When Las Palmas’ fans started rushing on to the pitch, there was no indication they would stop. Veteran midfielder Apoño had just given the club a lead that could have sent it into Spain’s top flight. The Basque folk from hilly Éibar had already purchased their seats next to Barcelona and Real Madrid, and so too had Deportivo de La Coruña, now a ghost of the team once hailed as SuperDepor. Only one spot remained in 2014-15’s Primera División.
So it was left to Las Palmas and Córdoba to play off – four days; two legs; one ticket to be punched. Following a goalless draw to open the tie in Andalusia, Apoño’s late strike looked set to send the Canary Islanders up. Its fans weren’t about to let this opportunity pass. After 12 years away from the Primera Division, they were going home. And they were going to celebrate.
Except the fans acted too soon. The final whistle hadn’t blown. It took more than five minutes for the referee and the stewards to push supporters back into the stands, where they crouched like Olympic sprinters recovering from a false start, waiting for the real final whistle. When full-time finally arrived, the throng burst onto the field again, only instead of celebrating they chased referee José María Sánchez Martínez and his assistants. In the time since the crowd had been led back to the stands, Córdoba, led by Albert Ferrer of Barcelona Dream Team Fame, had struck back through Raúl Bravo. Thanks to the away goals rule, it, not Las Palmas, would join Spain’s elite.
Ten months later, Ferrer and Córdoba must be wondering if it was all worth it. Chapi, as Ferrer is affectionately known, soon became a victim of his own success. He’d taken over the Blanquiverdes in February and led them to the Promised Land for the first time in 42 years, but by October, with just four points from eight matches, Ferrer was out of a job. Miroslav Đukić took on the task of keeping Córdoba up, but he was sacked, too. Jose Antonio Romero is in charge now, not that that’s changed anything.
With just 20 points from 33 games, the club is 11 points from safety, and surprise, surprise, Éibar and Deportivo — also the new kids on the block this season — are also in danger of dropping back down to La Segunda. In fact anyone from Getafe, sitting 13th, down could realistically be relegated at the end of the season. That’s eight teams; eight teams that have between them employed 17 managers this season (not including caretakers).
Not even all the cast of Avengers will be able to pull Córdoba, 11 points from safety, back now, but seven teams can still realistically dream of staying in La Liga. Granada was thumped by Valencia on Monday night, and with six points between it and safety, the club looks next most likely to tumble. Depor currently occupies the third relegation spot, two points behind Almería and Éibar and three behind Levante. Elche and Getafe have bigger cushions.
The biggest target for 18th place Depor will be Éibar. Soccer narratives are littered with fairytales to the point we should be wary of witches and fairy godmothers, but tiny Éibar does genuinely qualify for fairytale status. Unfortunately, it may be taken away soon — as one journalist who covers it wrote this weekend, Éibar is rolling down a hill with no breaks. Eighth in January, it has lost 12 of its last 15 games, winning just one. Fixtures with Sevilla and Valencia this week could see it begin May having swapped shoes with Deportivo de La Coruña.
But none of those permutations are why the relegation picture is a mess. That’s just boring math, statistics and form. The actual mess lies with Almería and Elche, two clubs that face off-field uncertainties between now and the end of the season.
Apparently Almería was late making a relatively small payment for defender Michael Jakobsen, who it purchased from Danish club Aalborg in 2012. FIFA recently announced it would be deducted three points, without which Almería would currently be in the bottom three. La Liga (LFP) and the Spanish Football Federartion (RFEF) couldn’t decide between them whether the points should be docked, so we have to wait for a decision from Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
CAS must be happy to have some work coming their way from a club not called Barcelona, but it’s unclear when they will get to work on the case. With five games remaining, we don’t really know if Almería has 31 points or 28 — something which definitely matters.
As for Elche, Marca has reported that if it does not make an immediate payment of five million euros toward its tax debt, it too will be sent to the naughty corner – the Segunda División. There was good news for the Franjiverdes on Monday, though. President José Sepulcre eventually gave the fans what they wanted: his resignation. Valencian businessman Juan Anguix looks set to take his place and, if he sticks to his word, he’ll wipe out that five million euro tax debt. Disaster potentially averted … for now.
But being Spanish soccer, nobody should get too excited until Round 38’s final whistle. And even then, with the Almería and Elche cases still open to interpretation, we might not have the answers. Fans of the clubs fighting relegation should make sure they take nothing for granted — look what happened to Las Palmas supporters when they went too early last season.