How Sevilla Went From Champions League Regulars to Relegation Battlers

On August 21, 2020, Sevilla claimed a record sixth UEFA Europa League title, beating Inter Milan 3-2 in Cologne via a Luuk de Jong brace and an own goal from Romelu Lukaku, with Lukaku and Diego Godín finding the back of the net for Inter. Sevilla would follow that up with another fourth-place finish and a trip to the Copa del Rey semifinals and the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, whilst 2021/22 would see them finish fourth once again to return to Europe’s premier competition.


Julen Lopetegui’s stellar three-year spell in charge came to an end on October 5 after five losses in eight matches, the last of which saw them lose 4-1 to Borussia Dortmund, with Jorge Sampaoli taking the reins. They finished third in their group and were relegated to Europa, where they have defeated PSV Eindhoven and Fenerbahçe to set up a quarterfinals fixture with Manchester United.


Whilst a deep Europa League run could very well be this season’s saving grace, Sevilla have suffered a nightmare campaign domestically, with the club exiting the Copa del Rey in the quarterfinals to Osasuna and currently sitting 14th in the table, two points clear of the relegation zone. Sevilla are now onto their third manager of the season with José Luís Mendilibar replacing Sampaoli on March 21 following a 2-0 loss to Getafe, and they face the increasingly grave threat of playing second-division football next season for the first time in 23 years.


In 1890, the large British expat community in Seville banded together with the locals to found Sevilla FC. Their match against Huelva would be the first official football match played in Spain, later that year. Their status as the city’s oldest club prompted them to dominate their neighbours and rivals, winning the regional championships, which were common in the early days of football.


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In 1935, the first major trophy, the Copa del Rey, was conquered, with Sevilla winning La Liga ten years later. A fearsome front line containing José López, Miguel Torrontegui, Guillermo Campanal, Raimundo Blanco, Rafael Berrocal and Pepillo were known as Los Stukas at the time, named after the frightening German bomber.


Long before he guided Inter to their status as all-time greats, Helenio Herrera graced the touchline of FC Sevilla, during the 50s. Their status as league title challengers during the 40s and 50s saw the club decide to build a new stadium for themselves. In 1956, long-time president Ramon Sánchez Pizjuán died suddenly and the decision was made to name the stadium in his honour.


The stadium’s costs ultimately cost the club dearly, ensuring their status as a yo-yo team during the mid-70s, due to the sales of many of their key players. The next two decades saw the club regain some stability; making forays into the competition, they would later make their own, the UEFA Cup. However, expensive signings, like Diego Maradona and financial mismanagement, caused the club to suffer bankruptcy and relegation towards the end of the 20th century.


A radical change occurred during the early 2000s, with a new president, José María del Nido, and a new sporting director, Monchi. The latter would become key to the revamping of Sevilla’s recruitment and youth departments. Their mandate was simple: wipe out the debts through the acquisition and development of underappreciated or unknown players.


Sounds simple enough, but Monchi would go on to enforce this vision on a nearly industrial level. The project started out well, with José Antonio Reyes, whose sale to Arsenal amounted for nearly half of Sevilla’s debt and after that, the success stories came in thick and fast. Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas and Júlio Baptista signed for very low fees or came through their academy.


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After staying on for various periods of time, in which they shined under the Andalusian sun, they repaid their club with substantial transfer fees. After experiencing a slump in the early 2010s, Unai Emery took over the first team and the club invested around 40 million euros in players like Carlos Bacca, Kevin Gameiro and Ivan Rakitić.


During that time, past corruption allegations caught up to José María Del Nido. Those allegations were connected to various payments he received from the individuals he defended in court. Amongst them were a number of far-right politicians, including one that stood trial for planning a far-right coup in Spain with funding from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. His conviction became final in 2011 and he would be sent to jail in 2013.


The team seemed unbothered by the developments behind the scenes, as from 2000 to 2017 they won 5 Europa League trophies (a competition record) and posted profits of more than 200 million euros. However, Monchi’s empire would begin to unravel, as Emery joined PSG and Monchi himself decided to take a break from his footballing activities. In the subsequent period, key departures and indifferent recruitment punctuated Sevilla’s seasons, as well as numerous managerial changes.


Sevilla’s performances dropped off slightly, with Wissam Ben Yedder’s scoring and the demise of other Spanish giants, papering over the cracks. In 2019, stability seemed to be restored, with Monchi’s return after an unsuccessful spell at Roma and the appointment of Lopetegui. Three fourth-place finishes followed, with another record-breaking sixth Europa League title in 2020.


Their recruitment improved as well, although not reaching the brilliant levels of the past. Last summer, Sevilla’s problems finally caught up to them, losing Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé to Aston Villa and Barcelona, one of the league’s strongest center back pairings since their respective arrivals in 2019, both of whom had played a key role in Sevilla’s defensive fortitude. Their incomings, over the last few years, shifted slightly from promising youngsters to aging reclamation projects with a high miss rate.


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This could be explained through the fact that scouting and youth development has advanced in leaps and bounds in recent years and more and more clubs are now competing with Sevilla for those hidden gems. In the summer, Isco arrived on a free after the expiry of his Real Madrid contract alongside Alex Telles, on loan from Manchester United, whilst Kasper Dolberg joined on loan from Nice and Adnan Januzaj arrived on a free. Marcão arrived from Galatasaray and Tanguy Kouassi joined from Bayern for a combined fee of €‎28 million, with Monchi banking on the two players to replace Koundé and Carlos.


Fast forward seven months later, and Januzaj has joined Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir on loan, Dolberg has joined German club Hoffenheim, whilst Isco had his contract rescinded in January after reportedly coming to blows with Monchi in front of the squad. Marcão has struggled with injury whilst Kouassi and Telles have been unable to show their quality in a leaky defense that has conceded 42 goals in 26 games — only the bottom two sides Almería (45) and Elche (51) have conceded more.


What has been a near quarter-century of uninterrupted top-flight football could be set to come to an end for Sevilla, who have turned to Mendilibar to rescue them from their crisis. Mendilibar’s six-year spell in charge of Eibar came to an end after the club suffered relegation in 2021 — he would take charge of Alavés on December 28, 2021, but was sacked three months later after one win, four draws and seven defeats, as Alavés eventually descended to the second tier. Mendilibar will be looking to avoid that same fate as he takes charge of a Sevilla club that is on the precipice.



By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Anadolu Agency