On Wednesday, Sevilla won its second Europa League trophy in a row, beating Ukrainian side Dnipro in a thrilling match to collect its fourth Europa League title since 2006. In that time, Sevilla has also won two Copa del Rey trophies. Sevilla’s success in the past decade has been remarkable, and it’s almost entirely thanks to one man: Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, popularly known as, simply, “Monchi.”
Back in 2000, Sevilla was relegated, after being stuck in an endless cycle of institutional crises throughout most of the 1990s. The club’s president, desperate and with seemingly no options, then turned to his retiring backup goalkeeper to run the club’s football operations. Monchi was 30 at the time, had spent his entire career at Sevilla (rarely playing), and had zero management experience. It was a “what the hell, we’ve got nothing to lose!” kind of decision.
He immediately hired Joaquín Caparrós as manager. Up to then, Caparros was completely unknown, but Monchi valued the fact that he had managed to promote Recreativo de Huelva, a proud and historic club, to the second division under similarly difficult circumstances.
Sevilla basically had no money to spend on players during those early years. Its only hope was to develop youth while finding bargains in the transfer market. Under Caparrós, who stayed at the club for five years (an eternity in Spanish soccer), the team developed a distinct identity based on defensive security and quick counterattacks. That basic overall strategy hasn’t changed in 15 years.
Monchi describes Sevilla’s strategy not as “selling in order to make money, or balance the books,” but as “selling to improve the team and win trophies.” Some of Monchi’s better deals include:
- Sergio Ramos: Sevilla youth player sold to Real Madrid for 27 million euros
- Dani Alves: Bought from Bahia for 1.5 million euros, then sold to Barcelona for 40 million euros
- José Antonio Reyes: Sevilla youth player sold to Arsenal for 20 million euros
- Júlio Baptista: Bought from Sao Paulo for 2.5 million euros, sold to Real Madrid for 25 million euros
- Alberto Moreno: Sevilla youth Player sold to Liverpool for 18 million euros
- Jesús Navas: Sevilla youth Player sold to Manchester City for 20 million euros
- Ivan Rakitić: Bought from Schalke 04 for 2.5 million euros, sold to Barcelona for 20 million euros
Sevilla almost never spends more than 4 – 5 million euros on a player (its most expensive transfer ever is Álvaro Negredo, for 10 million). But the previously known players who replace departing stars always seem to be just as good. For example, when Sevilla sold Negredo to Manchester City for 20 million, it brought in 27-year-old Carlos Bacca for just 6.5 million. The Colombian, practically unknown before arriving in Sevilla, scored two goals in the Europa League final. Grzegorz Krychowiak, a previously unknown Polish midfielder, added another. He replaced Rakitić, but cost just 4.5 million euros.
Or take the case of Aleix Vidal, who is being linked heavily with Barca. He spent the vast majority of his career bouncing between the second and third division, never quite establishing himself. Last season, at age 24, he made his first La Liga appearance with Almería. Despite the late start, something in him caught Monchi’s eye, and Sevilla paid 3 million euros for him last summer. When asked about it after the final, Monchi simply said “I just thought he’d really fit in with Unai Emery’s style.”
Sevilla is a testament to the fact that success comes from having a clear philosophy of play, and sticking to it. It’s so tempting, given the insane pressures of the top flight, to simply chase the latest fad. Clubs like Sevilla, Villarreal, and (of course) Barcelona have done that (you could even throw in Atlético Madrid, under the strategy of Cholismo). These three clubs’ best ever periods have come since when implementing a clear and defined way of doing things. Others, like Real Madrid, believe in living in the moment. This only leads to disaster, despite having the resources and the squad to crush everybody.
Unsurprisingly, Madrid is being linked with Monchi. Probably because he’s just so hot right now.