Every good rivalry has a story behind it, and few rivalries are more storied than the Seville derby.
Rivalries need good stories to truly prosper. The Seville derby, or El Gran Derbi, is one of the most storied in Spain. Sevilla and Real Betis have battled for supremacy in their city since the start of the last century, and in contrast to Spain’s other great rivalries, their battles have taken many forms, from fighting for league titles to accusations of throwing matches to get the other relegated, and from the Segunda division to Europe.
Real Betis enjoyed plaudits for their summer business, after qualifying for Europe last season. They were able to attract some star names, such as William Carvalho, while also making some characteristically shrewd signings, such as Sergio Canales and Takashi Inui.
It seemed Betis were set to excel once more in 2018-19, but after a 3-0 home defeat to Levante to start the season and a 0-0 draw away to Alaves, they entered last weekend’s derby looking for their first win and goal of the campaign.
The fans had seen this sort of thing before. After qualifying for the Champions League in 2004-05, the club plummeted to a 14th-place finish the following season after so much optimism the preceding summer. As the Betis fans flocked into their own ground, a place they hadn’t seen their team beat Sevilla in 12 years, the alarm bells were already ringing.
Sevilla, on the contrary, had a lot to be pleased about. They came into the derby with four points from their first two games, and Pablo Machin’s philosophy seemed to be taking hold. Yet they also entered this derby with plenty to worry about.
They were totally outclassed by Betis last season, particularly in a 5-3 loss at home, a game that ended a 10-game unbeaten streak in domestic competitions against Los Verdiblancos. A win in that derby could have restarted Sevilla’s season; instead, it plunged them further into disaster. Los Rojiblancos never really recovered despite impressive runs in the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
They managed to grab a point in the second derby of the season to secure European qualification, but it also condemned them to finish below Betis for the first time in five years. In the leadup to the game, Betis club captain, Joaquin, claimed a derby win could transform your season. “Some people will roll out the same cliches and say it’s just another game or it’s only worth three points, but that’s not true,” he said. “A win can give you a huge morale boost and transform your season.” Much of the Sevilla squad knew the reverse was true was true as well.
Seville has been home to many odd characters throughout the years. In 1993, Diego Maradona plied his trade in the white of Sevilla for a year. In ’98, Betis broke the transfer record for Brazilian winger Denilson de Oliveira.
Joaquin has been another, famous in Spain both for his jokes and hypnotizing chickens. Since his debut in 2000, he’s also become one of Betis’s greatest ever players. He was known for his fantastic crossing and dribbling ability during his early years in Seville, and received offers from a number of European giants, including Real Madrid, only to turn them all down to stay with Betis.
His time at the club came to an end in 2006, when he left for Valencia. Spells at Malaga and Fiorentina followed, before he returned to his boyhood club in 2014, aged 34. He became club captain and even bought shares in the club. Under Quique Seiten, Joaquin has enjoyed a revival of sorts, and was crucial in that 5-3 win over Sevilla last season.
And so, when the fans saw him warming up during the derby on Sunday, with the match level at 0-0 and Sevilla having been reduced to 10 men, he was greeted with a massive roar. Even now, at age 37, Joaquin is the sort of player who can make something out of nothing.
The game had been a cautious and scoreless affair. After a bright start, Betis seemed to run out of ideas, and it was Sevilla who started the second half better. The red card had naturally changed things, and with 15 minutes to go, Sevilla decided to hold what they had.
Joaquin came on in the 75th minute for his 20th derby appearance, the most of any player. It took him five minutes to get his first touch of the ball, a header into the back of the Sevilla net. It was just his second goal against Sevilla, and his first in the derby in 16 years.
There was a time when this derby wasn’t competitive. Following both teams’ relegation in 1999-00 and their quick return the following season, Sevilla went on to establish themselves as Europa League winners and regular Copa del Rey finalists. Meanwhile, Betis managed to end their Copa drought in 2005, but suffered two more relegations and rarely excelled in the league.
At its best, however, El Gran Derbi, is one of the most enthralling in Europe, filled with history and strange characters from all walks of life. It’s nice to have it back.