Vigo’s a city used to being under attack. The Middle Ages saw Vikings successfully raid on several occasions, before Francis Drake came along in the 15th and 16th centuries to much avail – the Turkish even had a go later on. Now, the football team in the city are making their own attack – their most calculated in years.
In the 03/04 season Celta Vigo were relegated, and they were subsequently promoted upon the first attempt. In the 06/07 season they were relegated again, with Hristo Stoichkov taking team down - only this time they didn’t come back, and they almost never got the chance to.
More than anything, at one point Celta looked like they’d go out of business completely. While on the field they were slipping towards Segunda B, off it things were incredibly bleak as the pitfalls of the Spanish TV rights boom kicked in. Fling for voluntary insolvency in 2008, with debts of near €100m, the days of Alexandr Mostovi and Valery Karpin tearing through defences across Europe were as distant memories as Drake’s pillaging of Vigo. The club were entwined with scandal. Horacio Gómez, former President, falsified accounts at the club, kept an €18m tax bill owing to Spanish government hidden at the back of a drawer and overvalued every player at the club – young and old. He even used a player who wasn’t on their books, as an asset against numerous loans.
Once Gómez left, in came Carlos Mouriño. Even he succumbed to mistakes of his predecessor early on, and rather than protect the club he only punctured it further. The fans thought the club had well and truly haemorrhaged. As the club battled hard against another relegation, Mouriño only saw the money signs and opted for a big name in Stoichkov to provide salvation – he was inexperienced, and corrosive when the club needed experience and calm. The club inevitably, went down.
Attendances dropped as low as 7,000 in 09/10, with Balaídos becoming as quaint as the forts which fringe Vigo. Coaches came and went, so did players, and off field financial troubles continued to be well publicised. Things needed to change, otherwise Celta were at risk of becoming another Alavés case, falling off the Spanish footballing map.
The arrival of Paco Herrera, who had achieved success with CD Castellón and Villarreal ‘B’, was a significant point in Celta’s recent history. He’d worked well with limited budgets, young players, and journeymen previously, and so with Celta in the midst of economic strife and blooding from their own ‘B’ team, Herrera seemed an ideal fit. He was given well wishes by Rafa Benítez too, after all Herrera was on the staff at Liverpool under his countryman for a successful two years, overlooking the scouting department.
His keen eye to detail went to work immediately. Astute signings were made in the form of Enrique De Lucas, who once had a spell with Chelsea, David Rodríguez and Joan Tomás. Players who had been key individuals for their previous sides, were given the opportunity of restoring a once great Celta reputation. The mix came together nicely. Youngsters like Álex Lopez, Hugo Mallo and Iago Aspas thrived under Herrera who had gained plaudits for his ability to work adeptly with younger players; while players in their mid-twenties like Roberto Lago and Jonathan Vila saw their reputations enhance. The older players like the previously mentioned De Lucas, and Roberto Trashorras, were vital too as for the first time in awhile, Celta had a direction. A 6th place finish was greater than anyone expected, and although a defeat to Granada in an epic two-legged play-off was bitter to swallow after all the industrious work, the club had found patience and they gained mental strength from the fact their team was finally, something to be proud of again.
Although few players left over the summer, those that did were key names. Trashorras, and Michu, both went off to a promoted Rayo Vallecano. Celta could’ve folded again, but they didn’t. Herrera was careful in the market, and had to be as Mouriño stressed that financially the club were just getting back on track. He was right too, with debt being grinded down to €24m – much to do with Celta’s excellent academy. Denis Suárez moved on to Manchester City for a most generous fee, while money was also due from the Rodrigo and Joselu transfers to Real Madrid. With the signings of Mario Bermejo and Naxto Insa, Herrera contained to prove he could seek out the hidden gems at Segunda level, with both adding to the depth of the squad that needed little tweaking.
The finest signing though came from ironically enough the team that prevented them from being promoted. Fabian Orellana, an attacking midfielder, was allowed to sign on loan – surprise came from many corners as the Chilean was essential in Granada’s promotion run yet was deemed not suitable enough for the top flight. It has been he though, that has provided the spark for Celta this season. His close control, electric running and linking of attacking components has been a joy to behold.
This season has seen Celta play some of the best football in Spain. Their multitude of attacking options has seen them play with an expansive and exciting confidence, Herrera hereby adding style to the substance that team was built upon. With the tenacious Aspas leading the line and Orellana buzzing around him, teams have crumbled in their presence. Trailing away to fellow promotion chasers Real Valladolid recently, they came back to win the game at the death, showing their steely character. While a five-goal haul and dismantling of Numancia showed their verve and flair.
After being on the brink of extinction, and beaten to a pulp by the Spanish footballing system, Celta are beginning to rise again. Their ship carries great armoury and its captain Herrera is steering them to the promised land of the Spanish top flight – this time, it’s Celta who are doing all the attacking.
You can find David on Twitter @DavidJaca