Cádiz pay for failure to make football fun with miserable relegation

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Cádiz;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Cádiz</a> players react at the end of the 0-0 draw with <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Las Palmas;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Las Palmas</a> which confirmed their slow, inevitable drop.</span><span>Photograph: Roman Rios/EPA</span>

La Liga packed up for the summer a week early, nothing left to do. With seven days still remaining, it’s all decided: the title, second, third and fourth; who goes to the Super Cup and who goes to the Club World Cup; Champions League, Europa League and Conference League; that other league too, the three teams disappearing silently into segunda. Even the Pichichi is probably done after a Sunday evening in which Alexander Sørloth got four of the 31 goals scored, leading Villarreal’s comeback from 4-1 to 4-4 against Real Madrid, and Cádiz got none of them. It was the story of their season, four years in primera coming to a premature and predictable end, curtain closed on 2023-24.

Up on the east coast, Madrid’s top scorer Jude Bellingham sat on the bench rested, little to do but laugh as Sørloth began his escape, moving on to 20, then 21, 22 and 23, four ahead of the Englishman in the scoring charts and two above Girona’s Artem Dovbyk. At the same time, 849km away down on the south-west, Cádiz’s top scorer, Chris Ramos, a fan who grew up next door to the ground and became the first gaditano to score in the first division for 30 years, sat on the bench exhausted, staring into space, broken. Cádiz had two strikers out there, sent in search of a miracle: between them, Sergi Guardiola and Maxi Gómez have scored one this season. Sørloth had just got four times that in 17 minutes, one less than Ramos in 2,694 across 37 games.

And so, inevitably, it ended.

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All of it did. Nine games kicked off simultaneously, referees making a big thing about waiting for everyone, everywhere; there was something in play in all of them, or so the maths said. Only Alavés-Getafe had nothing riding on it and was moved to Saturday, not that you’d notice, the two teams laying into each other and José Bordalás accusing the referee of trudging off muttering he had “had it up the bollocks with Getafe”. But by Sunday night it was done; when next week’s games kick off, times and dates changed five days in advance, from Saturday at 9pm to nine slots across 72 hours – only Madrid playing when originally scheduled because fans, who cares? none will have anything riding on them.

It is a fitting close for a season when the outcome felt obvious far too soon. Madrid had the title tied up early. Then Barcelona beat Rayo to finish second, taking them to Saudi Arabia for the Super Cup. Girona are third – the first team that’s not Madrid, Barça or Atlético to finish there in 12 years – and Atlético are fourth. They’re also the other Spanish team heading to the Club World Cup. Athletic, trophy winners 40 years on, are fifth. And Real Sociedad beat Betis in what had effectively become the Europa League playoff, leaving Manuel Pellegrini’s team in the Conference League. For them, that’s European football five and four years running, respectively. Relegation was resolved too, Cádiz finally finishing where they have been for all of 2024.

Almería and Granada had gone, but as La Liga went into this weekend five teams could still go down with them: Celta Vigo, Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, Las Palmas and Cádiz. All of which makes it sound a little more dramatic than it really was, and it shouldn’t have been this way. In midweek, Rayo had celebrated safety after beating Granada. That night, Celta had defeated Athletic, their salvation virtually secured too. Mallorca’s had celebrated theirs the previous weekend. As for Las Palmas, they had it done at the turn of the year, a revelation starting to think they might even go into Europe.

Somehow though, it wasn’t quite done. Las Palmas though went 12 games without a win, losing eight in a row and collecting just three points from 36. Mallorca got to a cup final but never completely clear, and nor did Celta. As for Cádiz, a draw against Celta in February wasn’t much but it looked a little like everything, “a light of hope”, in their coach’s words, and that was followed by another draw with Rayo then a win over Atlético Madrid – their first in six months. Three more followed in seven weeks, the last via a 97th-minute winner against Sevilla on Wednesday, giving them something to hold on to, a lifeline. And if there’s a place that does hope, it’s here.

Football is supposed to be fun, particularly in Cádiz. City of carnival and light, of punching up and sticking it to the man, weather-beaten but never beaten, a place where everything’s a joke and your Sunday best is shorts and flip-flops, this is a club that celebrates Mágico González as much because he was bohemian and because he was brilliant. Where two slogans adorn the bus, saying much about them: one declares them the “by far the best team in the world”. Another says, simply: “We’re happy.”

With two games to play, Cádiz had 32 points, Mallorca 36, Celta 37, Las Palmas and Rayo 38. “We will need six points but there will be a chance,” coach Mauricio Pellegrino said; beating Sevilla had been the really hard part, and they had done that, somehow. Now it was Las Palmas, winless since February, and then already relegated Almería, their fate at least partly in their hands. Everyone else’s fate too: Cádiz-Las Palmas was the game that, as Marca put it, everyone was watching. If Cádiz didn’t win, the rest did. If Cádiz did win, then, who knows? “It’s still possible!” cheered the fanzine handed out around the ground. And as the bus came down the slope, through the yellow smoke and the sunshine, past Bar Goal, where two fans argued over who was bricking it more, thousands of fans gathered. “Yes, we can!” they sang.

No, they can’t.

After two minutes, Rayo were a goal down at Barcelona. Madrid soon led in Villarreal, Arda Guler again. Girona were up at Valencia, where there were almost as many fans outside Mestalla as inside, protesting against Peter Lim again. In Bilbao, Athletic were 2-0 up against Sevilla inside 20 minutes, the goals scored by the two men who were leaving, Raul García and Iker Muniain. “You write a script and it never comes off this well,” Ernesto Valverde said. And a belting free-kick from Brais Méndez had put Real Sociedad 1-0 up at Betis. But there was no news from Celta, or Mallorca and that was good news for Cádiz.

The bad news was that there was no news from Cádiz either. Not even a shot until the 19th minute. With the second, if that’s what it was, Fali smashed the ball straight into Gonzalo Escalante’s face; already on his knees, it almost wiped him out. And when they scored10 minutes from half-time, it was ruled out.

By then, Mallorca led, but there was time. Sørloth had begun his one-man comeback. At the Metropolitano, where they were saying goodbye to Spain’s most famous sadist, fitness coach Oscar “Profe” Ortega, Osasuna were battering Atlético. And Almería, who equalised just before half-time, only went and took the lead, Bruno Langa scoring a ridiculous goal, his rocket coming through radios heading east to Cádiz, a bugle call, the gaditano Marseillaise suddenly belting out. For a moment, they were within three points of safety.

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On 83 minutes, Sergi Darder put Mallorca level again, back in the balance. In Granada, Celta went 1-0 up, then 2-0, but Granada got one back on 86 and then won a 96th-minute penalty. Antonio Puertas, the club captain, had only been on the pitch a few minutes. His ribs were broken but, his coach José Ramón Sandoval said, he had wanted to play a few minutes to bid farewell. And now he had a chance to score too. “Destiny wanted it,” Sandoval said, but not that much, obviously: Puertas missed it. Cádiz were four points adrift but not finished yet. The problem was for it to mean anything, the worst attacking team in Spain had to score.

Down to 10 men, they did try. Ramos wanted a penalty. All of them wanted something, anything. On 89.34 they almost got it when Álvaro Valles spilled the ball, but Juanmi wasn’t quite fast enough to get to it. Las Palmas broke, repeatedly, but wasted opportunities, Cádiz given repeated reprieves that reaped nothing. Eight minutes were added, the Mirandilla calling for Conan Ledesma, the goalkeeper, to go up. But it was gone.

It had been for some time: officially down a week early, Cádiz had effectively been down long before. The team that returned to the top flight in 2020 after 15 years away, that came all the way from the third tier to the first and somehow beat Real Madrid, were heading back again.

“We swam only to drown on the shore,” the president Manuel Vizcaíno claimed, complaining that people had “not known how to enjoy” this period in primera, but that wasn’t entirely true. Cádiz were still way out to sea, waving, when they disappeared beneath the waves. They had just three shots on goal, the story of their season. If you only score 25 goals, it’s only going to go one way. So much for fun; instead there was a slow, inevitable drift to the second division, however much they tried to believe in something beyond logic.

Alavés 1-0 Getafe, Valencia 1-3 Girona, Real Mallorca 2-2 Almería, Real Betis 0-2 Real Sociedad, Granada 1-2 Celta Vigo, Cádiz 0-0 Las Palmas, Barcelona 3-0 Rayo Vallecano, Atlético Madrid 1-4 Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Sevilla

In Barcelona and Granada and Palma, they went wild. In Cádiz, a small pocket of Las Palmas supporters and players did too, if a little apologetically; around the rest of the ground, there were some tears but more silence. Javier Aguirre, the Mallorca manager, said he didn’t know how he would celebrate but it wouldn’t be tequila; last time, it had given him a horrible hangover. Cádiz’s manager didn’t say a word. “It’s done,” Ledesma said, which was just about all he could say without crying.

Outside a small group of fans confronted Alex Fernández. “We feel this too,” he said. It was quiet now, sun going down over the Atlantic, all the smoke and enthusiasm long since drifting away. On the corner of Plaza Madrid, where the Cádiz bus had rolled in hours earlier, Las Palmas pulled out, beeping. A car was blocking their way. Sitting alone at the wheel, Pellegrino reversed back and let them past.







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