Sevilla's resurrection continues under Caparrós in the 'holy derby'

Sid Lowe in Seville on 15 April 2019

Somewhere in the middle of the smoke and the bodies, Sevilla’s bus began its 640-metre journey, slowly opening a path through the palms hammering at its side. Police vans escorted it along Calle Luis de Morales and, as the crowd parted, fireworks turning everything red, fans saw their manager sitting on the front row. Joaquín Caparrós wore a slightly manic smile, shook his fists, applauded, and thumped at the window. Outside, some ran to keep up. There wasn’t far to go: the bus turned left, left again and drew to a halt in front of the 480-square-metre, 200,000-tile mosaic, the finest façade in football, with its 50 club shields – including that of rivals Real Betis, whose bus pulled up alongside three minutes later. There, more fans waited with more flares.

Holy Week was beginning in Seville, the smell of orange blossom filling the city of Carmen, horses pulling carts past the Cathedral. A week of processions, elaborate 2,000kg floats hauled for hours by religious brotherhoods, some barefoot and sometimes in silence; of giant crosses to bear, mantles and capirotes – the conical, pointed hoods of penitents. This time, though, Christ changed course, the Milagrosa forced to take another route for the football. “The holy derby,” AS called it. Almost 15,000 turned up the day before – for a training session. That morning, Palm Saturday, 23,812 were at the Benito Villamarín, 3.9km away, for the women’s teams. And now, 42,855 arrived at the Sánchez Pizjuán, sold out again.

“Seville’s best hours,” the cover of Diario de Sevilla ran, alongside a photo from the Church of the Saviour, floats lined up awaiting their moment to depart like teams in the tunnel. Below, another showed the Pizjuán and the two images fit together, Seville’s best hours better for football, the date adding to the derby. One procession prevented Betis holding an open session of their own, some things still sacrosanct, and they took an offering to the Claret church. “Passion, according to the derbi,” announced AS; “Saturday of Passion”, another cover called it. At one end a huge banner depicted a woman in a black mantle, Sevilla scarf for rosary beads. “Seville is passion,” it said.

Sevilla supporters before the game.
Sevilla supporters before the game. Photograph: Raul Caro/EPA

For Caparrós, especially. Born and raised in Utrera just outside Seville, he has coached more primera games than anyone else currently working in Spain, and is in his third spell at the club. The man who laid the foundations of the side Juande Ramos made the most successful in Sevilla’s history. The man who last week announced he has chronic leukaemia as if was another declaration of Sevillista faith: “My red blood boils, but now the white cells want to even it up,” he said. “And I’m not going to stop working.”

So, he here was six days later for the game, leaping about on the touchline again. It was Caparrós’s 12th derby, going back to a 3-1 win away in November 2001. It was also supposed to be his last. He wasn’t even supposed to get this far: not because of the illness, but because he had left the benches behind. Or so he thought.

Last season, 13 years after departing as coach in 2005, Caparrós returned as an emergency solution after the sacking of Vicenzo Montella, taking charge for a four-match unbeaten run that included a derby at the Benito Villamarín – where he arrived doing “suck it” gestures to Betis fans and departed with a 2-2 draw, one of those rare occasions where everyone was happy. There was no expectation that he’d continue and, when the season ended his coaching career did too, declaring on 499 primera games. He became Sevilla’s sporting director, but a year on was back as another emergency solution to fix a problem partly of his making. “I see something of myself in Pablo Machín,” he had announced when appointing the coach last summer but as results plummeted after a good start, he started to see himself in Machín’s place. On the plane back from Prague, where Sevilla had been knocked out by Slavia, Machín was sacked.

With nine games to go, Caparrós replaced him. Meanwhile Monchi, returning to the club from Rome, replaced Caparrós as sporting director. It was as if someone had turned back the clock. It is 35 years since he started coaching and theoretically 35 days until he stops for good. Yet 63 now, the last representative of some other era, something he resists – and as he left the stadium just before midnight on Saturday a 3-2 winner, he wasn’t the only one willing him to continue.

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It had been quite a night. “Passionate!” shouted the front of Marca. “There’s yet to be a derby born like this one,” insisted Juan Jiménez in AS, “and this one touched heaven again, all heart, full of emotion, sweat and passion.” Caparrós called it “a derby in its purest state”. Noisy, wild, and open. Real, not manufactured. For all that La Liga takes around the world, showcasing Spain, it feels local, very sevillano, very theirs. And from the anthem at the start – if there is one that can compete with Sevilla’s, it is Betis’s – to the roar at the end, it was exhilarating. Estadio Deportivo declared: “Anyone who says derbies are dull need only come to Seville to see the error of their ways.”

The derby had everything: Jesús Navas and Joaquín in a foot race, almost 40 derbies and over 70 years between them; Pau López and Vaclik making saves, Jesé missing chances, his finishing as bad as his singing: one, two, three, four clear opportunities, his decision to shoot from 40 yards having escaped Vaclik rather than give it to Sergio Canales setting the tone early on and prompting Setien to sigh: “We had four or five ones on ones with the goalkeeper, even without the goalkeeper.”

Pablo Sarabia scores for Sevilla.
Pablo Sarabia scores for Sevilla. Photograph: José Manuel Vidal/EPA

It had Gio Lo Celso and Pablo Sarabia, the man with more assists than anyone except Messi, 25 shots and five goals, all played out to a soundtrack stuck on full volume. Brilliant goals, too: the “worst” of them was Munir’s thumping header to open the scoring after 26 minutes. Lo Celso finished a superb move to make it 1-1 on 55, Pablo Sarabia volleyed in to complete a sharp break on the left four minutes later. And then, “just as Betis were at our best” in Joaquín’s words, Mudo Vázquez smashed in a superb shot on 63, the roar engulfing the place. Cristian Tello bent in a wonderful free-kick to make it 3-2 with eight minutes left, and Betis kept coming. On the touchline, Caparrós ordered his players and staff off the bench, the nerves drawing them towards the pitch.The noise was constant too: “incredible”, Sarabia said, “the fans carried us.”

All the way to the final whistle, Betis goalkeeper Pau López in the Sevilla area. Betis deserved more, most agreeing with Setien that “efficiency” had been the difference, but Estadio Deportivo claimed: “No one remembers the means.” In any case, Sevilla’s manager said: “There’s only one truth in football: the result.” In the dressing room, they danced on tables, celebrating winning again.

Amidst all the Easter metaphor, across all the pages of puns and the excitement, only one went for “resurrection”, which was a surprise given that when Caparrós took over, Sevilla were sixth. Since then, they have won four and lost once, a run that makes them the best team in Spain in that period. Better still, Saturday’s win leaves them fourth, one point ahead of Getafe, who they play next week, and three ahead of Valencia with six games left. It wasn’t their plan (although you suspect it might have been his), but Caparrós wants to continue and if they get a Champions League place it will be hard to deny him that.

For now, there was something bigger, Caparrós knows: the derby itself. The derby is the game Caparrós has lost just once; across all his teams, he has only been beaten three times in 24 by Betis. Heading on the pitch having ended a run of three derbies without defeat for Betis, including a 5-3 win at the Pizjuán and a dramatic late 1-0 victory secured by Joaquín, he celebrated with his players, fans singing the Sevilla Marseillaise, and chanting his name as he departed. How do you feel, he was asked. “I feel spectacular,” he said.

“I’m very happy, for the fans, for our people,” Caparrós continued, sweat on his forehead, not so much saying his words as slapping them down. “This is Seville, this is Sevilla, and you come here to the Ramón Sanchez Pizjuán to suck it. We have great fans, great players, and I feel privileged to be here. I owe them so much, I want to give them so much, that I don’t know how to find it. Holy Week starts in our city now and you’ll be able to see it in the capirotes, whether they’re pointing up or down: ‘That one’s a Seville fan, that one’s a Seville fan … and that one there is not.’”

Joaquín Caparrós on the pitch after the game.
Joaquín Caparrós on the pitch after the game. Photograph: Cristina Quicler/AFP/Getty Images

Talking points

• Five teams are now within three points of the final relegation place after another huge weekend at the bottom. In which Levante and Girona, defeated by Valencia and Villarreal respectively, definitively got dragged into it. In which Rayo were defeated 3-2 at Athletic, VAR having a very busy day, and Valladolid were denied what would have been a massive win against Getafe, Jorge Molina scoring a 94th-minute penalty.

• Jan Oblak: wow, the wall. He made three astonishing saves at the Metropolitano, where Antoine Griezmann scored a belting free-kick, Álvaro Morata added a Torres-style second andfans showed their support for Diego Costa by chanting “I shit on your prostitute mother!”

• “Everyone was thinking about Manchester United,” Arturo Vidal admitted after Barcelona drew 0-0 at Huesca, in a team with an average age of 24 years and 133 days.

Valencia 3-1 Levante, Girona 0-1 Villarreal, Real Sociedad 1-1 Eibar, Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Rayo Vallecano, Real Valladolid 2-2 Getafe, Sevilla 3-2 Real Betis, Atlético Madrid 2-0 Celta Vigo, Huesca 0-0 Barcelona, Espanyol 2-1 Alavés.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Barcelona 32 50 74
2 Atletico Madrid 32 26 65
3 Real Madrid 31 18 60
4 Sevilla 32 15 52
5 Getafe 32 11 51
6 Valencia 32 9 49
7 Athletic Bilbao 32 -1 46
8 Alaves 32 -7 45
9 Real Betis 32 -5 43
10 Real Sociedad 32 -1 41
11 Espanyol 32 -9 41
12 Eibar 32 -2 40
13 Leganes 31 -4 40
14 Girona 32 -11 34
15 Villarreal 32 -5 33
16 Levante 32 -14 33
17 Celta Vigo 32 -10 32
18 Valladolid 32 -19 31
19 Rayo Vallecano 32 -21 27
20 Huesca 32 -20 25

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