La Liga is back and with that Deportivo Alavés is back. On Sunday the Basque team, that once made heatwaves through Europe, travelled to the Vicente Calderón to let Atlético Madrid know they sure are back. Alexandra Jonson looks at how the way to the 1-1 draw against last season’s Champions League finalists, has been all but easy for Alavés.
One of Manu Garcías’ best football memories comes when he was twelve years old and in the stands at Estadio de Mendizorroza. The year was 1998 and Deportivo Alavés had done the “impossible”, with a win over Rayo Vallecano, winning promotion to La Liga. 42 years after they’d last been there.
“I grew up watching [Manolo] Serrano, [Lluis] Codina, [Iñaki] Berruet and [Antonio] Carmona. I saw them beat Rayo here with the pitch invasion and everything.” It’s May 2016, 17 years later and Manu García is talking to reporters. He’s back at Estadio de Mendizorroza. Now he’s 30 years old, at the end of his footballing career but also at the beginning.
It’s not long since the final whistle went, since he did what his heroes had done 17 years previous. “Now it was my turn” he says, “my turn to score the goal Serrano scored back then.”
Deportivo Alavés have in their last home game of the season beaten Numancia 2-0, topping Segunda Division and securing promotion to La Liga. But the journey has been long, both for Manu García as for Alavés.
Athough 2016-17 will only be the 12th season in their 95 long history, that Alavés play La liga football, they have already occupied a place in both Spanish and European football history.
After winning promotion in 1998, the Basque club reached their best league finish during the 1999-2000 season, ending sixth in La Liga. The following year, they took Europe by storm as they reached the final of the UEFA Cup – a final that would be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
The Basques’ were coming up against one of Europe’s giants, Liverpool. No one expected them to have any chance. The Reds were also heading towards a comfortable win and at half-time the result was 3-1. But two fast goals from Javi Moreno saw the game at a tie 3-3. Liverpool went ahead again but Jordi Cruyff retaliated to make it 4-4.
It was a historical comeback. However, in the golden goal extra time nothing would go the Basques’ way. Reduced to ten and then nine men, Delfí Geli would score a 115th minute own-goal. It was all over.
From there everything went downhill for Alavés. Though they managed to stay in La Liga for two more seasons, the magic was gone and soon were most of their best players. They managed to return to La Liga again in 2005-06 but that would only result in disaster, as the Ukrainian-American business man Dimitry Pietrman, bought the club.
With Pietrman, came chaotic times, and several internal conflicts. After one season they were back in Segunda. The two following seasons saw the team battling relegation to Segunda B and in 2007 Pietreman finally left.
By then, the once UEFA Cup finalists, were deep in debt and in 2008-09 they would eventually fall down into “hell” aka Segunda Division B.
It was during those dark times that Manu García finally fulfilled his childhood dream of playing for Deportivo Alavés.
Having joined the Real Sociedad youth academy just the year after he saw Serrano’s goal against Rayo take Alavés to La Liga in 1998, García had later been battling through different teams in the Spanish second and third tier, dreaming of one day making it to La Liga.
As he signed for Alavés in 2012, the La Liga dream was long gone. But promotion to Segunda A followed and just three years later, with the captain’s armband on he led his team back to, where them for him always belonged, La Liga.
On Sunday Manu García played his first ever La Liga fixture, scoring his first ever La Liga goal; a last minute equaliser and it leaving the Vicente Calderón silent.
Next Sunday Sporting de Gijon will come to his Estadio de Mendizorroza as first division football for the first time in ten years returns to Vitoria. In the stands, there surely will be another 12 year-old dreaming the same dreams that Manu García did 17 years ago, Dreaming of one day dressing in blue and white playing La Liga football for Deportivo Alavés. Who knows maybe one day one of them will.
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Follow Alexandra at @AlexandraJonson