[OP-ED]: Under Sampaoli’s lead, Sevilla never stops believing
Very few thought Sevilla could improve the great achievements of the last years in which the club from Andalusia won three Europe League championships in a row (2014, 2015 and 2016) under head coach Unai Emery, setting a milestone in the history of European soccer. Anyhow and despite many successes, Emery was never able to take Sevilla ahead of the groups’ round in the Champions League and could not get the club amongst the top three in Spain’s La Liga either.
When France’s powerhouse Paris Saint Germain signed Emery last summer, many analysts though Sevilla was headed for disaster. How could the club keep the high-paced set by the demanding Basque coach? But as he has always done, Ramón Rodríguez, “Monchi”, who heads Sevilla’s soccer department came through. And as he has always done, he did it in the most effective: through actions instead of words.
“Monchi” hired Argentinean Jorge Sampaoli, who had led Chile’s National Team to conquer Copa America, but did not have any experience coaching in Europe. Skeptics raised their voices, arguing that Sampaoli was not even successful in his playing days. When Argentina’s National Team lost its manager, his country’s federation made an offer to Sampaoli, but the coach showed his faith in the new project he was starting in Seville. He rejected it and stay with the club from Andalusia.
Another Argentinean coach, Diego “Cholo” Simeone took the helm of Atlético de Madrid five years ago to banish the tyranny Real Madrid and FC Barcelona had imposed to Spanish soccer. “Cholo” guided Atlético to one Cup crown, one La Liga championship and twice to the second place of the prestigious Champions League. Since Simeone’s arrival, when referring to Spain’s top sport, we can firmly state there are three candidates to win it all, instead of two.
Well, Sampaoli’s task as Sevilla’s skipper has introduced us to a fourth candidate. For the club from Andalusia, winning the Europe League is not enough anymore. Despite having to face Italy’s Juventus, Sevilla cleared with ease the groups’ round of the Champions League. Now Sampaoli’s squad is the favorite in the second round matchup against English champion Leicester. In La Liga, Sevilla broke Real Madrid’s streak of 40 consecutive games without losing, climbing to the second spot in the standings, a point behind Real, but also a point ahead of Barça.
If Simeone found success with a playing system many defined as defensive, his countryman has done exactly the opposite. Sampaoli heads a team that plays aggressive soccer and tries to control ball possession against every opponent. Besides, Sevilla has become a fighting squad that never quits. The men coached by the Argentinean have scored 14 goals in the last 10 minutes of their games played in La Liga, rescuing this way 13 points. Without them, instead of second Sevilla would be in eighth place.
Simeone became famous in Atlético for getting across the phrase “never stop believing”, but now this mantra could be better linked to Sampaoli’s achievements in Southern Spain. An example? In the recent game against Real Madrid, Sevilla was down 0-1 with five minutes remaining, but did not quit. An own goal by Sergio Ramos tied the contest in the 85th minute and a goal by recently signed Jovetic in aggregation turned things around for Sevilla (2-1) before its loyal and faithful fans that have learnt this season to never stop believing.