Andy Mitten

Sevilla seek return to glory years

Andy Mitten

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Barcelona's
Daniel Alves remembers the time he arrived in Spain in 2002, aged just 19. He
was virtually unknown in Brazil because he wasn't at a big club in Rio or Sao
Paulo, but that didn't deter Sevilla's famously brilliant sporting director
Monchi, one of football's finest talent spotters. He sanctioned the signing of
Alves for just €200,000.

This
is a club which spotted or developed Julio Baptista, Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio
Ramos, Seydou Keita and Alves. They are the ones who left. Imagine if all
Sevilla's players had stayed; they'd surely be able to challenge Barca and
Madrid. Jesus Navas and the ageing Freddie Kanoute remain after Luis Fabiano
left the club last week, but are Sevilla again becoming the type of struggling
club which Alves joined?

"When
I arrived we were fighting to stay in the first division," the Brazilian
explains, "but I settled. The people in Sevilla are good fun and similar
to Brazil. I was lucky too because Denilson was at Betis and he was a great
help. Despite the rivalry between Betis and Sevilla, he took me out socially."

Sevilla's
cross-city rivalry, the most intense in Spain, surprised Alves.

"In
Bahia (Alves' native state in Brazil), people create noise but they sit down
together to watch football without a problem. In Sevilla, we would arrive at
Betis' ground and they would throw eggs and bricks at the bus. All the players
were bouncing around and really motivated and there was me, shitting myself. I
didn't know whether a war was coming, but in the end I got used to it."

With
Alves et al, Sevilla enjoyed the best moments of their history between 2005-07.

"When
I left, we had won the UEFA Cup twice in a row, the European Super Cup against
Barcelona and the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid. That was beyond the
dreams of any Sevilla fans. Older fans would tell me that they were the two
most spectacular, beautiful years in the history of the club."

The
Sevilla of Alves, Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano and Jesus Navas narrowly missed
out on the Primera Liga title in 2007.

"Sevilla
was not used to that pressure," Alves says. "When you are not used to
it, sometimes it frightens you. When you are up against Barcelona and Madrid
with a chance of winning the league, you don't believe that you can do it. We
fought to the end, but it's all about self-confidence. I did not understand
that level of competitiveness."

Juande
Ramos's thrilling side - with Alves as a one man right wing - had peaked and in
2007 Alves decided to move to one of his many bigger suitors. The move took a
year and he joined Barcelona in 2008 for €29 million, where he's continued to
thrive.

The
same can't be said for Sevilla. True, they are the reigning Spanish Cup holders
and they qualified for this season's Champions League by finishing fourth in La
Liga, but this season has been their worst since Alves joined the club nearly a
decade ago.

Sevilla
are currently eighth in the table - not good enough for the 40,000 match-going
fans accustomed to top four finishes and cup victories aplenty. They have lost
as many games as they have won in the league and while last Saturday's draw
against Barca showed a spirit long since passed, they can forget about a top
four finish this term.

It
wasn't supposed to be like this. The September appointment of a skilled and
respected coach in Gregorio Manzano was supposed to steady the ship after their
shock exit from the Champions League at the qualifying stage against Braga.
Instead, Sevilla got far worse as the former Mallorca coach presided over a
previously unimaginable level of player ill-discipline and even the club's
colourful president Jose Maria Del Nido admitted, "We have made more
mistakes than we should have."

Last
summer's acquisitions were more expensive than the famed signings of yore, but
far less effective. Monchi's magic touch has deserted him. Will he stay around
to recover it and help Sevilla bounce back up, or are the Andalusians destined
for leaner times after a glut of success?

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