Even Don Juan couldn’t have pulled off the trick. Just over two seasons ago Real Betis were the most entertaining team to watch in La Liga after FC Barcelona but now there are in shambles. The love affair with the top guns both in Spain and in Europe has turned so sour that Betis have had to resort to flings with relegation candidates, an act that has now come to be their habit and painfully their only source of pleasure.
The Real Betis owner and then club President Manuel Ruiz de Lopera was a proud man with an ego so inflated that it would have shamed Fat Albert when Betis became the first Andalucian club—and more importantly the first Seville club—to play in the new format of the UEFA Champions League in 2005. He was ranting day and night on how Betis had done the treble over their cross-city rivals Sevilla FC; and indeed the verdiblancos had. Betis were the first in the chase for the Spanish championship, the first to gain a seat in the refurbished train called the European Cup and now they had notched up a Champions League berth.
But two years fast forward and Lopera is moaning and lamenting and seeking desperate measures to sustain Betis in top flight Spanish football, and the dream of seeping among Europe’s elite is, well, just that: a dream. Betis have not so much been sucked into the relegation mire since the start of the 2005-2006 season as have invited the ugly dark waters to wet them from top to bottom all the time wondering from where and how to procure an umbrella.
In each of the last two seasons, Betis have perilously staggered close to dropping into the Secundo Division through the trapdoor that is yawning wide only for Betis to oblige and tuck in. In the 2005-2006 season Betis finished 14th but more significantly and worryingly just 3 points above the drop zone. Last season only a late Rafael Sobis equalizer against Barca at Camp Nou could see the them stave off relegation by a mere 1 point and 2 places.
This is the verdiblancos’ seventh season back in La Liga after the Seville outfits gained promotion to the Spanish first division in 2001. At the time not only did they gain promotion, they also exhibited just how to build on it. In their first season back in La Liga, Betis stormed to 6th in the table and also stole a pass to the UEFA Cup. They then finished 8th and 9th in the next two seasons but escalated to a new peak in 2004-2005 when they beat the stiff challenge of Espanyol and Sevilla to a Champions League place by finishing fourth in the league.
Real Betis are a club with a history and like most Spanish clubs their history has been shaped and tailored by the two Great Wars and the Spanish Civil War. But interestingly Betis’ history doesn’t have to do as much with the club’s first division status as with the fanatic following that the club has been blessed with since its birth just over a century ago. The Betis fans all are said to have red-and-green hearts and have always loyally supported the club and still do but sadly with the club’s constantly spiraling down of fortune, the club supporters’ enthusiasm has waned too.
That amazing 2005-2006 season for a club as modest and limited as Betis inevitably implied that they had to shed players and so they did. One by one the stalwarts of the exquisite Betis team withdrew themselves and one by one the pieces of the jigsaw began to fall away. So much so of those in the current squad of players only Arzu and Capi are the remnants of the team from two years ago. While Arzu has been decent at best, Capi’s form has been so wretched that he has often discovered himself warming the Betis bench far too often than he would have liked.
Betis’s downfall owes more to bad management than anything else. And by bad management read Manuel Ruiz de Lopera. And in this context Manuel Ruiz de Lopera doesn’t mean the club’s home ground but the virtual owner. President Jose Leon Gomez is a mere puppet in the hands of Ruiz de Lopera and cannot take any decision without Lopera’s permission. Signor Lopera has no dearth of ambition and even after the fans have openly expressed their resentment at his Boardroom tactics, Lopera is still committed to the Betis cause.
But Lopera’s strategies are faulty and his ideas insane. He is an unstable and often disorganized person whose decisions are bizarre and self-destructive in equal measure. When the most successful manager in Betis’s history, Llorenc Serra Ferrer, was given the axe, the reason for the act was impossible to decipher. When one coach after the other followed with restricted time allowed to each to turnaround the club’s fortunes, President Lopera stood by his decisions and never flinched. Betis have been brought down by his arrogant tantrums and on-field performance has increasingly declined.
At the heart of Betis’s on-the-pitch problems is their potty defensive unit and this is one grey area that Lopera has failed to sort out. It’s not unwonted that a team suffering from lack of confidence and destined to be trapped in a relegation dogfight from Day One concedes silly goals but for Betis the defensive wounds run deeper. This is a side that continues to play attacking football even when the resources are far from attractive but a frail backfour implies that when the opposition gallops into their territory the entire team collapses right on its axis.
The likes of Varela, Joaquin, Ricardo Oliviera and Marcus Assuncao all have departed over the course of the last two seasons with Juanito, Arzu and Capi lingering at the Ruiz de Lopera. Although Sobis and Romero have proved crucial at times, this season Betis are suffering again, even with the speedy Mark Gonzalez on-loan from Liverpool. Their football has been as pathetic as their stadiums which in dire need of a renovation and the signs are not good at all.
Betis play Atletico Madrid on Sunday in Week 14 of La Liga but there’s not much possibility that they would come home with anything from the Vicente Calderon. With just 11 points from 13 matches, Betis are struggling in 19th place in the table at the moment. They have won just twice in 6 attempts at Ruiz de Lopera and have failed to get maximum points from any of their away matches so far this season.
That their city rivals FC Sevilla lie just 4 points ahead of them in 10th is of no consolation to a club that is truly and undeniably staring into the abyss. While Sevilla have the resources to pick up the thread and resume their normal clinical business of winning matches and are also running into form at just the right time, Betis would have to fight psychologically to gather momentum. At the moment though Betis fans have started to keep their nails long so that when the end of the season arrives, they won’t have to chew their skin instead.
Also See:La Liga Week 14: Preview