RC Deportivo visited Real Madrid last weekend and came out with a sour taste in their mouths. They fell to a cruel defeat to the defending European Champions as captain Sergio Ramos’ late winner broke Depor hearts. However, there was a time where these games were often unpredictable and Deportivo would give the capital club a run for their money. This was the finest era in Deportivo’s footballing history and a reason as to why they are regarded as one of the most prominent clubs in Spanish football.
The visit to the Santiago Bernabéu must have brought some fine memories for the long-term Deportivo faithful. Their most memorable visit was in 2002, with Real Madrid in their first Galácticos era and Florentino Pérez‘s millions purchased star names like Zinedine Zidane and Luís Figo, as well as local talent in the form of Fernando Hierro and Raúl amongst many others. The two sides met in the Copa del Rey final of that year in what was set to be a fine way to crown a celebration for Spain‘s most successful side.
Real Madrid were celebrating exactly 100 years since they were founded and wanted to crown it off with a trophy at their home ground. The stage was set for this magnificent side of footballers against a team that was slowly depleting into oblivion. However, it wasn’t to be. The Branquiazuis spoiled the party early on as their star midfielder Sergio, who they had just signed in the previous summer, opened the scoring in the sixth minute to silence the eccentric Bernabéu crowd.
Their hopes were dampened even further when Spanish forward Diego Tristán, a player that could have been playing for the other side in this game had it not been for a confusion in the Madrid club’s boardroom two years prior, scored a second just before half-time to give Real Madrid a mountain to climb. Attacking changes at half-time gave Real Madrid a bit of hope as Raúl pulled one back just before the hour mark, but Deportivo’s impressive defensive effort allowed them to hold on to their lead and seal a famous win. The result is now dubbed as El Centenariazo by many, mocking the Blancos‘ failure to overcome Deportivo. The honour was the northern club’s first triumph in the competition since 1995, but it wasn’t the first time they shocked the big boys of Spanish football. Perhaps the bigger achievement occurred two years prior when they gingerly pulled off a miracle.
La Liga 2000
A Coruña is a small city in the north-west of Spain with a population of less than 300,000 thousand inhabitants. In the 1990s many of these inhabitants saw their footballing heroes as the people who could challenge for the top spots, but never actually go all the way and win the league title. That feeling was erased in the 1999/00 campaign when the Blue and Whites built a team so good that they would put apart their nearest challengers.
The club were widely regarded as underachievers. Having qualified for the Champions League three times within the last seven years, they managed some impressive finishes in the league, finishing as runners-up twice, and in third place once. The closest they ever came to the league title was in the 1993/94 campaign. This was when they finished level on points with Barcelona but only lost because the Catalan side had a better head-to-head record over their title rivals. They were confident and they were competitive, but that season under the management of Spaniard Javier Irureta, in his second year at the club, they were on a different level.
They had some fine talent in that squad, players that would be regarded as “cult heroes” at other clubs. Roy Makaay joined in the summer of 1999 from local rivals Tenerife in a bid to bolster their attack that already had Portuguese hitman Pauleta, while evergreen Brazillian midfielder Mauro Silva was at the peak of his powers in defensive midfield. And at the back, Argentine Gabriel Schürrer and Moroccan Noureddine Naybet formed a stern partnership in central defence for the Galician side.
The club also had some astounding local talent who were veterans for the side and were ready to challenge the very best. Midfielder Fran had been with the club all his life, right from the youth setup in 1987 and had an aura about him that no one else at the club could match. They also had Brazillian-born Spanish stalwart Donato who signed for the club in 1993 from Atlético Madrid and was equally good defensively as he was in attack. Now the club were ready and their season began impressively.
They had a fine start alongside Barcelona, who were powered by the goals of Rivaldo, and Rayo Vallecano who took full advantage of their relatively easy fixture list. Real Madrid, on the other hand, were struggling for consistency and saw Vicente del Bosque take over at the helm in the middle of the first half of the season. Depor then went on a fine run of seven successive wins between the end of October and the Christmas period and that saw them build an eight-point lead at the top of the league. They also had the confidence of overcoming Barcelona as the Blaugrana side fell to their title rivals at the Riazor on matchday ten by two goals to one.
The second half of the campaign was a patchy spell for the Coruña side. Heading into it with an eight-point gap at the top, complacency began to set in and the club would lose seven times over the course of the remainder of the campaign including defeats to lowly Numancia and resistant Celta Vigo amongst many others. But luckily for them, the form of their nearest challengers Barcelona and Valencia was equally inconsistent and they wouldn’t be troubled on their way to the title. On the penultimate matchday of the season away at Racing Santander, a goalless draw sealed their fate and they were league champions for the first time in their history.
A historic title win was earned in fine fashion with some excellent football and results that still run in the veins of Depor fans. Games where they beat the likes of Real Madrid and Sevilla, both by a 5-2 scoreline at the Riazor and wins over Barcelona and Valencia that spurred them onto the title. They won the league with 69 points which included 21 wins and amazingly, 11 defeats – the most for any La Liga champion in history. Roy Makaay proved to be a fantastic signing as his 22 goals were the fourth-highest in the league and he linked brilliantly with the rest of his teammates.
That side was the benchmark for any Deportivo side that followed and the current crop are still looking to find their way out of annual relegation battles season after season. That championship side are an entire antithesis to the current state of the club.
The State After
The club made it to the Champions League semi-finals in 2004, losing to José Mourinho‘s eventual winners Porto and also had a few Spanish Supercup successes along the way but they’ve been in freefall ever since. Relegated twice in the decade and a half that followed (but now back in La Liga), they are a shadow of the club they once were. Gone are the days of the cunning Javier Irureta and his brave troops that were dominant on all fronts and here is a club that is hoping to reignite itself under ambitious manager Víctor Sánchez and a group of players hoping to bring back at least a slight sense of the glory days.