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Levante bring breath of fresh air to La Liga

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Phil Minshull | 15:54 UK time, Friday, 28 October 2011

The blue and claret shirts of the current La Liga leaders have a familiar look about them but, rather than belonging to Spanish giants Barcelona - champions for the last three seasons - the apparel is that of modest Levante.

With seven wins and two draws, the Valencia-based side are one point ahead of Real Madrid - having inflicted a 1-0 defeat on Jose Mourinho's men at home last month - and another point clear of third-placed Barca.

Shock and surprise are just two of the words that have been regularly used in the last week at this unprecedented state of affairs, with Levante topping La Liga for the first time in their 102-year history.

How did they get there? Where have they come from? And can they stay there?

Levante squad celebrating

Not a galactico in sight, but Levante have lit up La Liga this season. Photo: Getty

Levante have built their success on an unlikely combination of factors.

Firstly, few people expected the new coach Juan Ignacio Martinez to be a miracle worker.

The 47-year-old, described in one pre-season guide as a "globe trotter around the Mediterranean", with a CV that mainly included lower league clubs on the coast, had never before coached in the Spanish first division.

However, he has managed to create a never-say-die team spirit within his motley collection of journeymen professionals.

Arguably the biggest name in his squad is the 33-year-old former Inter Milan midfielder Francisco Farinos, who earned a couple of Spanish caps over a decade ago.

"What this team has achieved seems impossible. At the start of the season all that I was looking for was to avoid relegation" said Martinez on Monday, seemingly unable to comprehend his team's place at the top of the league.

"It's very easy to look at the table when you are first," added the Levante captain Sergio Ballesteros, who admitted that there had been times in previous seasons when he couldn't bring himself to open a newspaper on Monday mornings.

Never before in Levante's chequered league history, whether the club has been in the first or fourth tier of Spanish football, had they strung together six consecutive wins, let alone the seventh they notched up against Real Sociedad on Wednesday.

That 3-2 victory also made Martinez only the second La Liga novice coach to put together such a winning streak.

In addition to Martinez's influence, nearly every player has also been performing far beyond his expected ability.

Uruguay goalkeeper Gustavo Munua has been in outstanding form, at least until they faced Real Sociedad, when things didn't go quite so well and it required a Ruben goal three minutes into injury time to maintain their pole position.

Up front, Valdo, Arouna Kone and Juanlu have combined to form a great strike threat, as Real Madrid found out.

Ivory Coast international Kone, the scorer against Real, has been revitalised since joining Levante on loan, as part of a house-clearing exercise by Sevilla during the summer.

Sevilla club president Jose Maria del Nido hailed Kone as "one of the best strikers in the world" when he arrived from PSV Eindhoven in 2007 for 12m euros.

But he never settled, his form fell apart, his confidence tumbled and he was also bedevilled by injuries.

In four years at Sevilla, he scored just one league goal. At Levante, he has already found the net three times in nine games.

In addition his goals, Kone has also been creating opportunities every game for his colleagues to capitalise on.

Juan Ignacio Martinez

Manager Juan Ignacio Martinez has fostered a never-say-die team spirit. Photo: Getty

Levante's current situation is all the more remarkable as they were on the brink of bankruptcy barely three years.

Astonishing mismanagement saw the club owing around 18m euros to creditors, and players went through almost all of the 2007-08 season without being paid. The financial crisis at the club was one of the main incidents behind the La Liga players' strike at the start of this season.

After substantial help from local councils - their shirts bear the words "Comunitat Valenciana" with the regional government as a sponsor - and many debts being written off, the club is still run on a shoestring.

Total signings this summer came to less than 300,000 euros. Levante's total wage bill is around 5m euros, less than half of the individual salaries of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

After two seasons in the second division, Levante finished 14th on their return to the top flight, which most people considered a major feat. At the start of the season, they were many peoples' tip for relegation.

To be fair, not a single well-known pundit has put his or her neck on the line and said that they expect Levante still to be on top in May. They have yet to face any of the four clubs behind them - Real Madrid, Barcelona, local rivals Valencia and Sevilla - away from home and they have only played host to Real so far.

Nevertheless, their appearance at the top of the table has captured the imagination of the public and the media.

"A wind has blown through La Liga and it's called Levante," said the daily sports newspaper Marca on Monday.

It remains to be seen whether this is a wind that will blow itself out shortly but for the moment it has certainly provided a welcome breath of fresh air.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Similar to when Blackpool were riding high last season. Good for them but everyone knows who will finish first and second, and by about 20 points as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    The La Liga's Hull City. Won't be long untill Barcadrid make it into a 2 horse race....again.

  • Comment number 3.

    Who on earth proof-read this piece?? Error strewn all over the place!

    Having said that, what a story. Would love them to be mixing it come May, but the way the team is, one injury or suspension can ruin everything. Not exactly a strong squad!

  • Comment number 4.

    Watched them beat Villareal and they were excellent and worked very hard.

    They won't be at the top come next May but well done to them thus far in what is a very enjoyable league to watch.

  • Comment number 5.

    Phil, you could have mentioned that coach Juan Ignacio Martínez is, due to his initials, know as JIM.

    Also, they are known as "the frogs" due to the fact that their old ground, which they left in 1969, was right by the river Turia and the croaks of the frogs that inhabited the banks of said river could be heard amongst the crowd noise.

    The present ground holds only 25,000 and was only 51% full on average last season. They have just 11,000 season ticket holders.

    An error: This run of seven consecutive wins is not a club record. In season 94-95, in segunda B (third teir) and under Juande Ramos, they achieved thirteen in a row.

  • Comment number 6.

    It is a great story and provides a counter balance to the prevailing view that teams need to have millions Of pounds to win and be top of tables.

    Although it is still early in the season if they can win games against Madrid like they have already the possibility exists for them to replicate this as each week progresses.

    There are parallels with the story of Auxerre and their inspirational coach Guy Roux who hoisted themselves up through the French leagues to win the league title.

  • Comment number 7.

    Read a more accurate, articulate and informative piece on Levante four days ago in the Guardian. Glad my taxes are being spent so wisely...

  • Comment number 8.

    Team spirit can work wonders in a side, but with so many older players it's only a matter of time before the wheels fall off the cart. Sorry to be pessimistic but it's true.

    Fair play to their fans though, I bet they're loving it!

    How long until that bloke that always bigs up the competitiveness of La Liga shows up...

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    fair play to this outfit they are doing well.sadly ,like others have said ,they wont be there come end of the season.but hey you never know

  • Comment number 11.

    I saw the 93rd minute winner. On an online virtual game I betted $100bn of my $230bn total I have and I am glad I did. I watched them on youtube against real madrid and villareal and they make football rather simple. They go on the byeline and pick out a player who controls and shoots into the net. To many teams like arsenal walcott or in general players just put the ball hoping a player comes to meet it while levante seem to make sure they get someone on the end with a pass. They also take time to finish instead of rushing. This is rather efficient football with defensive organisation and swift counter attack. They are like the inter of 2010.

    I reckon champions league football would be the bet they can hope for as real and barcelona have to many stars over a season to lose out to them.

  • Comment number 12.

    You say they can never keep it up, but does anyone remember the time not that long ago when Ipswich made it to the Premier League and finished fourth, thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup? It can be done. It also seems to be something like Newcastle this year, playing very well as a team with a few talented leaders but no real household names.

    Good luck to Levante. They won't win La Liga, but wouldn't it be magical if they did?

  • Comment number 13.

    #3

    Of course no journalist or pundit or footballing analysis expert anticipates them to retain that position throughout the year, they're just highlighting a sublime start, this is still a relegation-scrapping club, but they've performed efficiently with their depleted and confined resources, give them some credit and wake up and read between the damn lines man!

  • Comment number 14.

    Also that freekick winning goal is how roberto carlos strikes it from 30yds.

  • Comment number 15.

    Good luck to Levante, they won't win the league but what a fantastic start. Especially winning against Madrid.

    If only La Liga distributed TV revenues equally, then perhaps teams other than Madrid and Barca could truly challenge for the title.

  • Comment number 16.

    It is funny that the mainstream sports press in Spain are trying to ignore it. Any news on Levante is tucked away on the inside pages with the miscellaneous debris. Whether Real Madrid focused Marca or Barca fans Deportivo del Mundo... They are in denial.

    Good for Levante, with the oldest line-up in the league - only one player in the regular team under 30. There's room for the wise old heads whatever the league.

  • Comment number 17.

    3. At 16:57 28th oct 2011, Brownaldo wrote:
    Who on earth proof-read this piece?? Error strewn all over the place!

    I read it twice, can you point out the errors for me so I can improve my understanding of English!

    7. At 17:30 28th oct 2011, Darren wrote:
    Read a more accurate, articulate and informative piece on Levante four days ago in the Guardian. Glad my taxes are being spent so wisely...

    As a quick bullet point style overview of a team I know nothing about I thought it was a good piece that made me want to find out a bit more on the team surprising everyone in Spain. I'm sure there are more in depth articles out there but hardly not worthy of reading as you seem to be implying.

  • Comment number 18.

    17. 'as they were on the brink of bankruptcy barely three years.'

    No need to thank me on improving your understanding of English.....

  • Comment number 19.

    They much deserve this run, but as everyone says it's obvious this will not last.

    Doesn't bother me one bit though, everytime Barca/Real play is like a big breath of fresh air!

  • Comment number 20.

    Really wished I had the LaLiga matches to watch too, or even the Bundeslige.

    I will try to make getting the channels to one of those a priority next year maybe.

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 22.

    Stories like this are great to hear about in any of the top leagues, but especially in a league that rarely sees other Champions League teams challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid, never mind a side tipped to struggle. While it is sadly inevitable that they will fall away, part of me thinks that there is no reason why they can't keep this up for a while longer. And even a finish in the top ten would be fantastic for a club of Levante's size.

  • Comment number 23.

    Over the last 20 years, Valencia , Athletico and most importantly Deportivo de la Coruña have all won the Liga.So statistically, it very comparable to the Premiership.

  • Comment number 24.

    It should be remembered that last season Levante were the 2nd best team between February and June 2011, only shortly outclassed by Barça (see stadistics). Besides Levante had a worst team by then. This summer they have signed seven new players, improving signficantly the consistency of the group, they have now very good substitutes. Most of them haven´t appeared so far, but believe me, they even outclass some in the current lineup. Names that you may know: Wellington da Silva (Arsenal) Nabil El Zhar (Liverpool) Asier del Horno (Chelsea and Valencia CF). As they are repeating the high performance shown during the second half of last season and they are now a better and more consistent team with a new excelent coach, I think Levante are here to stay. There is no "miracle" whatsoever, but the success of an excelent management.
    A sample: The overall cost of all the players that Levante have signed during the last five seasons is = 200.000€ !!!.
    Yes, it can be done and works, and how!!!.

  • Comment number 25.

    18. At 20:11 28th oct 2011, Danny wrote:
    17. 'as they were on the brink of bankruptcy barely three years.'

    No need to thank me on improving your understanding of English.....

    Got that, one missed word. I saw that. I just wanted to clarify whether you meant one error strewn... i.e. a repeated error, or it was a typo and you meant errors strewn....more than one different, yet you only indicate one. Either way I was being ironic in the fact that you yourself, whilst running down someone's proof reading ability made a mistake and did not proof read your own comment! Any way you read it!
    Thanks for the lesson, I'll remember it next class I take!

  • Comment number 26.

    Fantastic run they have going, and a place in next season's Champions League has to be the target.

    They'll have stiff competition from the likes of Malaga and Valencia though.

  • Comment number 27.

    Rennes were top of the French Ligue for half of last season, breaking all kinds of records. Ended up just scraping into the Europa League places.
    Great for Levante though. Every week is another puff of air into the bubble.

  • Comment number 28.

    Sid Lowe wrote about this about a week ago in the Graun..
    Was a better written and more accurate article.

  • Comment number 29.

    where is Soul Patch when needed?

  • Comment number 30.

    @Aziz... why would I need to read between the lines when a whole paragraph explains journalists don't expect them to be top and reasons why? Think before you comment

    @MonkeyPond... Thanks for the irony, I guess. Although it sounds more like sarcasm. Most of the errors have now ben taken out. You're welcome for proof reading for you. The most obvious (before being re-edited) was how Levante have "strong together 6 wins". The obvious one still there has already been pointed out.

  • Comment number 31.

    I remember Carlisle topping the old division 1 eons ago, and like Blackpool and Hull, they were really giving it some to the established teams. They went into freefall spectacularly after that and were in the fourth division in almost as many seasons.

    I hope all the Valencia teams can get up there this year - that local rivalry should see all their forms improve.

  • Comment number 32.

    Just goes to show really that La Liga has no strength in depth after the top main 2.... If they under perform then its anyones race. Fair play to Levante but its a one off fluke, 6 months on though they could be looking at relegation.

  • Comment number 33.

    Levante are nothing like Blackpool or Hull. Their manager has installed the never-say-die, attitute. Their team age is really high - experienced. The back 4 are old, so maybe as the season wears in it wont help, but they will have the points on the board to record a respectable table finish.

    Their new diet of Paella, Pizza and beer is making them happy!

  • Comment number 34.

    Well written blog Phil. Levante is certainly creating ripples in the Spanish Primera Liga. There is a long way to go. If the emerging little giants have a decent bench strength, they could create waves and discomfort to Real, Barça, Villareal and Valencia. Right now small looks beautiful. Good luck to Levante and the fans.


    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 35.

    The link title for this article on the main sports page should be changed from "Levante living La Liga dream" to "Levante living La Liga loca". You can thank me with a job.

  • Comment number 36.

    It wouldnt sound right would it? Levante Living La Liga CRAZY? Living la liga dream is the better way.

    DUH !

  • Comment number 37.

    Levante living La Liga Broca?

  • Comment number 38.

    What's going on? This has been up since yesterday and My brother, The_soul_patch_of_David_Villa hadn't been on here yet to turn this in to an anti-English thread?! Good God, I must have a lie down, this just dosn't feel right!!

  • Comment number 39.

    how fast did ronaldo get his 100 goals lol, how many hat-tricks has he scored, barcelona and real are killing football, city are not but they are just starting out, so count them out, la liga is a joke primer leauge is different at any day any one could beat any 1 or maybe its just lack od depth from the top team i doubt it, today everton played mna utd the score was 0-1 to man utd, if it was barca vs getafe the socre wouldve been 5-0 chelsea vs aresnal 3-5 its the best league in terms of quality and entertainment, PL has a lot of qaulity but its still high standard

  • Comment number 40.

    Tonights La Liga action is as thrilling as ever, as Barcelona roll over another no-hoper.

  • Comment number 41.

    And now the crowd are doing a mexican wave. They're obviously as bored as everyone else at having to watch the least competitive league in the world.

  • Comment number 42.

    badfella you do realise that Ronaldo is now in the prime of his career. He came to England as an 18 year old. Apply a little critical thinking. The only way you could deduce that La Liga is inferior by how many goals Ronaldo scored in one league versus the other would be, at the very least, if he was playing in each league at comparable times in his career. By the way he hasn't yet scored 100 league goals in Spain.

    As for anyone being able to win the Premier ... only 3 are more than likely. In La Liga it will be among 2. If 3 vs 2 gives you the warm and fuzzies, good for you.

  • Comment number 43.

    press and key, prime for sure i admit that, that doesnt mean you should score hat-rick everty match or every 3 matches, messi and ronaldo are the best but that does not mean they should be scoring hat-tricks every three games in so called the best leauge in the world by many people, and when ronaldo left he was in his prime as well he did not score hat-trick every three game for man utd, i did not say anthing about which team will win , i said its more competitve as i gave examples with todays scoreand your a fool he started at 18 so what he played in the leauge for 6 years which gives him more than enough experience, where as he went to madrid and straight away started scroing goals even messi coudld not do that at PL, ronaldo was in his first year and scored 33 goals overall, most players cannot even score 33 goals in PL

  • Comment number 44.

    bedfella when Ronaldo left the premier league he came second in the scoring race and won the year before. Because he scored less goals while in the premier league doesn't mean the league is more competitive. Less goals are generally scored in the Italian league, is it more competitive? Being more defensive doesn't automatically make it more competitive.

    Although I don't think Messi would do as well in the Premier League,you and I don't know that.

    Lastly, before you call someone a fool, learn to write. A fool is someone who compares a 19 year to a 25 year old. Once Ronaldo got a couple of years under his belt he started to lead the team in scoring. He won the Premier League scoring race as a 23 year old. Does this make the Premier League uncompetitive, of course not.

    As you alluded to most players are not Messi or Ronaldo. They are the two best players in the world.

    P.S. How many 2 goal games did Ronaldo have in the Premier League? This is an honest question.

  • Comment number 45.

    Spanish league is as poor as its been for years 2 team league as is the EPL both leagues have 16 teams whos ambition is to finish outside relegation zone.TV ruined spain and will do in england when the bubble bursts.

  • Comment number 46.

    @Brownaldo

    Who's Ben?!?

  • Comment number 47.

    Tonights La Liga action is as thrilling as ever, as Barcelona roll over another no-hoper.

    ______________________________________________________________________
    Was it as one sided as the CL final against Man U ?

  • Comment number 48.

    Does the Primera División even have defensive coaches?

  • Comment number 49.

    So the abrogation of the footballing laws of physics which've allowed United to trash Arsenal 8-2, and City to slaughter United 6-1, is also occurring in Spain.

  • Comment number 50.

    The key is Juanlu. A good player, he's having his best campaign.

  • Comment number 51.

    good luck levante for the season good to see a small side mix it with the big boys in a cash strapped league(barca,real madrid not included)
    I think at some point the form will drop and you will see them slip down the table but i dont see a top 10 place being a problem they finished with 45 points last season 2 points off a top 10 finish. with a lot of points already gained thus far they could be on for a good finish.
    That said still a long way to go i hope they can grab a europa league place that would be great.i hope barca can win la liga again this year what a fantastic brand of football they play,i fancy real madrid will do very well in europe this season they will press barca for la liga as well.

  • Comment number 52.

    Albeit the season is in its infancy and it is unlikely that a club such as Levante will be able so sustain such a lofty position, I think this is great for football. The game across Europe has become so predictable with the same teams being afforded the luxury of Champions League football and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to infiltrate this rich group; this is why stories like this and the performance of Newcastle so far this season excites most supporters. Long may it continue!

    http://thethoughtsofphil.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 53.

    Ronaldo scored shed loads in the Premier League & had he not had ankle surgery in his last season would have closely matched his record breaking season. I think Barca beating 'another no hoper' is a strange comment seen as how they have battered our top sides in the last few years, Arsenal should have lost be cricket scores & Utd couldnt get near them. Madrid dished out a 5-0 aggregate drubbing over Spurs so it isnt as if our sides are doing any better against them.

    Both Messi & Ronaldo would run riot over here, are people seriously thinking after watching the defending this season they they wouldnt tear Chelsea, Arsenal or Utd apart? nevermind the Bolton' & Wigan's of the world. Look at how Aguero is destroying are teams. Both leagues have huge problems but lets not pretend it is unique to Spain, the top two would finish 1-2 in any league!

  • Comment number 54.

    Whenever I watch La Liga games, many of the grounds look half empty? It seems the "passion" in La Liga is reserved to whoever playing RM or Barca. Am in Spain right now and even with Levante top (currently 3rd) they still got no press. Most Spanish people shrug this off as "normal" (completely overused word in Spanish). The sports part of the news goes directly to Ronaldo and then to Messi and then rarely on to any other La Liga teams. They'll neverhave the balance right here because SFA don't have the balls to do something about it. The Premier League by far more exciting and more challenging - I think Ronaldo knows this......

  • Comment number 55.

    like it or not la liga has the two best sides in the world right now barcelona lead the pack with the football they play and the genius that is messi
    real madrid are not far behind now and as i said in a previous post will really challenge barca for la liga and the european cup
    no way man utd man city chelsea or arsenal would get close to barcelona and i think real madrid are at a better standard than the premier leagues finest right now man utd lack a midfield man city will get better in time arsenal defensive issues chelsea the same

  • Comment number 56.

    Hope Levante can keep it up but the reality is that they will eventually fall away. La liga, just like the premier league is so predictable and boring. The same teams challenging every season, money practically dictating the finishing order. No wonder empty seats are so common now in La Liga and Premier League grounds. There is very little to get excited about unless you happen to follow one of the top two teams. Yawn.

 

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