The 200% World of Soccer, Part 2: Real Zaragoza
It’s Tuesday, so it’s time for part two of our podcast world tour with Twohundredpercent’s World of Soccer, and this week we’re off to Spain for forty-five minutes in the company of underachievers Real Zaragoza. So, we’ve got quite a bit of David Seaman going on, whilst Edward Carter demonstrates that he wouldn’t even know how to roughly find Barcelona on a a map. For this week’s Q&A, we were lucky enough to be able to speak to Max Bluer about the club. Thanks very much for Max for speaking to us – there’s a very good article that he wrote for the website Inside Spanish Football on the club’s recent woes here, and you can find him on Twitter by clicking here.
A Q&A with Max Bluer on Real Zaragoza
– Real Zaragoza have been relegated several times over the last few years but had always found a back before. What do you think the difference is, this time around?
Financially, the club is in as bad a state as it ever has been. Real Madrid nicked our star player in the summer (Jesús Vallejo, more about him later) for just €5m because without it there was a real chance of us going bust. Although we have a decent squad, it’s made up exclusively of loanees, free transfers and academy graduates. Moreover the Segunda is extremely tight this year; a whole host of teams with recent history as La Liga clubs are fighting to get back to their place among the elite. Not just Zaragoza but Deportivo Alaves, Osasuna, Cordoba and a host of others all harbour serious thoughts of promotion; it’s a real dog-fight up there.
– What’s the supporters viewpoint on the match-fixing allegations from 2011?
The truth is that they are talked about very little, almost to the point of being taboo. The club was very different back then, with big money being paid for the likes of David Villa and Pablo Aimar. But 18 months ago we were on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to the actions of the previous owner, the hated Agapito Iglesias. Any misdeeds are seen as on him and “nothing to do with us thank you very much!”
– Which player – current or former – do you think best encapsulates Real Zaragoza?
Well there are plenty to choose from. Going back to the 1960s you have Canario, Eleuterio Santos, Marcelino, Juan Manuel Villa and Carlos Lapetra who were together known as ‘Los Magnificos’ and led the team to four consecutive finals of the‘Copa del Generalísimo’ (what is now the Copa del Rey) from 1963-66, as well as a Fairs Cup in 1964. Fast forward 31 years to Nayim’s glorious lob from half-way over David Seaman to win the 1995 Cup Winners Cup. The moment has gone down in the club’s folklore, there’s even a road in a hamlet near the city called Calle Gol de Nayim (Nayim’s goal road).
Even more recently the Milito brothers provided distinguished service in the early 2000s; Gaby graced the white and blue kit for four years before his transfer to Barcelona and was recently linked with the manager’s job. While Diego was the star of our greatest single result in recent times, scoring 4 against Real Madrid to humiliate Ronaldo, Raul and co. 6-1 at La Romareda. Ander Herrera came through the club’s academy and often talks about his love for the club and desire to end his career there.
Of the present generation the most loved is without doubt Jesús Vallejo. Promoted to the first team at 17 and made captain at 18, he is the leader of the squad both on and off the pitch and the first to front up to face the tough questions after a bad performace. His summer transfer to Real Madrid (they loaned him straight back to us) did leave a slight bitter taste, but the cash injection was absolutely vital for the club’s survival and his committed and whole-hearted displays have endeared him to the fans once again. His curls and good looks have already made him a darling of the local press and there is little doubt that he will win many caps for Spain in the years to come. So if I have to pick, I’ll go with Vallejo. The grace and humility with which he has dealt with the pressure and responsibility thrust upon him since the age of 17 embodies all of the best qualities of my club.
– Do you think there’s any way that the club could emulate Atletico and challenge Real Madid and Barcelona?
Steady on, let’s focus on getting back to Primera first! Zaragoza is a large and relatively wealthy city so the club does have the base to at the very least establish itself once again in the first division. Now that the club has returned to a sensible ownership consortium after the white-knuckle years under the stewardship of the corrupt Agapito Iglesias, consolidation in Primera is achievable. And from there, who knows? If we get our hands on a coach even half as good as Simeone then anything’s possible. But no-one is getting that far ahead of themselves, we’re not even in the promotion play-off places at the time of writing!
– What’s the stadium like? (And have you ever visited it?)
Of course! The main reason I began to support los blanquillos in the first place was that when I moved to the city it was the first time I’d ever been able to walk to the local stadium. To be honest though, it’s a bit of a dump. At 35,000, it has by far the largest capacity of any Segunda stadium, but could do with a serious lick of paint. A recent local controversy has been the refusal of the Mayor, to contribute public money towards its re-development. The message from the town hall is “get promoted, then we’ll talk”.
Aesthetically displeasing as it is, it can produce one hell of an atmosphere, particularly during the sell-out play-off final against Las Palmas at the end of last season. Plus it has the deepest goal nets in Spanish football – take that Bernabeu & Camp Nou! Another nice feature is that it’s near the centre of town. A stroll up one of the city’s wide boulevards and you’re there, a nice atmosphere can build up in the surrounding streets as fans converge on foot from all over the city.
– Who are your local rivals? What are relations with them like?
Well the nearest team would be SD Huesca, from a town about an hour up the road. They recently got themselves promoted up to Segunda for just the 6th year in their history after spending most of their existence in the regional leagues. Despite being the region of Aragon’s second biggest team, they’re nowhere near overtaking Zaragoza in terms of size or history, so we have a paternal, bordering on patronising attitude towards them. We loaned them our 4th choice keeper – the half-English and fabulously named Oscar Whalley – for this season and are slightly affronted that he’s not getting a game. Apparently they complain occasionally that we don’t help them out enough, I think that more than anything sums up the relationship between the two clubs.
Our true rivals are Osasuna, up in Pamplona. The two clubs and fanbases used to have a really positive relationship, each invited the other to inaugurate their stadiums. But then during a league game in 1987 at La Romareda, the crowd were upset by some dodgy refereeing and a Zaragoza fan threw a bottle at the Osasuna goalkeeper. That year Osasuna’s first Ultra’s group had been formed, while Zaragoza’s El Ligallo Norte was inaugurated a year earlier, and the incident gave both groups a perfect target and outlet for their pent-up aggression. To inflame things even more El Ligallo had and retains to this day a distinct and distasteful right-wing element, whereas the Osasuna ultras have more leftist tendencies.
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