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The Return of Deportivo La Coruña

(Photo courtesy of AP)

Last Saturday, Lucas Perez slotted a penalty kick past Eibar goalkeeper Asier Riesgo to give Deportivo La Coruña the winning goal in a 2-0 victory. It was the 27-year-old’s 12th La Liga goal this season, on-par with Cristiano Ronaldo and bettered by only Neymar and Luis Suarez. It was also the seventh game running in which Lucas has tallied a goal, tying a club-record set by Depor legend Bebeto in 1993.

The three points kept the Galacian club firmly in sixth-place of La Liga as we head into Matchweek 17. They haven’t finished a Primera season above sixth place since 2003/04.

In soccer, rebuilds are always tough. That much is certain. But there are different kinds of rebuilds, and not all of them are created equally. For lowly clubs, a rebuild can be a bastion of limitless hope. The possibility of rocketing up multiple divisions, and maybe reaching the top-flight one day, is an affirming proposition, indeed. But for clubs like Deportivo, who’ve already reached the highest peak of the mountain in their time, a rebuild can be a tumultuous task to getting back to what the club and supporters alike believe to be the norm.

Sure, promotion to La Liga is fine, as is mid-table meddling, but we’ve all been waiting for the return of Super Depor. Anything less is — unfairly, of course — seen as a disappointment. But there’s only one way to rectify this incongruent dynamic: Get back to the top.

But to look forward, in this case, one must look back. In 1991/92, Deportivo were too a lowly club. They had just won promotion back to La Liga after an 18-year absence. The following decade would spawn what we then and now refer to as Super Depor. Behind such star players as Bebeto, Roy Makaay, Juan Carlos Valeron, Rivaldo, Albert Luque and Diego Tristan (and many, many more) and visionary managers like Javier Irureta, the Blanquiazules became more than contenders. They became kings.

After losing out on a Primera title to Barcelona in the 1993/94 season (after drawing on the final day of the season against Valencia), Deportivo’s first ever piece of major hardware came in 1994/95 when they defeated Valencia to capture the Copa del Rey. Fortunes then peaked in the 1999/00 season when Deportivo won the first La Liga title in the club’s history.

Over the next four seasons, they solidified themselves as one of Spain’s premier clubs, never finishing outside of the top-three in that time. Their 2003/04 Champions League run remains one of the competitions most memorable cinderella runs, despite losing to Porto in the semifinals.

Unfortunately, the days of Super Depor have long been dormant at Riazor. Since their relegation to the Segunda in 2010/11, Deportivo have been a textbook yo-yo club: One year up, one year down. Last season’s 16th place La Liga finish finally broke the up-and-down cycle, guaranteeing at least another year in the top-flight to regain their former status of prestige. And they’ve been doing just that. As previously mentioned, Deportivo currently sit in sixth-place in La Liga and are undoubtedly the surprise of the entire division.

Whether or not they’re punching above their weight, 2015’s Deportivo is no fluke, nor is their sixth-place standing or plus-9 goal-differential. In fact, the Blanquiazules’ two losses are tied with Barcelona as the fewest in all of La Liga. Additionally, they haven’t lost a game since Oct. 24 and have only conceded more than two goals on one occasion. And their identical home and away Liga records (3-4-1) clearly indicates that there are no tricks here; Deportivo La Coruña are a formidable side.

The manager, Victor Sanchez, obviously has a lot to do with Depor’s recent success. A former Blanquiazule himself, Victor has had his side playing inspired, counterattacking football since his arrival in April. With a defensive spine of German Lux in goal, Sidnei and Alejandro Arribas in central defense, and Pedro Mosquera anchoring midfield, Deportivo have a well-balanced squad that bends without breaking. Then, of course, there’s the aforementioned Lucas, whose club performances are surely putting Vicente del Bosque on-notice for Spain’s next fixtures.

What’s perhaps most peculiar and refreshing about Deportivo’s revival is that it’s been largely spawned by hometown heroes. Manager Victor, despite being a Madrid native, made over 200 appearances for Deportivo at the tail-end of their glory years from 1999-2006. While both Lucas and Pedro Mosquera, arguably the team’s two best performers this season, are local lads from A Coruña.

It’s an anti-Galactico — and in many ways, an anti-Super Depor — philosophy to find your magic elixir from within your borders. But as we’ve seen from savvy clubs like Barcelona, Valencia, and Athletic Bilbao, when done right, it’s the most effective method. It might not lead this current edition of Deportivo to a league title anytime soon, but it’ll likely keep them from doing that all-too-familiar nosedive. Once they get that straight, then they can worry about being truly Super again.

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