At the time i decided to write on the Cinderella exploits of Levante UD ((Llevant Unió Esportiva), a small rather unknown team from Valencia who have continually lived in the shadows of their more illustrious neighbours,Valencia; the club was undefeated in nine, had defeated perennial contenders Real Madrid and was on the verge of been the first team in four years to win eight straight games in La Liga. Unfortunately, the bubble seems to have gone burst as Osasuna had other plans and have gone ahead to end Levante’s great run at the top of La Liga, however, the story still needs to be told especially in a league like the Primera Liga where all the excitement is left to the recognised duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Is it safe to say that the wheel(s) have fallen off the Levante chariot or like Cinderella they are just missing one shoe; some salient areas of the Levante composition will be looked at to reflect if they are a flash in the pan or the real deal?
Levante’s foundation has always been based on that of a struggle, although formed before Valencia, it has remained in the shadows of its neighbours; its struggles have been to remain relevant, remain in the upper regions of the Spanish game.
The team is built from the back with its journey man captain, Sergio Martinez Ballesteros, built like a professional wrestler which serves as a deceptive ploy; but his performances this season have been completely different from what he is known for. Ballesteros is known to be a hard tackling defender that consistently gets on the wrong side of referees; however this season a new found maturity has been added to his game especially with his partnership with Nano which has reaped dividends; if you take a look at their entire back line it’s a back line of journey men; from Javi Venta to Juan Fran it consist of experienced old timers who had been at the top of the game in times past.
Managed by Juan Ignacio Martínez, a hustler in my estimation; he’s built his reputation from the lower regions of the Spanish game, but finally finds himself in the big time. He’s succeeded in blending experienced old timers and journey men on an extremely low budget and getting the best out of them. He has creatively built the team to its strengths, experience, a strong defensive based and a solid counter attacking 4-5-1 formation (which evolves to a 4-4-2 formation when attacking and in possession). He has done a good job replacing Getafe’s Luis Garcia.
Juan Ignacio Martinez or JIM as he is fondly called, has prudently built the team on a transfer budget of EUR210,000.00 which to some teams is what a player earns, he’s brought in the likes of Arouna Kone from Sevilla, Xavi Torres from Malaga and Wellington Silva from Arsenal all on loan. Arouna Kone for me is the success story; he seems to have the hunger for the game once again, he has currently scored more goals this season that he has in the last 4 seasons; he may well be on the plane to Gabon and Equitorial Guinea with the Ivory Coast for the African Nations cup.
Jim also has experienced heads like Asier Del Horno signed on a free after his contract was terminated at Valencia, also signed on a free Aranda and Nabil El- Zhar; these bits and pieces have all played a part in Levante’s Cinderella story.
Are Levante, the Mainz of this season?
Yes they are, a great start; a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stereotyped league. A lot will depend on how they respond to their defeat to Osasuna, last season’s 14th placed finish is surmountable this season, but I strongly worry about the age of the back 4; with a combined age of 138 years. I worry if they’d stay fit and also be able to keep it together and not tire before December comes along. The story would be really worth telling if Levante are able to qualify for the Europa League, I make bold to say it is possible on current form, but stranger things have happened.
La Liga needs Levante to succeed
As earlier stated La Liga is a stereotyped league, the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, to many does not help the league, but the emergence of Levante would do La Liga a lot of good. Levante have already defeated Real Madrid this season, which came to many as a surprise, but to some it was great to have such a result as it brought up arguments to support the notion that La Liga is still a competitive league; but truth be told the gulf in class is evident for all to see.
However, the whole league needs Levante to be a success story, to get attention away from the disparity in the revenue sharing that has been a major controversy the league has had to deal with, success for Levante will set La Liga on a different course. By Success, I mean at least Europa League qualification, no way will Levante win La Liga nor finish in the Champions League places.
Next week, Levante have the derby against Valencia at home, there’s no better way to get back on course than against your more illustrious neighbours and also to demonstrate to the entire league that they are no flash in the pan.