By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 6th 2012)
It isn’t the Classico which will also happen tomorrow, but València’s derby has no shortage of passion and incident. The doom and gloomers were forced to eat their words when the predicted failure did not occur. Instead, Levante surprised many last season with a fantastic campaign that briefly saw them emerge as the main challengers to Real Madrid and Barçelona, even topping the table in October. They were overtaken by València and also Málaga for Champion’s League spots too.
The latter secured the final Champion’s League spot by just one point from Atlético de Madrid and Levante. The latter didn’t have the resources thrown at them by Málaga’s filthy rich owners, or the services of the prolific Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani is one of the richest people in the world and owner of Málaga as well as being related to the ruler of Qatar. Levante could not compete with that financial clout and nor in fact could València or others too. Given their previous experience in La Liga Levante’s rise from the ashes is nothing short of phenomenal.
From Rack and Ruin to the Top Again
Their previous foray into the exalted territory of the Primera División began promisingly a 4-2 win over València at their Estadi Ciutat de València in the 2006-7 season being the highlight, but it couldn’t last. A year later an ignominious return to the second division occurred. Players had not been paid for several weeks and morale and form plumbed new depths.
In fact it emerged that they were owed €18m. Protests occurred and a strike was threatened. They went into free-fall and their exit from La Liga was confirmed several matches before the end of the season. An extra match was even arranged for the end of the season, where La Liga players united to play a benefit match against Levante to pay their players.
It remains a dark period in the club’s history – one that forced a change in approach and a fiscally responsible approach. Levante’s exile was short-lived. After two seasons in Segunda División A, the Estadi Ciutat de València would witness top flight football once more.
Luis García Plaza took over coaching Levante in 2008. He left last year after taking Levante back to La Liga to coach Getafe, but his former charges outplayed his new team to secure European football for the first time in the club’s history.
A large part of the credit for Levante’s La Liga resurgence must go to current coach Juan Ignacio Martínez. A run of seven consecutive wins a year ago saw Levante sit proudly at the top of the Primera División. It would take a brave or foolhardy person to write off those achievements even though by his own admission ‘it’s been a horrible week’.
The Form Book
It started with Levante in form in the right half of the table and tomorrows opponents València in the wrong half. Last weekend bottom of the table Osasuna thrashed Martínez’ side 4-0 in Pamplona and despite taking an early lead against Hannover 96 on Thursday and having a man advantage for the best part of 80 minutes, the Germans still took the 3 points. Despite the loss Levante is in second place in Group L of the Europa League having beaten Sweden’s Helsingborg a fortnight earlier.
Meanwhile, Mauricio Pellegrino succeeded Russia-bound Unai Emery at Mestalla and reversed a bad start last week with a brace of 2-0 wins against Real Zaragoza and LOSC Lille, although despite securing second place in their Champion’s League Group, they face a tricky trip to Belarus to face Bayern Munich’s conquerors BATE Borisov next. However both Pellegrino and Martínez had only one thing on their minds at this afternoon’s press conference – tomorrow’s derby of València.