Deportivo and Celta are no longer the Spanish football forces they once were, but theres still plenty at stake in their Liga showdown.
The Galician derby between Deportivo la Coruna and Celta Vigo is usually one of La Ligas most emotive occasions. Fridays clash at Riazor should continue this tradition, for better or worse.
A decade ago the game was a meeting of two of Spains top sides, with players like Mauro Silva, Alexander Mostovoi, Juan Carlos Valern, Fran and Mazinho on show. Times have changed though. This years Riazor derby is the first in Primera Division for six seasons. Next seasons is likely to take place in La Segunda, as Depor are currently 20thin the table, Celta 19th, and both on the slide.
Depor are really in trouble. Current coach Fernando Vzquez is their third boss this season, and he has taken just one point from his first four games in charge. The club are in an even worse state off the pitch, having entered administration under Spains Ley Concursal in January, announcing debts of about 100 million.
Administrators have since amended that figure up to over 150 million, and removed long-serving president Augusto Csar Lendoiro from the clubs creditors list. Lendoiro, now 67, used to be a local hero after bringing first La Liga and Copa del Rey trophies to the smallish regional city, but not any more. Fans are angry at both the team’s poor performances and the boardroom mismanagement, with links to Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes being increasingly questioned. Police had to charge protesting fans after a recent dismal 3-0 defeat at fellow strugglers Granada to allow the president to leave the stadium.
Celta are also in trouble, if not quite as much. Theyve got a better team, and play some nice football, but struggle to score goals while conceding plenty, which is not a good combination and led to popular coach Paco Herrera getting fired last month. Things looked more positive when new boss Abel Resino won his first game 2-1 against Granada, but subsequent defeats to Sevilla 4-1 and Real Madrid 2-1 have seen them slip to second bottom, and onto most neutrals list of likely relegated clubs.
Resinos arrival was controversial, especially as his preferred number two Salva Ballesta was vetoed by Celtas Galician separatist ultras, who dislike the former Mlaga strikers strongly right-wing Spanish nationalist beliefs. The complex strands of Galician identity will be in evidence at Riazor, with Celta generally seeing themselves as the more authentic representatives of the region. Local authorities have, as usual, declared the game high risk and extra police will be on duty.
Visiting supporters will recognise Vzquez, as he coached Celta to promotion and a UEFA Cup spot between 2004 and 2007, before leaving with the club headed for the drop. Vzquez should recognise the off-field issues complicating his current job, as former Celta president Horacio Gmez was forced to resign after financial shenanigans came to light at Balados in 2006. Celta have been through the Ley Concursal process themselves, but now seem in better financial nick everything being relative in La Liga under current president Carlos Mourio.
This weeks pre-game media coverage has warmed things up nicely. Celtas top scorer Iago Aspas – a local boy who has yet to score against Depor – told reporters he planned to leave them with both feet in La Segunda. We want to beat them, and push them down a little more. His former coach Vzquez responded with a put-down: Iago has matured a lot as a player in recent years. I hope he realises he also has to mature as a person.
More poignantly the game is likely to be Valerns last derby at Riazor, after 13 up-and-down seasons at the club. The much-loved playmaker, 37, will get a well-deserved emotional reception from a 35,000-strong packed stadium. There will be less kindly words for Lendoiro, Vzquez and Aspas.
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