Not for the first time a football club in Madrid is grabbing the headlines in Spain.
But this time it’s not just Real’s ‘white giants’ from the Bernabeu, nor the irritating kid brother that is Diego Simeone’s Atletico that are getting all the attention.
Some 15 kilometres away from the city’s iconic Puerta del Sol landmark is Getafe, a municipality probably best described as being to Madrid what Croydon is to London.
Efficient, unfashionable, unassuming and unpretentious are adjectives that spring to mind – not just about the area but also its football club, and in particular that club’s manager, Jose Bordalas, who is turning the rarefied world of Spain’s top flight on its head.
Getafe, the club with the 12th largest budget in La Liga of 52m euros (£43.3m), are sitting loud and proud in third place and are, on present form, the second best team in Madrid.
Before Getafe face Barcelona on Saturday (15:00 GMT kick-off), Bordalas talks about his struggles to get into the top flight, his work with the minnows from Madrid and his passion for the Roman Empire.
Where has Bordalas come from?
On 29 May 2016, following a 2-0 victory over Numancia, Bordalas led Alaves back to La Liga for the first time in 10 years.
But then on 21 June, just 23 days after he had secured promotion, he was sacked.
For their coach, it should have heralded the start of a new chapter in his life – a life that until then had consisted of an unglamorous playing career and a 23-year-long coaching path at every level except the very top.
Alaves would essentially say he was not, in their opinion, good enough to front a first division side. Time would prove them wrong.
“It was unexpected and it was disappointing but it also served to encourage me to bounce back, to keep on growing and that has been one of my virtues – never to be down for too long,” says Bordalas.
“What hurt me me was not that they didn’t want me but that they left it until the last minute to tell me. When I got the offer from Getafe they were already eight or nine games into the campaign and in the relegation places.”
Getafe had been relegated the previous season but bounced straight back into the top tier via the play-offs in Bordalas’ first campaign. Tipped to go straight down they surprised everyone by finishing eighth, and then the following season finished fifth, only missing out on a Champions League place in the last game.
Now third midway through the season, and in the last 32 of the Europa League, Bordalas and Getafe continue to confound the critics.
‘Buying my first pair of jeans was a luxury’
Bordalas was born the eighth of 10 children and raised in one of those parts of Alicante not featured in the ‘must-see’ itineraries of the many tourists that come to the region.
“I never felt alone and always felt protected in a home where hard work and effort was the key. I have nothing but beautiful and endearing memories of my childhood,” he says.
“Living with lots of people taught me that I had to share chores, show respect, work hard.
“I have worked all my life so I could afford to pay my way and get myself the occasional luxury because my parents couldn’t. I would wash dishes, deliver papers, and pick melons from the fields. For me, being able to buy myself my first pair of jeans was a luxury.”
From an early age he developed a love for football but curiously was the only member of his family apart from an older brother who did.
And his obsession with the importance of leadership is shown by his passion for learning everything he can about the history of the Roman Empire.
“From nothing appeared the most powerful empire on the earth. The power and the conquest of this empire left its mark all over the world and led to the creation of the greatest architects and the wisest teachers,” he says.
“Whenever I have had any free time I have travelled to Rome to get to know it better because it is immense.
“My intention has always been to create good groups. A football team should be like a family, probably because that is what I had always lived.”
What is his secret?
Getafe’s ranks consist of many players from the lower leagues, and some were considering giving the sport up and getting day jobs.
Striker Jorge Molina was on the verge of making use of his PE teacher qualification, while fellow front man Jaime Mata was all set to start work as a customs officer when first Valladolid and Girona, and then Getafe stepped in to rescue their careers.
Canary Islander Angel Rodriguez joined after being instantly dismissed by Zaragoza for saying publicly that he wanted his club to lose against Tenerife, his hometown team. Barcelona, if the Spanish federation allows them to, are seriously considering signing him as a replacement for the injured Luis Suarez.
This season, those three players have scored 22 of Getafe’s 35 goals – making them the third best scoring trident in La Liga – and not one of them cost a thing.
“Having been through highs and lows throughout their career might make a player a bit more responsible and more appreciative of what he has, but that isn’t to say that we look for specifically that type of player,” says Bodalas.
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“When you can’t convince a player to sign from a financial point then you have to try to convince them from a professional level, with what he can bring to the team and how he can grow here.”
Not playing the ‘Spanish way’
Getafe rank joint 14th in terms of average shots per game in La Liga (10.6), 15th in average possession (43.1%) and bottom in terms of passing accuracy average (61.7%).
But their real strength comes from being a tremendous unit who depend more on the collective than any one star. They have conceded just 20 goals all season. Only Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao have let in fewer.
They play in their opponent’s half more often than any other side, have the highest defensive line, play long more often than others, and also have the fifth best attack. They are more than a long-ball team.
They are not, however, everyone’s cup of sangria. Nobody has conceded more free-kicks (416) and no team has received more yellow cards (71). Quique Setien, who faces Bordalas this weekend in Barcelona, has been a particularly harsh critic going back to his time as coach of Lugo when Bordalas was at Alcorcon.
“This isn’t football,” Setien said. “It’s something else and it makes my blood boil.”
Bordalas is unapologetic about a style of play many feel runs contrary to the archetypal ‘Spanish way’.
“You must never forget that we are a humble side, a side not equipped to sit among the very best and that just two and a half years ago we were in the second division,” he says.
“We are a side that financially cannot compete with many teams and, as a result, I believe that things are going quite well here.”
The financial reality that affects clubs like Getafe on a regular basis is summed up by Leandro Cabrera leaving in January for bottom of the table Espanyol, who asked the Uruguayan defender what he was earning and, at a stroke, doubled it.
Bordalas is learning English and, when asked if he can picture himself working in the Premier League in future, replies without hesititation: “Yes. It’s something I have always had in mind and, as a professional, I would love it.
“It would match well with my understanding of football and I am absolutely sure that I would enjoy it very much indeed.”
Bordalas is indeed a breath of fresh air. With Getafe or another team, it is safe to assume we have not heard the last of him – not by a long chalk.
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