The audio version of this article was included in the latest episode of the Onside Inzaghi Podcast.
Rarely do derbies mean more than in Seville. “A derby in this city is something incredible” explained Sevilla forward Franco Vazquez after a 3-2 win on Saturday night over rivals Real Betis. Aside from ‘El Gran Derbi’ pageantry of the slowest bus tour in football, scenes overflowing with passion both in and outside the ground - Sevilla fans’ pre-match tifo simply reading: ‘Sevilla is Passion!’, and dramatic on-field events, a feverish sense of pride and emotion was heightened at the Sanchez Pizjuan this weekend.
Following Sevilla’s 2-0 win at Real Valladolid earlier this month, caretaker coach Joaquin Caparros, flanked by returning sporting director Monchi and club president Jose Castro, announced he’s suffering from chronic leukemia. “It doesn't impede my work. I am going about my daily life - on a day to day level and at training.” said the 63 year old Spaniard. “I am not receiving any treatment. I want to enjoy the opportunity the president and the board have given me. I'm more determined than ever. I won't talk about the subject further but I do want to make sure everyone remains calm.'
Born in Utrera, a small town outside Seville, Caparros, a life long Sevilla fan and in his third spell as coach, has become something of a lightning rod for fan passion of late. During his five years in charge and the start of the millennium Sevilla returned to La Liga in 2001 having spent three of the last four seasons in the Segunda. Overseeing a side that featured Sergio Ramos, Jose Antonio Reyes, Dani Alves and Carlos Marchena, Caparros was pivotal in laying the foundations for Juande Ramos’ success in the later half of the decade. The Andlucian club challenging for the league title while winning the Copa del Rey and the Europa League twice.
After a meandering 40 year coaching career in Spain, Caparros returned to Sevilla last season as a caretaker coach after the sacking of Vincenzo Montella to ensure a return to Europe. Sevilla finishing seventh after taking 10 points from their final four league games under Caparros. That run included a 2-2 draw at Betis, after which Caparros was forced to apologize to Betis fans following rude gestures, which Caparros referred to as “ugly and unfortunate”, made from the Sevilla team bus as it left the Benito Villamarin. "The rivalry should not reach these extremes," said the Sevilla coach, whose passion had got the better of him.
Following the revelations over Caparros’ health and the fact that both teams continue to chase European places with just 6 games to play, the emotional backdrop was heightened by the start of Semana Santa. With nearly 80% of Andalusians identifying as Roman Catholic, Holy Week is a major event in Seville featuring hosts of often elaborate precisions through the city in the build up to Easter Sunday.
Saturday’s ‘holy derbi’ as AS referred to it, played proved an eventful and typically boisterous encounter. After flares and swathes of cheering fans had accompanied the Sevilla team coach to the Sanchez Pizjuan, some of whom were seen pushing the bus along at one point, Munir El Haddadi’s close range header from Pablo Sarabia’s whipped cross on 26 minutes gave Sevilla the lead. Betis might have already been ahead after Sevilla keeper Tomas Vaclik had rushed off his line and left Jese with a very presentable chance to open the scoring but the PSG loanee’s weak effort was easily cleared. Jese’s fellow PSG loanee Giovani Lo Celso, who looks set to stay at Betis with the club keen initiate an option of purchase at the end of the season, riffled in an equalizer from Junior Firpo’s cut back 10 minutes after half time.
Just 4 minutes later Pablo Sarabia had restored the hosts’ lead, volleying in strike partner Wissam Ben Yedder’s cross from close range before Vazquez made it 3-1 on 64 minutes. Betis defendes allowing Vazquez space on the edge of the D to rocket his shot past Pau Lopez. Betis sub Cristian Tello reduced the deficit to 3-2 with a smart free kick and Sevilla were made to ‘suffer’ in the closing stages but held on for a potentially crucial three points in the race for Europe.
Touted for a Spain call up on Spanish TV this weekend, Sarabia, who remains one of only 4 players in the top 5 leagues to have reached double figures for league goals and assists drew particular praise from Marca for his display and his continued understanding with Ben Yedder. Sarabia saying afterwards that the win was "an incredible feeling… the team has produced a magnificent performance.” Full back Sergio Escudero explained that “the victory is for our fans because they are always by our side, and also for Caparros after this difficult week."
This was Sevilla’s fourth win in five games since Caparros again assumed coaching responsibilities, having made way for Girona boss Pablo Machin over the summer. Caparros had switched to sporting director after Monchi left for Roma but on the plane home from Prague after the Europa League exit to Slavia Caparros sacked Machin and re-appointed himself as caretaker. Machin had made a good start at the Sanchez Pizjuan, even threatening a title challenge earlier in the campaign, but just one win in nine league games saw Sevilla slip down the table.
However, after Monchi’s return from Roma as sporting director, Caparros’ future is uncertain. Rumours in the Spanish press persist that after a second successive bounce under Caparros, he may be in line for the permanent job. ‘A project for Caparros?’ asked Marca this week who underlined the strong bond between fans and coach, ‘The coach feels prepared to continue. The first stone of the Sevilla of the future may have already been placed.’ Marca online also took issue with the idea that Caparros is only a motivator, as ‘more than 500 matches in La Liga are not achieved with the superfluous slogans of a motivational coach. There is knowledge and a lot of wisdom.’
"Of course Joaquín is an option, but we have to wait at the end of the season," said club president Jose Castro, intimating that any decision on Caparros’ future would fall to Monchi, as reported by the Seville based Estadio Deportivo Sports paper who’s online poll saw 56% of Sevilla fans keen to Caparros see stay. ‘Caparros has earned it‘ one Estadio headline read.
Champions League qualification would certainly help his cause and, after Getafe’s draw with Valladolid, Sevilla found themselves back in the top four by Monday morning. Although next week’s trip to Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez will prove crucial, as will their final two La Liga games - away at Atletico Madrid and home to Bilbao, currently 7th, on the final day.
Whether he stays or not, in a city where it’s derby means so much, no one would have felt Seville’s unique brand of footballing passion and pride more this weekend than Joaquin Caparros. As Escudero said, the win is for him.
by Adam White