis in 2010 and leading them to promotion. He stayed in Seville for six years prior to his Getafe odyssey, and even his wildest dreams would never have conjured up a whole stadium chanting “Jorge, selección!” for a man close to the end of his career. He’s an icon there, a revered figure who guided them when they were in the Segunda. Next year, he’ll take them to Europe. 

Read  |  How Marcelino guided a resurgent Valencia to Copa del Rey glory and the Champions League

Supporting the two in attack is the hard-working midfield four of Maksimović and Mauro Arambarri, the engine of the team who are just as crucial to their defensive play as they are to their rapid counter-attacks. They’re joined by wingers Francisco Portillo and Foulquier, who Bordalás converted from full-back. 

The most interesting of all, though, is Mathieu Flamini, who, in his bit-part role, has done incredibly well. The 35-year-old Frenchman has been a rotational player, but when on the pitch, he is a mammoth figure, covering more ground than any other player on the team and providing vital experience from his time at the likes of Arsenal and AC Milan.

Together, this well-knit group picked up some wonderful results on their way to European football: wins against fellow European-chasers Sevilla, Espanyol and Athletic, draws against Valencia and Real Madrid, and crucial results at difficult venues such as those of Real Betis, Villarreal and Alavés. 

Despite his pragmatic approach, Bordalás isn’t a relic of days gone, utilising some modern technology to further Getafe’s progress. Jordi Cruyff, who has made great strides in Israel with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, has his own legacy in Spanish football. While working in Israel, he teamed up with Zone7, a data analytics company run by former Israeli security service agents. He helped the company land some gigs in Spanish football and Getafe have been using their resources to design training sessions to ensure peak fitness across the season and help their players avoid injuries. They became the first club in Europe to use the software and it has been reported that many other clubs – especially in England and Italy – are taking note having seen the dividends it has reaped.

“After a first test season, where we help them a lot to improve their applications in football, it has been in this one when we have started to really bear fruit to their injury prevention programs”, says Javier Vidal, the fitness coach at Getafe, who has worked alongside Bordalás to convince the hierarchy to invest further. In the end, the results were clear: statistics showed that Getafe suffered fewer muscle injuries – just eight – than most LaLiga clubs, while the likes of Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid suffered at least 30 each, according to El Mundo.

The system works like many other modern-day modes of technology in sport. Athletes place a device under their playing shirts, which collects various variants of data ranging from speed to pulse rate to distances covered, all while being linked to the medical and physiological history of the individual. It has worked a treat for Getafe; in the future, it is certain that Zone7’s name will be spread by Europe’s elite. 

The journey and subsequent success have been a culmination of several years of hustle for players and staff alike. From Bordalás’ unfancied methods and Mata rejecting money and favouring loyalty to Molina’s constant fights in the depths of Spanish football and earning a much-loved point against local rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga, the future looks bright if they can consolidate this season.

“There are no egos in this team,” says Molina, and it shows in how they’ve performed since returning to LaLiga under Bordalás. It isn’t easy to finish eighth and then fifth in the two years after promotion, but Getafe have done just that. Now they need to take the next step. More cut-price deals and loan moves have been made as they prepare for Europe as Getafe, a club of modest origins with fans that dared to dream, aim for new highs.

By Karan Tejwani @karan_tejwani26

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