FEATURE | The fall of Espanyol

In what could be the last Catalan derby for some time, Espanyol were defeated 1-0 by their much superior rivals Barcelona and thus will see the blue and white play second-tier football for the first time since 1994. The game at an empty Camp Nou was an oddly accurate representation of Espanyol’s season – missed chances, silly mistakes, and a sense of what could have been.

When you look at the season prior, it almost seems as though the Periquitos have experienced something of a nightmare in the space of a year. Having finished seventh in the 2018-19 campaign and qualifying for European football for the first time since 2005 together with new financial backing from Asia, the club were being tipped by some to continue their rise to establish themselves as a top-half club.

However, the summer which preceded this year lays bare the mistakes which ultimately led to the club’s demise. Their coach, Rubi, integral to the club’s rise, left for Real Betis and Los Verdiblancos would not stop there. Borja Iglesias, who’s goal contributions totalled nearly half of the Catalan sides’ output was sold for €28m. Highly rated and agile centre-half Mario Hermoso moved to Atletico Madrid for a similar fee and young, and talented full-back Aaron Martin was sold to Bundesliga outfit, Mainz.

With over €55m worth of talent sold and the promise of investment from new owners, many expected Espanyol to reinvest and replace the quality they had lost. However, a combination of loans, free transfers, and small-fee purchases followed. Fernando Calero’s signature gave many signs of hope that Espanyol would look to strengthen with further young, talented players but nothing more would happen.

Scoring goals in La Liga became a huge issue, Iglesias’ departure meant that the likes of Lei Wu, Jonathan Calleri and Victor Campuzano were tasked with being Espanyol’s goal-scoring force. Between them they scored just 18 goals. Three more across the entire season than their incoming replacements would in just six months.

These replacements: Raul de Tomas, Adrian Embarba, Leandro Cabrera and Facundo Ferreyra became part of a €40m rescue job in January. Things were looking up at first with de Tomas scoring in his first five consecutive matches, of which Espanyol picked up seven from a possible 12 points, however the former Rayo Vallecano striker suffered a hamstring injury, which ruled him out for just under a month. When he returned in March, he would fail to score in any further appearances and Espanyol would win just one game, ultimately ending with their relegation.

It is not to say that RDT’s failure to resume his amazing form prior to his injury is the outstanding reason for the club’s fall. These signings should have been made sooner, money was left sitting in the bank for a half season, in which the club had to fight on three fronts in the league, cup and Europe. By the time the club realised the club was in danger, it was too late and the string of managerial appointments throughout the season only compounded this.

Replacing Rubi in the summer of 2019 was their youth coach David Gallego. He would last until October before Pablo Machin was appointed to the job. Just a couple of months would pass before he too was axed. Abelardo Fernandez came in during the winter ahead of the transfer window, was backed with funds but ultimately Espanyol remained rooted to the foot of the table by the time he was shown the door in June.

Sporting director Fransisco Rufete, a former Espanyol player, was then given the job of rescuing the club with six games to go. Rufete had previously coached UD Ibiza for several months back in 2018 – not exactly the best resume for a huge rescue job. A rescue job that expectedly failed.

Espanyol have a history of bouncing back from relegation having never spent back to back seasons in the second tier. If they can hold on to the quality players at the club who do have substantial contracts, there’s a chance they can once again bounce straight back. But the club need to get organised and fast, otherwise, instead of becoming the established top-half side, an established second-tier side is not beyond comprehension.

Tom Canton

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