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Sevilla make room at the top

Published: Friday 5 January 2007, 13.08CET
As Sevilla FC start the new year top of the Primera División and intent on retaining the UEFA Cup, looks for the secret behind their success.
by Graham Hunter
from Barcelona
Published: Friday 5 January 2007, 13.08CET

Sevilla make room at the top

As Sevilla FC start the new year top of the Primera División and intent on retaining the UEFA Cup, looks for the secret behind their success.

If you consider Sevilla FC have never played UEFA Champions League football and went 58 years without a major trophy it is little wonder 2006 ended with analysts trying to detect the "secret" of their sudden success. Not only do Juande Ramos's team now hold the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, they start 2007 on top of the Primera División and look strong candidates to win any or all of the three competitions in which they remain - the Spanish league and Copa del Rey plus the UEFA Cup they are defending.

There is no magical secret as to why this 102-year old club are suddenly among the world's most powerful, daring and entertaining sides; talent, vision, long-term commitment and planning that have combined to yield such thrilling rewards. The fact the Spanish club, whose president José María del Nido was recently re-elected until 2010, have surged to still greater achievements after selling their three most fêted players - José Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Julio Baptista - for around €85m, might make you think they have simply hit lucky.

But Sevilla have a transfer market vision and a youth development policy which is the envy of the footballing world; relatively little of the cash has been reinvested. Instead of paying big transfer fees for an individual player, they have added Freddie Kanouté, Andrés Palop, Luis Fabiano and Enzo Maresca over the last couple of seasons for less than €20m in total. Kanouté is the Spanish league's top scorer and with Fabiano has contributed 20 of Sevilla's 35 domestic goals so far this season. Throw in the promotion of the mercurial Jesús Navas from their youth ranks plus the clever selection of practically unknown South American talents such as Renato, Adriano Correia and Daniel Alves and selling Reyes, Ramos and Baptista clearly becomes a calculated risk.

Sevilla's visionary transfer market director is Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, or 'Monchi' as he is known. Once a goalkeeper, this young man has an army of 700 scouts across the world. "The key is not only signing well but having a great youth policy [400 players across 22 youth teams] so that if one day the results stop coming we don't have to go out and spend millions of euros," he says.

But what if, as in the case of Navas, a player finds himself challenged by rapid promotion to the first team? Navas notoriously suffers anxiety attacks which have led him to withdraw from Spain Under-21 squads and which stem from him disliking long travel away from his Andalusian home. "My team of psychologists see up to eight other players from the club every week," explains Sevilla's head psychologist Miguel Ángel Gómez who has a team of up to 12 colleagues. "We work on control of nerves, depression, self-control, self-belief, and visualisation of success."

'Explosive energy'
Club dietician Antonio Escribano has helped a number of players lose weight and is now famous in Spain for the little portion of pureed food which contains up to 40 elements such as vitamins, minerals, protein and which the Sevilla players often consume during half-time. "Food is like petrol in a car for footballers but we give them food which can help them be strong, healthy and the correct weight and which also gives them explosive energy," he explains.

'We have a plan'
Del Nido is, however, the key, having built his club with long-term vision and intelligence since taking over in 2001. "My team is full of the world's best players in their position," he said. "Juande Ramos is the No1 coach in the world. But no one is irreplaceable at this club. We have a system and a plan and anyone who leaves will simply be replaced by someone better." So is he building a dynasty? The remainder of this season and how his team fare in their attempt to lift an unprecedented trio of trophies could yield the answer.

This article is from the Magazine. To read this week's edition click here.

Last updated: 05/01/07 18.27CET