Adam White

Where He Belongs

Adam White
Where He Belongs

This article also featured on this week’s Onside Inzaghi Podcast.

Jose Bordalás wasn’t supposed to be here. Having won the Segunda division in 2016 and returned Alaves to the Primera for the first time in ten seasons, Bordalás was sacked. ‘The Board of Directors of Deportivo Alavés has decided that Jose Bordalás will not remain on the bench for the 16/17 season,’ read a matter of fact club statement. ‘We want to thank Bordalás for his work and dedication in a really successful season.’ Amid ongoing tension with the board, never having managed in La Liga and seen as a coach suited to second tier, Bordalás was out. Three years later, having repeated the feat with Getafe, the Champions League awaits.

When Jose “Pepe” Bordalás took over at Getafe they had just been relegated from La Liga and sat second bottom of the second division. Traditionally something of an unfashionable club from the Madrid suburbs and unable to fill their Coliseum Alfonso Perez at the best of times, only tiny Eibar finishing below them in average attendance of late, Getafe might have suffered the fate of many before them such as Racing Santander, Real Mallorca, Hercules and Recreativo de Huelva. All former La Liga clubs, all descending into the harsh, sprawling lower reaches of Spanish football.

Eventually climbing to third under Bordalás, Getafe won the Segunda play offs and were back in the top flight. After a coaching career spanning a quarter of a century, the 55 year old continued into the Primera for the first time, leading Getafe to a superb eighth last season and was voted by his peers as coach of the year. This season, Getafe have surprised an entire continent. A 3-0 win over fellow top four chasers Sevilla on Sunday afternoon saw Bordalás’ eclectic group of repurposed players retake fourth from their opponents with just five games to play.

Beyond his discerningly hipster thick framed glasses and manicured beard Bordalás’ fiery and intense persona is well known. “You spend the week building to the game and it’s like you’re playing for your life, if you don’t win it’s an absolute disaster,” Former Getafe defender Juan Cala told the Guardian in 2017. “He controls every aspect: diet, rest, training, tactics... his training sessions are incredibly heavy-going. The intensity is unbelievable.” A sense of the collective is at the core of Bordalás’ outlook, as Striker Jorge Molina insisted in February after beating Rayo Vallecano: “There are no egos in this team.”

A direct, aggressive and counter attacking approach often featuring a rigid 4-4-2 has come to define Bordalás’ Getafe, as it did many of his other teams. “What’s the point of having 30 touches in your half of the pitch without moving forward?” he told El Mundo, “People have started to confuse lengthy possession with good football.” Having beaten Sevilla he explaining that the "secret is the commitment that all players have, they know what the team needs and its function.” Molina meanwhile, who describes his coach as “strict” and “methodical” takes issue with suggestions that Getafe are bullies. “A team of thugs wouldn’t make the top six,” he told El Pais.

Molina and strike partner Jamie Mata personify Bordalás’ Getafe; physical, effective and usurping expectations. Both are into their thirties yet Iago Aspas is the only Spaniard with more La Liga goals than either man this season. 37 year old Molina, who Getafe fans see as worthy of a Spain call up, spent the majority of his career in the second, third and fourth divisions, driving his Grandfather’s Seat 850 round Valencia where he studied to be a PE teacher.

“We don’t have anyone else who can do what he does,” Cala explained. “Sixty to seventy percent of our game is long ball and the only one who brings it down is Jorge. He battles with the centre-backs, controls it and moves.” Bordalás meanwhile described him this weekend as “an example, he's the son-in-law that all mothers-in-law would love to have.” Despite his prolific season, Molina’s first La Liga season was as late as 2011 with a promoted Real Betis. Interestingly, despite his veteran status, Molina says he has never missed a game due to a muscle injury, supposedly thanks to his PE degree.

Thirty-one in October, this is Mata’s first full season in La Liga after his 35 goals helped Real Valladolid to promotion last term. Like Molina, Mata is a veteran of the lower divisions and didn’t turn fully professional until the age of 25. While at Pegaso in 2009 he posed naked with the rest of the squad in protest over unpaid wages, their modesty covered by a banner displaying the club’s bank account number. By summer 2012 Mata was on the verge of forgetting about football altogether having failed to find a pro club despite an impressive scoring record in the lower tiers.

Having studied law, finance and international trade at university, a career as a customs clerk beckoned before third tier side Lleida offered him a two year deal. Mata chose football. "It was the best decision of my life, professionally and personally.” Mata told El Norte de Castilla, “Lleida was an incredible experience." At the end of his contract he signed for then second tier Girona and then Valladolid.

Remarkably a decade on from posing naked at Pagaso and only 5 years after turning fully professional, Mata received a Spain call up in March, making his debut against Norway. "Not in the best of my dreams could I have imagined that I would be in the national team," Mata reflected. Cruelly however, due to a developing rivalry between Valencia and Getafe after a bad-tempered Copa del Rey tie, Mata was whistled as he replaced Alvaro Morata for La Roja at Mestalla.

Aside from former amateurs Mata and Molina, Getafe’s squad carries an eclectic feel. It features players cast off by bigger clubs such as keeper David Soria, unwanted by Sevilla, and Nemanja Maksimovic who fell out of favour at Valencia; journeyman like Damian Suarez and Dimitri Foulquier and even former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini. Now 35, Flamini signed in December after 6 months without a club but has proven useful as understudy to defensive midfielder Mauro Arambarri (23), who himself seemed out of depth at Bordeaux having signed from his native Uruguay. Having never spent more than 6m euros on a player, the team that started the February win against Rayo Vallecano that took them into the top four cost last the 5m. Getafe incredibly have the 16th smallest budget in La Liga, 17th last season before Huesca’s promotion.

After Sunday’s win over Sevilla, Mata, Molina, Flamini and Bordalás are in sight of Europe. The crucial three points centred around a trio of refereeing decisions. Getafe were awarded a 35th minute penalty after Uruguay defender Leandro Cabrera’s header struck the outstretched arm of Sevilla forward Franco Vazquez. Although Cabrera’s effort may have been point blank, the decision was typical of the VAR era. Mata confidently made it 1-0 from the spot. Getafe were victims of a similar call last weekend as they draw 2-2 with Valladolid. A frustrated Bordalás had complained that defender Dakonam Djene could do little about the incident as he could not “rip off his arm.”

In almost identical fashion it was two ten minutes later. This time Bruno’s header hit the forearm of Sergio Escudero. Both of Escudero’s arms were above his head in what looked like either an attempt to block Bruno’s header or, more likely, a protest at what the Spanish defender seemingly felt was a push as Bruno does lay a palm on his opponent’s shoulder blade. After consulting VAR Senor Antonio Mateu seems to assume the former and harshly books Escudero for a second time. Frustrated Sevilla coach Joaquin Caparros stated afterwards the sending off “was decisive”. Either way assuming Bruno doesn’t push Escudero, similar handball incidents are, rightly or wrongly, clear penalties in the current climate. Even if Escudero claims, truthfully according to replays, that the ball hits the back of his head first. Molina calmly converted.

Via Simon Kjaer’s shin Molina stabbed home a third from Mata’s unchecked run and cross to become the oldest player to score a brace in La Liga this century, the day before his 37th birthday. Molina already being the oldest player to hit La Liga double figures since Ferenc Puskas. Djene, meanwhile, was sent off late on after his studs connected with Jesus Navas’ knee and another VAR review. Djene is potentially a sizeable miss for the mid week game with Real Madrid, Getafe president Angel Torres recently saying he rejected a 30m euro bid from a Premier League club for the Togolese defender. Torres had convinced Djene “it was not the time to leave [but] now it would be different.”

Despite this pivotal win Getafe’s path to the top four remains daunting even if four of their final six games are at home, the Sevilla game included. Madrid visit the Coliseum on Thursday night and they are yet to travel to the Nou Camp, while home ties with relegation battlers Villareal and Girona could also prove tricky. However, with Real Madrid having little to play for, Barcelona focusing on the Champions League with La Liga all but won, Real Sociedad (their other opponents) languishing in midtable and the fact that Villarreal could be safe come their final day meeting, circumstances could yet favour Bordalás’ side.

Despite talk of Europe for sometime Bordalás’ squad have remained cautious, as former Arsenal defender Ignasi Miquel explained. The chasing pack are "all so close together that if we play five bad games we'll be out of it, we want to make it, of course, but if you think about it being over, you'll be out." Bordalás meanwhile urged his team to “continue with the same humility” and conceded that ”whatever happens, this season will have been fantastic.”

Bordalás also had to reject reports linking him with Sevilla in the build up to Sunday’s match. "It was said in a newspaper that I had an agreement with Sevilla, that is flatly false, this is news that I did not like personally,” explained the Getafe coach before admitting that “it is true that Getafe has offered me the possibility to renew my contract.” Torres meanwhile, underlining that his perennially unfashionable club harbour lofty ambitions, revealed that he had made an audacious attempt to sign famed sporting director Monchi who eventually returned to Sevilla after he left Roma. "Yes, I tried it, it's true,” conceded Torres, “I talked to some people, some third parties, but Sevilla were there."

Although the club are not without modest highlights, a UEFA cup quarter final in 2008 after two Copa del Rey finals, but given their limited resources and a year in second division ‘hell’ as Marca called it, should Getafe make the Champions League it would arguably equal the greatest achievement in Spanish football this century. Marca compared Getafe’s rise under Bordalás to Leicester City’s Premier League title win, Nice challenging in France under Lucien Favre and Leipzig’s own top 4 finish upon promotion in the Bundesliga. Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: Finally, Jose Bordalás is where he belongs.

by Adam White

Image by Ronny K from Pixabay