THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Madrid’s fourth team have become Madrid’s third team in recent years – but manager Bernd Schuster could be stepping up even further. At least if he goes, Getafe fans can look back on a first major final. Andy Brassell was there

What makes a cup competition special? The FA Cup was always meant to be far above any of its counterparts around Europe or the world. Of all the changes in the game over the last ten to 15 years, the FA Cup being reduced to virtually a private contest between the top four has shaken the faith more than most.

A huge red banner thanking Getafe for their efforts on the city’s behalf will cover the face of the town-hall building in Madrid on the day following this match. Real Madrid are customarily greeted with a similar display to celebrate their latest triumph, but the large sheet unfurled across it that gave thanks for the work of all the emergency services after the 2004 train bombings truly shows you what it means. It’s a compliment and a half.

Getafe dominating the attention of footballing Madrid is something else. The current club didn’t exist in its present form until 1983, even if the first team based in Getafe were formed in 1946. This industrial town on the city’s outskirts is just delighted that their club is now firmly established as the capital’s third biggest – ahead of the more traditional holders of that title, the more centrally placed Rayo Vallecano, who’ve had a rough time of late.

This downturn in fortunes for Rayo just about coincided with Angel Torres becoming president of Getafe in 2002. His background as a construction magnate isn’t unusual for a Spanish club president, but his arrival accelerated Getafe’s progress to the Segunda A into an is-this-really-­happening rise to the top flight for the first time. The whole journey from Segunda B to ­Primera took just three years.

Getafe may not have much in the way of star players, but they do have a star coach, as Bernd Schuster would no doubt be happy to describe himself. When Getafe finished 13th in their first season up, it was rightly rated as a major achievement, while the other promoted teams went straight back down. Yet, since taking over from Quique Sanchez Flores in 2005, Schuster has led the club to ­successive ninth-place finishes.

Today the focus is not just on him taking Getafe into their first major final and his first such as a coach. It is also on claims of an agreement allegedly struck between him and El Real president Ramón Calderón for the German to take over from Fabio Capello at his former club. Torres, in the lead-up to the final at the Bernabéu, appealed to the media not to mention the issue and detract from the occasion for Getafe. Accordingly, the ever-tactful (and fervently pro-Real) Marca have Schuster’s playing at home as their headline on today’s edition.

It was widely assumed that Barcelona would make short work of Getafe in their semi-final, particularly after battering them 5-2 in the first leg at the Camp Nou. Getafe reached the final courtesy of not so much a comeback as a miracle, winning 4‑0 in the return at the poky Alfonso Pérez stadium, even if that almost became a footnote to Lionel Messi’s Maradona-esque goal in the first leg and to the sight of Barcelona’s season imploding. So if ever a team deserved an occasion like a cup final, it’s Getafe.

At least 35,000 have come up from Seville without a ticket and with little prospect of getting one – with their current success, club membership has been at its highest since the brief spell Diego Maradona had at the Pizjuán in the early Nineties. A man wearing his Sevilla centenary flag as a skirt over his jeans and his scarf Rambo-style around his head (in 33-degree heat) tells me earnestly that “this is normal, they are a very small club and Sevilla are now one of the best”. A more soberly dressed – and far more acerbic – Getafe fan in a refreshment queue inside the stadium later has another theory. “Of course they’ve brought 70,000 up – none of the lazy bastards work.”

A big party has been laid on for the travelling masses at the Colegio San Agustín, just off the Paseo de la Castellana, the highway bordering the Bernabéu and which gives it its reputation as the swankiest address of any in world football. The Sevilla faithful are briefly ­entertained by their club’s president, Jose Maria Del Nido, a man who described himself as the “second most important man in Seville after the Pope” but who has the look of a Statler without his Waldorf ever since his Betis counterpart Manuel Ruiz de Lopera nominally handed over to José León (though Lopera still pulls the strings, none too subtly, in the background). And Betis have become rubbish, and not much of a sporting threat to Sevilla, even if Del Nido did have an altercation with Lopera’s nephew at a derby a few months ago.

What’s particularly striking for an occasion of this size is the almost total lack of touts. Usually in Spain they try to sell you tickets for distinctly unsold-out games as well as the most over-subscribed. This is the third year in a row that the final of the Copa del Rey has been held in Madrid, and the second in succession that the game has been at the Bernabéu. In this 70,000-capacity stadium, a much higher percentage of tickets has been given to the finalists than in, say, the UEFA finals or the FA Cup final. Each club received 30,000, with the remaining 10,000 going to the Spanish Federation’s invitados, translating as around 85 per cent of tickets going to “proper” fans, compared with just over 50 per cent being given to Manchester United and Chelsea in this year’s FA Cup final. So those who bought the tickets for today’s game are so much more likely to hang on to them.

Leading up to kick-off it’s pretty noisy, especially for the Bernabéu, which has often tended towards the touristy since the galáctico-era of former El Real president Florentino Perez. It has great acoustics for a football ground and seeing it decked in halves of blue and red brings it to life. The split doesn’t seem entirely even, though, with much of the noise coming from those who’ve travelled up from the south. Then again, maybe that’s nothing to do with numbers – the sevillanos are renowned for being extrovert and those without tickets have made the bars opposite the ground into boisterous little corners of Andalucia. Getafe haven’t filled the 14,400-capacity Alfonso Pérez once this season, so you can bank on them having a few tourists.

Sevilla start the game on the front foot, but Getafe get the first clear chance in the sixth minute. Their top scorer Dani Güiza is set clean through on keeper Andrés Palop, but Sevilla’s UEFA Cup hero psyches out the striker and smothers at his feet. And, when Fredi Kanouté is soon given a similar opportunity after an awful mistake by the centre-back Pulido just inside his own half, he takes it expertly, drawing young Luis García and planting the ball in the corner.

Getafe may be as tight as a drum at the back – 33 conceded in 38 league games, the best record in the division – but they also scored fewer than any other team in the top half. Schuster’s approach to the game is perhaps best described by his comment on Messi’s wonder goal: he complained that no one had fouled the Argentine before he got near the penalty area. His team aren’t set up to chase games.

Luis García then makes good saves from Renato and Jesús Navas. The young keeper is only in the team because Roberto Abbondanzieri, Argentina’s No 1 and a big part of their defensive record, hasn’t been allowed to return from preparing for the Copa America for tonight, though Sevilla’s Dani Alves has been released by Brazil and looks like he takes flights back from Venezuela every other day, haring around in his usual hyperactive way. The final is being played later in the year than it has been for a while, due apparently to the lack of “major tournaments” this summer, which underlines just how Euro-centric administrators are, just in case you’ve forgotten.

The period either side of half-time is quiet, as the crowd becomes muffled, mirroring the tense, edgy and increasingly bad-tempered contest on the pitch. Half-chances come and go before the final quarter, when Getafe seem to resign themselves to the fact they’re not going to be able to force Palop into a meaningful save, and gamely start a series of confrontations instead to try to inspire some tension. A few awful tackles fly in – notably Fabio Celestini’s studs-up lunge at Alves, after which he has the nerve to accuse the Brazilian of diving.

Kanouté is then sent off in injury time for retaliation after being fouled by Francisco Javier Casquero, though on close inspection of the replays it seems a little harsh, as it was a trip rather than a kick. The referee, who seems simply bemused by now, brazenly parades rather than just underlining his lack of control on the game by consulting his assistant after showing Kanouté the red card, then going back to the striker to tell him, yes, he does have to go off.

It’s too late to affect the outcome and Sevilla celebrate in a way that tells you neither the fans nor the players are blasé about ­success just yet. Sevilla’s menacing captain Javi Navarro, who looks like Nosferatu after a particularly intensive weights programme, is getting used to this, lifting Sevilla’s third trophy of the season, after the European Super Cup and the UEFA Cup. On the streets outside the Bernabéu, there’s much mutual love between the fans – at least between the celebrating sevillanos and the surprisingly few Getafe fans who haven’t leapt straight back on the metro home – commiserating, congratulating, hugging and sharing beers. In some respects, Getafe came to the final as winners already, having qualified for the UEFA Cup courtesy of Sevilla reaching the Champions League. Sevilla’s fans were here to celebrate a great season, come what may.

Perhaps this is what gives a cup final its magic – a proper sense of occasion, a one-off feel of clubs that don’t treat the competition as a minor inconvenience between bigger games. The lack of a national stadium hasn’t hurt this competition and its climax as much as a lack of viable contenders would, something that isn’t such an issue in Spain.

From WSC 246 August 2007

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