Levante – Proving age is no barrierPosted: October 22, 2011
If you take a look at the La Liga table right now you may notice something unusual about it. Not the fact that Real Madrid are in 3rd, but rather it’s who is sitting just above them, level on points with league leaders Barcelona, are La Liga ‘minnows’ Levante.
Levante may have the smallest budget in La Liga football, but the side coached by Juan Ignacio Martinez are showing that there is no substitute for experience.
The Valencian side just seem to grow with confidence as their most recent game ended in a comfortable 3-0 win over big spending Málaga. Their most impressive, if not stunning, victory of the campaign came just 3 games in when they beat 10 man Real Madrid to record their first 3 points of the 2011/12 season.
Levante have conceded just three goals in seven Liga matches this season and have the best defensive record in the league. That is impressive in itself, but even more so looking at the age of the Levante defence. The side is captained by 36-year-old Sergio Ballesteros and he is joined in the back four by 31-year-old Nano, Javi Venta and Juanfran Garcia, both 35 and Uruguayan goalkeeper Gonzalo Munua is 33 which adds up to a combined age of 170. They also have former Chelsea defender Asier Del Horno, 30, on the bench as back up.
Some of the excitement over this club’s start to the season may be premature, but its not hard to see why they are creating such a fuss when you take a look at their League and Cup history. This only the club’s 6th time in top flight in football in Spain while the only Cup they ever won was the Copa de la España Libre (Free Spain Cup) in 1937, a one off group competition played between Levante, Valencia, Espanyol and Girona during the Spanish Civil War.
Their budget in comparison with other teams is actually quite incredible too. Málaga spent €60 million this summer, while Levante spent €210,000. Despite this, look who came out on top rather comfortably in a match between the two last weekend.
The budget they have compared to joint leaders Barcelona is even crazier. The entire Levante budget is €22 million, while Barca’s is a whopping €461 million, 20 times that of the Levante budget!
A lot of journalists, analysts and fans had Levante down as relegation candidates after the departure of striker Felipe Caicedo who it would appear they failed to replace, but somehow Juan Ignacio Martinez has instilled a lot of confidence and belief in this team that they can achieve what they want if they play to the best of their abilities and it is certainly working at the moment.
I think something else that has helped in the success is the presence of Ballasteros and Juanfran. The real veterans of this squad know how much it means to this team to enjoy a bit of success, or even decent form, as they started their careers with the Granotes in the mid nineties.
A lot of teams credit their form and performances as hard work, determination, doing it for the fans and such, but the explanation according to the club doctor it’s much more simple than you think – pizza and beer. Yes, the secret to their form is a diet they share with armchair football fans.
Their next fixture says it all really, Villarreal, a team you would usually be safe to money on to win, are the ones who are in desperate need of 3 points as they linger in 14th place after a poor start to the season.
Levante are currently coming out of the administration process, but it’s great to see the fans and players can take their minds off it and enjoy the football being played on the pitch every week. It won’t last forever, but this run of form will be remembered for years to come as the best period in the clubs 102 year history.