Some clubs have become synonymous with certain competitions over time. Real Madrid, for instance, have long been the image of European success, winning the Champions League and European Cup no fewer than 13 times. No club has lifted the famous old trophy more times than Los Blancos.
In Italy, Juventus are defined by their domestic success and in particular how many times (36) they have won the Scudetto. Historically, Tottenham Hotspur have held a particularly strong affinity for the FA Cup, making a habit of winning the competition over the 1960s and 80s. Spurs are still widely referred to as a ‘cup team’ to this day because of it.
For Sevilla, the Europa League is the competition that has come to define them. Indeed, with five trophies to their name, no team has won European soccer’s second tier tournament as many times as the Andalusians. What is remarkable about their record is that all five of those triumphs have come in the last 15 years and a sixth triumph could be in the offing, with Sevilla in another final this Friday.
Victory over Inter in Cologne would rank among Sevilla’s greatest ever achievements, with Antonio Conte’s side arguably the strongest opponents the Andalusians have ever faced in a Europa League or UEFA Cup final. But Julen Lopetegui’s side have already seen off Wolves in the quarterfinals and Manchester United in the semis. Inter won’t have it easy.
While Sevilla’s love affair with the Europa League is undeniable, they have ambitions beyond the second tier tournament. Namely, they want to become a permanent fixture in the Champions League. The return of Monchi to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last summer saw an overhaul of the club, from the boardroom structure to the team on the pitch to the manager in the dugout.
Julen Lopetegui was hired despite a calamitous 2018 which saw him sacked as Spain head coach on the eye of the Russia World Cup and then sacked as Real Madrid manager just a few months later. Monchi, however, identified the 53-year-old as someone who could forge a dynamic, modern team on the pitch while the legendary sporting director shrewdly scoured the transfer market.
Monchi found value, as he always does. Diego Carlos arrived from Nantes for just €15 million, with the Brazilian now considered one of the best central defenders in La Liga. Lucas Ocampos arrived from Marseille for a similar transfer fee. Now, the Argentine is Sevilla’s creative heart and their top scorer, netting 16 times so far this season.
Joan Jordan, Rony Lopes, Oliver Torres and Youssef En-Neysri were also efficient additions at around that price point. There were some missteps, most notably in the €14 million signing of Luuk de Jong from PSV Eindhoven. While the Dutch striker may have scored the Europa League semi-final winner against Manchester United, he has struggled to replace the goals that were lost through the departure of Wissam Ben Yedder.
Nonetheless, Sevilla are once again the epitome of footballing efficiency. Lopetegui’s side are a high-energy, high-intensity outfit who will almost certainly play a high-pressing game against Inter just as they did against Manchester United in their semi-final encounter. Inter will have to be wary of being caught on the ball.
Ever Banega perhaps best embodies the ideology and nature of Lopetegui’s side, with the Argentine as exceptional on the ball as he is tenacious off it. Banega has already agreed to sign for Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia at the end of the season and so a replacement will have to be found. This will be a daunting task, but Monchi will almost certainly have a plan in place. A successor may even have been identified and lined up.
Breaking Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold at the top of the Spanish game might prove beyond Sevilla, such is the financial imbalance written into the very constitution of soccer in the country, but the Champions presents the Andalusians with an opportunity to establish themselves as an elite level club.
Atletico Madrid have succeeded in doing this in recent years, but their success has come through the personality and coaching acumen of Diego Simeone. Sevilla are attempting to follow Atleti’s lead, but through the structure in place at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan rather than the personnel.
It has to be this way because of Sevilla’s business model. They depend on the buying and selling of players at a profit and so their approach has to be about more than the players on the pitch.
Of course, Sevilla had this same opportunity to elevate their standing and emerge as a consistently elite club after their previous five Europa League trophies. This year, Europa League glory would be different—an affirmation of their coach's tactics and their footballing director's resourcefulness. A victory over Inter on Friday would point out where Sevilla are heading rather than where they have already been.