Unattractive and unfashionable but dreary old Getafe are scripting Spanish football's most unlikely fairytale

Andy West 14:15 14/02/2020
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Where do you stand on modern football?

Many people love it, vehemently arguing the game has never been in better health. Unprecedented commercial success has generated the revenue required to greatly improve stadia, making the match-going experience vastly more comfortable. And for those who don’t attend in person, wall-to-wall television coverage means we never have to miss a kick, complemented by an endless depth of analysis from both traditional and social media which provides extensive insight to anyone interested enough to want it.

The quality of the actual football has also come on leaps and bounds, believe the advocates of the modern game. Improvements in sports science and coaching have created players who are infinitely faster, stronger, more skilled and better organised than their counterparts from yesteryear, with the exploits of lavishly rewarded superstars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo taking the execution of sporting talent to previously unseen heights.

Not everyone is quite so positive, though. There are plenty of traditionalists who mourn the advent of modern football, which has, they complain, been ruined by rampant commercialism. An elite of super-clubs, all owned by foreign investors who have no interest in the communities of their acquired clubs, have made the major European leagues boring processions where the same teams win the same honours year after year, with the tediously predictably action unfolding in soulless concrete bowls lacking in both atmosphere or the naunced uniqueness of more humble venues.

As for the players, well what a bunch of pampered, out-of-touch babies they have become, earning far too much money thanks to the manipulative cynicism of their greedy agents and lacking any kind of genuine attachment to their clubs or the fans who pay their wages via extortionate ticket prices or sky-high television subscription channels. Leading players are now walking billboards as much as they are athletes. That is what modern football has become.

This article willl not attempt to argue between the two sides of the ‘modern football is great/terrible’ divide; both arguments have their merits, and much of the difference of opinion is ultimately a matter of personal taste.

If, however, you are among those who despair of the riches being cynically poured into and grabbed out of the game, we’re here to tell you there is an antidote. Even at the highest level, not everywhere has become infected by the lust for riches which has distorted clubs into corporations, players into brands and fans into consumers. In some places, if you look hard enough, the values or simpler times prevail. And in one instance, those traditional methods are yielding a remarkable level of success.

Getafe.

Drab and uneventful

If you had the fortune of moving to the wonderful city of Madrid with sufficient time and resources to carefully choose your new abode, you would explore the metropolis and its environs before making your decision.

If you enjoy the buzz of the city, you may well opt for the area around the busy central hub of the Puerta del Sol. Or for a more refined existence, try the neighbourhood around the glorious Retiro park, ringed by luxury boutiques and on the doorstep of the iconic Prado Museum.

You may, though, prefer the quieter life of the suburbs. In which case, there are plenty of appealing options. To the west of the centre, Pozuelo de Alarcon is particularly popular among new arrivals, or for better access to the airport you may prefer the other side of the city, such as Hortaleza. Or if you were feeling edgy, the bohemian barrio of Vallecas (the home of Rayo Vallecano) might be more your thing.

Having studied all the available options, however, there is one place you would almost certainly not choose to live. One area of Madrid which you would not even consider. Not because it’s dangerous, but because nothing is there. Yes, Getafe.

Getafe is not a dump. It is not a violent place. It is not a horrible, festering slum. It’s just…well…boring. Really boring. There’s nothing much to do in Getafe, and you would probably only ever live in the suburb – which local residents insist must be regarded as a town in its own right rather than just a southern stretch of Madrid – if you were born there.

Getafe has a railway station which will deliver you in the centre of Madrid in 15 minutes, and it has an Airbus factory. Other than identikit rows of comfortable but far from luxurious middle-income housing, it doesn’t have much else. Except a football team.

Historically, Getafe’s football team has generally lived up to the low-key tone of its location by being decidedly humdrum. Other than a burst of success a decade ago, when an unlikely run to the UEFA Cup quarter-finals ended with a narrow exit to the mighty Bayern Munich, the team has left the game’s elite untroubled, bouncing between the top three tiers and rarely venturing higher than mid-table during its sojourns in the Primera Division.

Not any longer. The arrival of previously unsung coach Jose Bordalas – who had spent the vast majority of his two-decade coaching career around his native Alicante in charge of a bunch of clubs you’ve never heard of – has propelled Getafe into the big time. In his first season, 2016/17, they gained promotion from the Segunda Division. Then they finished 8th. Last year they improved to 5th, the club’s highest-ever position. And now, with three months of the current campaign remaining, they are 3rd, on track to advance into the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history.

Appropriately, however, they are doing it in a low-key fashion, without generating a slew of media headlines or attracting cutting-edge hipsters. A very Getafe kind of way.

Anonymous high achievers

“Where is Getafe? Does it even exist?”

That was the question sarcastically asked by Las Provincias, a Valencia-based newspaper, after their local team’s feisty victory over Getafe in last season’s Copa del Rey – an occasion so fiercely contested it helped spark Getafe vs Valencia into Spanish football’s most unlikely and most intense new rivalry.

Last weekend at Getafe’s surely ironically named Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium (if this place was a coliseum, gladiators would have been too embarrassed to fight), the answer to that impertinent rhetorical question was emphatically delivered: Getafe is right here, and here’s a fist in the face to prove it exists.

Bordalas’s team utterly destroyed Valencia, ripping into them from the opening minute and insistently surging forward with irresistible waves of almost unbroken pressure throughout the whole game. Two goals from Jorge Molina and another for his strike partner Jaime Mata were a fair reward for Getafe’s dominance, delivering three more points to the hosts and sending Valencia back to the east coast with their cocky tails between their legs.

It was Getafe’s fourth consecutive league victory, without conceding a single goal in the process. They have only lost two of their last 13 league games, winning nine of them, and now three points ahead of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, and five clear of Valencia.

This has been done despite employing a method of play which could be kindly described as ‘robust’, but is more regularly dismissed as ugly. Getafe have committed more fouls than any other team in La Liga, and attempted the fewest number of passes – although they do rank first in long balls. They have no players ranked in La Liga’s top 50 dribblers, and they routinely field four full-backs (two in defence, two more in midfield).

Just like their home town, they are anything but attractive, and anything but fashionable. But they are also astoundingly effective, and their place near the top of the table is no accident: they boast the fifth-best goalscoring record in La Liga, and the fourth-best defensive record. They can play at both ends of the pitch, and they do so with ruthless efficiency.

This has all been achieved, under the leadership of a previous non-entity coach and a group of unheralded journeymen, by the old-fashioned attributes of hard work and unity. Operating on just the 12th highest budget in La Liga – lower than relegation candidates Espanyol and Celta Vigo, and only one-tenth the size of Barcelona and Real Madrid – this is a club without egos and without superstars.

Molina is 37 years old and was widely regarded as past it when he left Real Betis to join Getafe, then in the second tier, in 2016, Mata had never played in the top flight before he joined the club, at the age of 29, in the summer of 2018, and supersub striker Angel Rodriguez is another 30-something who had only scored four top flight goals prior to signing on with Bordalas.

The same pattern is repeated throughout the squad. Midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic was on the books of Valencia before being allowed to leave after failing to earn a regular place; goalkeeper David Soria suffered the same fate with Sevilla; left winger Marc Cucurella never even got a chance at his boyhood club Barcelona, and right winger Allan Nyom was ushered to the exit door by Leganes.

The traditional virtues of unselfish discipline and gritty determination have allowed this unlikely bunch of players, who Bordalas directs to stick to doing what they’re good at and avoid trying what they’re not, to deservedly climb as high as third in La Liga while also marching on in Europe.

And the next week could define not only their season, but also this highly unlikely chapter in the club’s history.

Defining week on the horizon

On Saturday, Getafe will take their decidedly unshowy show on the road to Barcelona as second hosts third. Then they host Ajax in the last 32 of the Europa League, before welcoming fellow top four hopefuls Sevilla to the inappropriately named Coliseum.

A trio of good results will strengthen the growing sensation that Getafe, dreary old Getafe, should be recognised among the leading teams in Europe. That might sound far-fetched, but a point or more at the Camp Nou? A decent outcome against Ajax? Striking a blow against Sevilla in the race for the Champions League? The results would speak for themselves, and Spanish football’s most unlikely fairytale would be nearing fruition.

Perhaps ‘fairytale’ is the wrong phrase, though, because fairies is one thing Getafe are decidedly not. Their combative, non-ball-playing approach has been decried by many purists. None more so than Barcelona manager Quique Setien, who blasted Getafe’s style as “lamentable” after his Real Betis team were beaten by Bordalas’s men last season.

Saturday’s showdown at the Camp Nou will indeed be the ultimate clash of styles. Setien’s Barca team, which surpassed 1,000 attempted passes in the recent meeting with Granada, against Bordalas’s Getafe warriors who never use two passes when one will do. The free-flowing Cruyffian artists who prize possession above everything against the play-disrupting cynics who are far more concerned with a territorial advantage than actually controlling the ball.

If you’re a fan of modern football, you will probably be rooting for the superstars of the mega-club as they seek to reassert their ‘rightful’ place among the continent’s elite.

But if you yearn for the simpler values of yesteryear, when footballers were just normal people who happened to represent their community once a week, Getafe deserve your time. Because modern football might have been largely subjugated by money, but cold hard cash still doesn’t always have to win.

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