Football: Small-Town Roots, Big-Time Ambitions ; Write off the Basques of Alaves and You Might Regret It. by John Carlin
Carlin, John, The Independent (London, England)
WHO WOULD have thought it? We can now talk, in all seriousness, about the Romance of the Uefa Cup. And it is thanks to the Spanish minnows Alaves, whose achievement in making it to this week's final against "el gran Liverpool", as Spanish journalists with a sense of history describe them, has imbued Europe's second club competition with a charm it seemed manifestly to lack.
If Alaves are able to reach a European final then anybody can, anybody can dare to dream of making it to the big time. Ipswich can start dreaming right away. Fulham can start fancying their chances a couple of seasons down the line. So can Preston, say, if they make it into the Premiership. And, looking a bit further ahead, why not Millwall, Macclesfield, Wigan?
Alaves were at the foot of the Spanish third division 11 years ago, on the verge of bankruptcy, unable to pay their players' salaries. Founded in 1921, they have only ever won two trophies - the second division championship in 1930 and 1998. In the 1998-1999 season, back in the first division after a 42-year absence, they reached the semi-final of the Spanish Cup, beating Real Madrid along the way. Last season they missed out on a place in the Champions' League by a whisker. This time they have beaten Internazionale en route to this week's final in Dortmund, where Liverpool will not forget that in the semis Alaves hammered Kaiserslautern (sixth in the Bundesliga) by an aggregate of 9-2.
Trivial Pursuit question of the week: What is Alaves' home town? Answer: Vitoria, the dour, cold capital of the Basque country. Impossible question of the year: What is the name of Alaves' stadium? Answer: Mendizorroza (capacity 19,200).
The name of the Alaves coach is scarcely better known, even in Spain. Jose Manuel Esnal, or Mane as the press nickname him (or, as the Vitoria locals call him, Mane the Moustache), is the man responsible for the Basque club's amazing run these last four years. His secret is not clear. No one has accused him of being a tactical genius, like Valencia's Hector Cper; or a fanatical motivator in the Brian Clough mould.
Rather like Real Madrid's Vicente del Bosque, with whom he shares the appearance of a small-town Spanish baker, his success appears to rest on a fatherly relationship with his players, on transmitting good old- fashioned family …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Football: Small-Town Roots, Big-Time Ambitions ; Write off the Basques of Alaves and You Might Regret It. by John Carlin. Contributors: Carlin, John - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 13, 2001. Page number: 6. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.