Thursday, September 8, 2011

The 20 years of Super Depor

Back in 1991, in A Coruña, no one would have thought that the humble club of the city, Real Club Deportivo de La Coruña was going to be one of the main references of the Spanish and also European football during the two following decades. The humble Deportivo became a memorable team that rise to threat the domination of the big clubs, which ended up leaving an unforgettable legacy, 1 Liga, 2 Copas del Rey and 3 Spanish Supercopas. This is the story of Super Depor, rise and fall.

In the summer of 1991, Deportivo returned to Primera División after 21 years in lower divisions. Since the foundation of the club in 1906, Deportivo was just another club, one of those called ascensor (elevator) club in Spain, since they mixed eras in Primera División with stages in Segunda or lower divisions. In the year 1988, Augusto César Lendoiro was elected president of the club, but it had not been his first adventure in sport. Since he was a teenager he had been involved in the management of clubs, like the amateur football team of A Coruña, El Ural, or the roller hockey team HC Liceo, also in his city. In fact, his prestige is based on what he did with HC Liceo. Roller hockey was (still is) a sport dominated by Catalan teams, where there is a lot of tradition and popular support, but Lendoiro took HC Liceo to the first division of this sport and was able to win several Ligas and European Cups during the 80s, when this club was the most popular of the city.

Augusto César Lendoiro

When Lendoiro got the presidency of Deportivo, the club was living their darkest era, but he was able to promote the club to Primera División after 3 seasons. Lendoiro chose Marco Antonio Boronat, who had been John Benjamin Toshack's assistant in Real Sociedad during the 80s and main coach during the previous seasons, to drive the new Deportivo in Primera División. The base of the team were the players who had promoted Deportivo like the young Yugoslavian Miroslav Djukic or Fran, the home symbol. The main additions were a mix of young and veteran players with more or less experience in the division: Liaño (Racing), Lopez Rekarte (Barcelona), Claudio Barragán (Mallorca) or Ribera (Burgos).

The 1991/1992 season was a year of suffering. Deportivo struggled to keep the cathegory and Lendoiro sacked Boronat a few weeks before the end of the season. For those last games, the veteran Arsenio Iglesias, a home coach that had spent most of his career at home, the coach of the promotion, was the one who had to save Deportivo. The galegos had to play a promotion game against Real Betis, but Arsenio's team saved the cathegory.

The turning point was the 1992/1993 season. Lendoiro traveled to Brazil to buy two players that were going to change the history of the club. The first one was the striker Bebeto, a player who already had a name and prestige. The signing was surprising since Bebeto was one of the most promising strikers of Brazil, a "market" well scouted by the big clubs. Bebeto had won the U-20 World Cup, the Olympics 1988 and the Copa América 1989 with his national team, and the Brasileirao and the Campeonato Carioca with his two clubs of Brazil, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama. He also had top scorer awards in the Brasileirao, the Copa América and the Campeonato Carioca. The second name was the younger Mauro Silva, who had had a more humble career with Guaraní and Bragantino, although he had already made his debut with the Brazilian NT. Both players were signed for 3 millon euros (500 millions pesetas), a big investment for a club of this size in that era.

Bebeto and Mauro Silva

The season was memorable. Since the very first day, Arsenio Iglesias built a very solid team in defense. The team used to keep their goal safe. Liaño showed up to be a good and safe goalkeeper; Mauro Silva was the boss of the midfield, mixing class with power; Fran added the magic in the playmaker position, and Bebeto executed rivals with no mercy. Deportivo were "winter champions" and led the standings during 13 weeks. These achievements made the label Super Depor appear for the first time, but the team lacked depth to face the last part of the season with real possibilities to win the title. Barcelona won La Liga after the 2nd miracle of Tenerife and Deportivo finished 3rd. Bebeto was the Pichichi (top scorer with 29 goals) and Liaño was the Zamora (goalkeeper with less goals against).

The following season started with reinforcements. Some of them were experienced players that were rejected by big clubs like Alfredo or Donato, who joined from Atlético Madrid; or Voro, from Valencia. Others were younger prospects with potential, like Manjarín, from Sporting, or Paco Jémez, from Rayo Vallecano. Since the very first moment, Deportivo showed not to be a one night dream. In the 3rd week, Real Madrid visited Riazor and Arsenio's Depor was more Super than ever. Deportivo won 4-0 and presented themselves as candidates for the title again. Some weeks later, Cruyff's Barcelona also fell in Riazor. The first half of La Liga was dominated by Deportivo, who were the "winter champions" again, but this time with a 3 point gap (remember that, back then, the victory was worth 2 points, so 3 points were a victory and draw) on Barcelona and 6 points on Real Madrid.

The second half started with Barcelona in crisis and Deportivo increasing the gap. For some people, the turning point was the visit of Deportivo to the Santiago Bernabéu. The madridistas, who were already considered out of the title race, gave Barcelona an involutary help by defeating the deportivistas. Despite the defeat Deportivo resisted on top and visited the Camp Nou with a match ball in hand, a 4 point gap. Barcelona did not reach the game in the best moment, since they had dropped points since the historical 5-0 against Real Madrid. Deportivo faced the game with the possibility of losing without important consequences, but the illusion of a victory that would have handle them the title on silver plate. But Deportivo felt the pressure and the Dream Team won the game with a memorable game of Stoichkov, Romario and Laudrup, winning the head-to-head result too, which ended up being important.

The defeat had a negative impact on Deportivo, who started to feel the pressure and struggle to win games, but a couple of errors of Barcelona, allowed them to keep a relatively comfortable gap. With 4 games to go, Deportivo had an advantage of 3 points on Barcelona. The last month gave us lots of moments of passion, happiness and tears in the most dramatic Liga of the last decades. In the 35th week, Barcelona won an easy game in Vigo against Celta (0-4), but surprisingly Deportivo were not able to score a goal against Lleida (0-0), who were 19th in the standings. With the gap on 2 points, Barcelona convincingly won a home game against Sporting (4-0), but Deportivo felt the pressure against and tied at home (0-0) against the later relegated Rayo Vallecano. Despite the good game of Deportivo, the great performance of Rayo's goalkeeper Wiltord made the difference. The gap went to 1 point.

Everyone thought that the 37th week was going to be the decisive one. Barcelona had to visit the Santiago Bernabéu, a stadium where Cruyff had never won since he started to drive his team. Besides, the Catalans were full of doubts, since they faced the game with Romario's father kidnapped, which affected the preparation of the game. On the other hand, Deportivo had a comfortable visit to face Logroñés, who had been relegated several weeks before. But Cruyff's Barcelona achieved a very important and tight victory in Madrid (0-1), putting all the pressure on the galegos, who did not fail this time (0-2). Despite many people thought that Deportivo could win the title that weekend, they still had the title in their hands, since they only needed to defeat Valencia in Riazor.

The last weekend was dramatic. Barcelona received Sevilla in the Camp Nou with the experience of the Tenerife afternoons in the two previous years. At half time, a majestic Suker was putting the Catalans on their knees (1-2), so the 0-0 draw in Riazor was not a tragedy. But Barça was a hurricane in the second half and the culés overcame the result to destroy Sevilla (5-2). On the other hand, Deportivo was not able to break Valencia's defense and Riazor started to get on their nerves. But, with the Camp Nou already celebrating the title, in the 90th minute of the games, the radios announced a penalty for Deportivo in A Coruña. The following seconds were like decades. The Camp Nou was in silence and Riazor was holding its breath. Donato, the usual penalty kicker, had been changed; Bebeto rejected the ball; and Djukic took the responsability. The images are in the minds of everyone who saw it. Djukic walked backwards and sighed, not looking at the goalkeeper. The Yugoslavian central back kicked the ball with fear and the ball was stopped by González. La Liga went to Barcelona and the deportivismo, proud of their team, also felt they had wasted a historical and maybe unrepeatable chance to win La Liga.

In the 1994/1995 season, no one had doubts that Deportivo was one of the candidates for the title. With Barcelona in decline, Deportivo were the only threat of Valdano's Real Madrid. Even though Real Madrid led the standings during all the season, Deportivo kept a constant pressure on the madridistas. With three weeks to go, Deportivo had to visit the Bernabéu, but Real Madrid won the game (2-1) and sentenced the title. The Liga season was good again, but Deportivo finally found what they were looking for: a title.

It was in Madrid, in the Santiago Bernabéu. Ironically, history put Valencia in Deportivo's way. The tension was huge, since in A Coruña, people accused the Valencia players of being bribed to win Deportivo by a representative of Barcelona in the Liga del penalty de Djukic, something confirmed some years later. Deportivo scored first, Manjarín stole the ball in a terrible error of Valencia's defense and advanced the deportivitas. The 2nd half was played under heavy rain and, with the grass full of water, Mijatovic tied the game. Only a few minutes later, the game had to be suspended for an the rain along with hail. The matched was resumed 3 years later, also in the Bernabéu, with 10 minutes to go. While everyone was thinking that both teams were preparing a 10 minutes game with an extra time, Alfredo scored after 56 seconds to decide the final. This time, Depor was not only Super, but also champion.

The Copa title of 1995 was the end of an era. Arsenio Iglesias decided to retire (although he later accepted an offer from Real Madrid for some months) and Lendoiro gave John Benjamin Toshack the team. But the season was poor, since the first time since 1992, Deportivo was very far from the top positions and did not count for La Liga 1995/1996 in any moment. The change of coach and the age of some players affected the team. The most important achivements were the Supercopa title and the Cup Winners' Cup semifinals reached that season, where they fell against Paris Saint-Germain, who ended up winning the title. This season was also recalled by the departure of Bebeto, the symbol of an era, at the end of the season.

The 1996/1997 season started with a new project. Despite the bad results of the previous season, Toshack continued on board. This time, with the hero Bebeto gone, Lendoiro paid the biggest amount ever paid by the club: 7 million euros for the Brazilian Rivaldo, the star of Palmeiras. In this new season, Deportivo returned to the top positions (they ended up 3rd), but they still were out of the race for the title. The team was mainly sustained by Rivaldo, which impressed everyone with his football. Only the historical season of Ronaldo in Barcelona avoided him to be the star of La Liga. But, since the very first moment, the relationship of Rivaldo with Toshack was poor. The bad manners of the coach were responded with goals, assists and dribblings by Rivaldo. Lendoiro sacked the Welsh and brought the Brazilian Carlos Alberto Silva, who did a good job until the end of the season.

The following season (1997/1998) was the on of the revolution. The Bosman law and the money of the TVs changed the whole scenario. Lendoiro decided to renew the whole squad, successful in the past, but already too old. The club created a Brazilian core formed by the superlative Djalminha, who joined the hero Mauro Silva, plus the additions of the previous year: Flavio Conceiçao and Rivaldo. Along with them, Deportivo became a kind of United Nations club, with players of all nationalities, not all of them with the required talent. When Deportivo was ready to start, Barcelona "stole" Rivaldo with the summer window market about to close, paying the 26 million euros buyout clause of the Brazilian. This signing in the last second was a punch in the stomach of Deportivo, who complained about the attitude of the Catalans and the player. The impact of this signing was terrible for a team that played a terrible season. Carlos Alberto Silva was fired and Juan Manuel Corral, a home coach, could only take Deportivo to the 12th position.


Since the retirement of Arsenio Iglesias, the club lacked a father. The coaches did not bring stability and the team did not always performed according to their potential. In the 1998/1999, Javier Irureta was signed from the eternal rivals, Celta de Vigo, to put some order in the house. The first season was good compared with the previous one, the team reached the UEFA Cup spots (6th) and reached the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. Probably, the most important was to establish a core for the future years.

But the season that will always be unforgettable for the deportivismo is the 1999/2000. Deportivo did not make big changes, only signing a cheap but promising striker of Tenerife, Roy Makaay, and the young Víctor, rejected by Real Madrid. As it happened in 1993/1994, the first half of the season was memorable for Deportivo, who reached the top position after 12 weeks, defeating Barcelona (2-1). Deportivo achieved a 7 victory run, which allowed them to open a gap of 3 points on Zaragoza, 4 on Barcelona and 8 on Real Madrid.

The second half of the season was more difficult. With 1994 in mind, the situation was similar at moments. Deportivo lost in the Camp Nou against Van Gaal's Barcelona, the winners of the previous seasons. As it happened in the tragic 94, Deportivo reached the final three weeks with a 2 point gap on Barcelona, followed by Valencia and Zaragoza, who had minimum chances too. In the week 36th, Barcelona handled the title to Deportivo by losing at home against Rayo Vallecano (0-2). The Catalans, in total depression for their Champions League elimination in the semifinals, lacked motivation and the Camp Nou screamed and asked for the head of Van Gaal. Deportivo only needed a victory to open a 5 point gap with 2 games to go. The galegos faced a direct rival, Zaragoza, at home. The game was tense and Zaragoza scored first. Later on, Deportivo tied the game, but they knew they had a unique chance they could not waste. Finally, Djalminha, who had scored the first goal too, scored another one a few minutes before the end of the game. Riazor exploded of emotion and the Brazilian took off his shirt in the celebration, which costed him a second yellow. With 10 men, Deportivo could not resist the pressure of Zaragoza, who tied the game in the injury time.

The 37th week was dramatic too. Barcelona visited Real Sociedad with new hopes and Deportivo had to travel to Santander without Djalminha. As if no one wanted La Liga, Barcelona was unable to win in San Sebastián (0-0) and Deportivo was toothless in El Sardinero (0-0), which gave Zaragoza small chances to fight for the title in the final weekend. Deportivo saved the week, thanks to the poor mental state of a zombie Barcelona, which ended up imploding at the end of the season.

As in 1994, Deportivo and Barcelona were in the same scenario. This time Barcelona needed Deportivo to lose their game and a victory in the Camp Nou against Celta. Deportivo only needed 1 point against Espanyol to be Liga champion. Zaragoza needed both teams to lose and a victory for them, a very unlikely situation. This time the story was very different and Deportivo faced the game with motivation and no fear. After 3 minutes, Donato scored a historical goal after a corner kick, a goal that was worth a Liga... with all the game to be played yet. Deportivo felt the pressure for moments and Espanyol looked dangerous, but, in Barcelona, Celta were "helping" their rivals defeating the Catalans. For moments, Zaragoza believed in the miracle and were winning in Mestalla. But in the 34', Victor and Manuel Pablo made a fantastic combination and the crossed ball was kicked by Makaay to the net. This time, the last minutes were peaceful, Deportivo controlled their game and Barcelona and Zaragoza were unable to defeat their rivals: Super Depor campeón!

No one will ever forget this lineup: Songo'o; Manuel Pablo, Naybet, Donato, Romero; Flavo, Mauro Silva; Victor, Fran, Djalminha; Makaay.

In the 2000/2001 year, Deportivo defended their crown and the season started with another title, the Supercopa against Espanyol. Deportivo had a good season and were the runner-ups of the competition, although very far from the unreachable Real Madrid of Figo. This season will pass to history as the first participation of Deportivo in the UEFA Champions League, where they were defeated by Leeds United in the quarter finals.

The 2001/2002 season was historical for Deportivo. The team of Irureta were able to fight for the title until the end. La Liga was a closed fight between the galáctico Real Madrid, Benitez's Valencia and the deportivistas. The galegos were in 3rd position, but only 2 points far from the top (Valencia) with 4 games to go, but the leader did not fail and won their first Liga in 30 years. In Europe, Deportivo reached the quarter finals again, this time losing against a brilliant Manchester United. But this season will pass to history as the one of the Centenariazo.

Real Madrid was celebrating their centenary and the RFEF (Spanish FA) set the Santiago Bernabéu as the venue of the Copa final. Deportivo reached the final, but everything seemed prepared to be a party of the madridismo the same day they were reaching the 100 years, since the rival was the home team, the Real Madrid of Figo and Zidane. The deportivitas were in clear minority in the Bernabéu, but the atmosphere did not affected them. Very soon, Sergio advanced Deportivo in the scoreboard, surprising everyone in the perfect party of Real Madrid. The first half of Deportivo was memorable, the combinations of Valerón, Sergio, Mauro Silva, Fran, Victor and Tristán put the madridista majority of the Bernabéu in silence. When Tristán scored the 2nd goal in the 38', no one could believe what was going on. Even though Raúl scored the 1-2, the result did not change anymore and Deportivo won their 2nd Copa del Rey. The unusual situation, the day of the centenary of Real Madrid, made this final have a particular name, the Centenariazo, somehow honoring the Maracanazo, the victory of Uruguay in Maracaná in the World Cup final 1950 against the home team.

The 2002/2003 season started with a new title, the Supercopa against Valencia. It was the 6th title of Deportivo in less than 10 years. The team of Irureta completed another fantastic season, fighting for the title with Real Madrid and Real Sociedad. At some point of the season, with 5 games to go, Deportivo reached the first position, but were unable to be a real alternative in the last games of the season due to two defeats against Valencia and Celta in the following weeks. This time, the European run ended in the 2nd round of group stages of the UEFA Champions League.

The 2003/2004 year was the last memorable year of the Super Depor. Once more, Deportivo is an alternative in La Liga and they ended up 3rd, only defeated by the brilliant Bentiez's Valencia and the rising Barcelona of Ronaldinho. The 8-0 global result against Celta was memorable for the fans too. But if there was a competition that made A Coruña feel proud of their team, it was the UEFA Champions League. The deportivistas advanced from the group stage and faced Juventus in the Round of 16. Deportivo made history winning both games, 1-0 in Riazor and 0-1 in Delle Alpi. In the Round of 8, Deportivo met the champion of the previous season, AC Milan. The result of the first half was terrible, the rossonero team defeated Deportivo showing no mercy (4-1). No one gave a cent for the deportivistas, but the team of Irureta was not ready to fall in this round again. Riazor was a hell and impulsed Deportivo, who rolled over Milan in a fantastic first half. Pandiani, Valerón and Luque needed less than 45 minutes to put the overall result in their favor. In the 2nd half, Fran scored the 4th and completed the beating. Deportivo had humilliated one of the giants of Europe and the winner of the previous edition, AC Milan.

The semifinals faced Deportivo with Porto. The form showed by Deportivo put them as favorites to face Mourinho's Porto, who had won the UEFA Cup the previous year. Deportivo achieved a good result in Portugal (0-0) and were in the doors of playing an UEFA Champions League final. Once more, Riazor was packed and the atmosphere was amazing, but this time everything had a negative effect on the team. The pressure of the crowd made Deportivo feel anxious, willing to score the second goal before the first one, but Porto played the game with intelligence, was solid in defense and dangerous in the counter. In one of these counters, Deco forced a penalty that was scored by Derley. In the last minutes, Deportivo played with heart, but no brain. Deportivo had wasted a historical chance, maybe the last in their history.

The following season (2004/2005) marked the decline of the team. For the first time in a long time, Deportivo was very far from the top positions and the internal divisions started to create a bad atmosphere. The team reached the European spots, but their image was not good. In Europe, Deportivo failed and did not pass the group stage. Lendoiro and Irureta agreed the departure of the Basque coach, the one that had made them Liga winners. If this was not enough, Fran and Mauro Silva, the ones who had lived the Super Depor and the Euro Depor golden eras, in the 90s and 2000s, retired from football.

Since that moment, Deportivo had to return to reality. The debts were suffocating the club (180 millions) and the lack of Champions League and TV incomes affected the financial position of the club seriously. Lendoiro had to renounce to reinforce the team with important signings. The departure of some important players like Luque, the bad form of others like Tristán and the retirement of the captains had a direct effect on the club. In the last 5 years, Deportivo made a bet on a weak youth system and cheap signings. The consequence has been a slow and painful decline. Riazor was getting empty, too used to extraordinary nights, the hard reality was not attractive to them.

Last year, Deportivo relegated to Segunda División, but that day Riazor was packed. Far from showing anger, the deportivismo showed pride in their worst moment in 20 years. The fans clapped their players and screamed and sang the name of their club. At that moment, when the deportivismo woke up from their dream, they made a fast review of the last two decades. All those claps and chants were for all the players who had helped them feel as giants during all this time. The pride of Galicia and A Coruña.

Deportivo already made their debut in Segunda División against Hércules and Riazor showed a beautiful image, like in the good old time, with more than 21,000 ticketholders in the stadium. A dream even for this club in the last years of Primera División. All these deportivistas realized what they lost and now they seem decided to fight for it again. I guess all the fans of football, even if we are rivals, can only say: Thanks Super Depor, thanks for these 20 years. Good luck and see you soon.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Madridista, and my foray into football co-incided with the Super Depor MK II days. You brought back so many wonderful (and painful) memories. I'd be lying if I said I do not enjoy the exploits of recent Madrid teams, scoring goals by the 100, racking up a 100 pts, but at the end of it , you still left with a sort of half-empty feeling, reminiscing of the days of a more competitive Liga with wonderful teams of the Super Depor, Valencia & Sociedad and the likes. No amount of 5-0 or 6-1 thrashings of recent seasons would give so much joy than the occasion Madrid finally conquered the final frontier, Riazor, the un-penetrable fortress which haunted us for best part of 2 decades and the huge scream by Guti accompanied with tears after Raul scored the 3rd goal is a testament to that fact. For some strange reason, I didnt feel that sad on losing the Copa to Atleti on our home ground than seeing Depor relegated again. Valeron & Manuel Pablo, the last guard of the fallen giants deserved much better. I'm glad Depor avoided the drop to Segunda B and hope that they will bounce back up and become a competitive force again.