“He calls in the defenders first: breaks a TV. He calls in the midfielders and he breaks a light. Calls in the strikers, breaks a sofa.” One of José Bordalás’s former players tells the tale and, although he’s laughing, he’s only half joking.
The Getafe manager began his coaching career in the third division nearly 24 years ago and there are other moments like it, not far beneath the carefully-cultivated impeccable appearance, breaking beyond the tidy beard and smart glasses: benches have borne witness, press rooms too, and that’s just the public displays. There have been fridges kicked and doors punched, tactics boards butted. “He has his foot up against your throat and doesn’t let go,” says Juan Cala. The Getafe defender means it figuratively of course, but another says: “You sometimes wonder if he’s going to hit you.”
That player recalls Bordalás’s assistant chasing a team-mate around the training pitch, saying things, trying to wind him up. Before a game, a long time ago now, Bordalás made another hold a pencil between his nose and top lip, and cross his eyes. Now stay like that, he told him. He wanted them to go on the pitch wearing a “crazy face” to “terrify opponents”. Defenders were told to grab strikers, fight them. Every ball is a battle. “You spend the week building to the game, all week. And every game it’s like you’re playing for your life; if you don’t win it’s an absolute disaster,” Cala says. Another footballer calls him “a bit peculiar”, but he’s certainly not stupid. Asked to define him in a phrase, here’s an answer: “Very, very, very intelligent.”
As for Cala, he defines Bordalás in a single word: rendimiento. Performance. There is something about him that gets the best out of them. Look at the table and there are Madrid’s “other” teams. Leganés, coached by Bordalás’s one-time assistant Asier Garitano, sit seventh. And, less than three miles from there across the motorway, Getafe are eighth. They sit one and two points off a European place, respectively. So what? So these are clubs whose derby was traditionally played in the third tier, whose only objective is survival, and who arguably shouldn’t even be here at all. A little over a year ago, Leganés were a single place off the relegation zone. Getafe, meanwhile, were second bottom.
Of the second division.
That was when they turned to Bordalás. Getafe had recovered a little but seven weeks in they still sat 21st. They were about to become Bordalás’s 11th club as a coach and none had been in the first division, which wasn’t his place – or so it seemed. A technical striker nicknamed ‘the Roman’ who retired early because of a knee injury, having been at 11 clubs and never above the third division, he spent most of his coaching career there, working around his native Alicante (where he managed three times), until he moved to Alcorcón. With them, he reached the play-offs to primera in 2012-13 and in 2015-16 he brought Alavés up as champions. The problem was that he didn’t get to go up with them, the job instead given to Mauricio Pellegrino – a decision which seemed to say something about him but might have said just as much about prejudice. In truth, it was as much about tension between him and the board but it also tapped into the idea that, somehow, he was fine for the second division but couldn’t do what he did in the first.
The decision, as it turned out, was good for Alavés – they finished ninth and reached the Copa del Rey final – and even better for Getafe. In the autumn, posters started appearing in Getafe showing Bordalás’s face with the slogan “take me to primera”, and he did. A second promotion in a row, with a second club. Yet, ridiculous though it sounds, some wondered if he might face a second sacking. There were still doubts about his continuity, Getafe’s president Ángel Torres cornered on camera and pretty much forced into announcing he would carry on during a TV interview that was conducted mid-celebration and felt like a set-up. But Getafe were back in the top flight and Bordalás was there at last. “Bordalás, a first division manager,” one headline ran, a little pointedly.
At the end of the season, Getafe released central defender Cata Díaz, leaving his wife Celeste Marzella attacking Bordalás as “false, a traitor and a coward”, accusing him of having spies in the dressing room. But those who are close to the manager are very close and extremely loyal. It is no coincidence that many of the same players end up working with him again. He is, players insist, an expert in group management. He brings players together – often against some perceived common enemy, from the outside or, sometimes, from within – and is skilled at getting them to understand what he wants. Motivation is key and even those that see oddness see value; they recognise he gets a lot from his squad and there’s fondness too. Bordalás can be angry, wound up, hot-headed, demanding, but the intensity is relieved by the fact that he can be genuinely funny too. “He might transmit nastiness sometimes but even years later people remember the things he said, the amusing phrases,” says one close observer.
Bordalás has a strong team around him – fitness coach Javier Vidal is very highly rated – and he is, in the words of one player, “very, very intense”. Cala says: “He controls every aspect: diet, rest, training, tactics. And his training sessions are incredibly pesado, heavy-going. The intensity is unbelievable.” Another says: “He would go absolutely crazy if you didn’t do what he wanted.” He seeks to take advantage of every detail he can, seeing significance in the “other football” – knowing when to break a move down, how to effectively end a game. What he wants always includes not letting the other team play. The message is relentless and it is clear, simple: compete.
Getafe have competed so far, that’s for sure. They have lost three times at home this season: 2-1 against Barcelona, 2-1 against Madrid, 1-0 against Sevilla. In all three, they probably deserved more, although they could stand accused – and striker Jorge Molina admitted as much – of perhaps dropping too deep. Their style is simple: tight, aggressive, direct. Not always pretty, but often pretty effective.
It can be tempting to see Uruguayan full-back Damián Suárez as the embodiment of that style, at times almost cartoonish in his aggressiveness and risky too; Vicente Guaita has had a superb season in goal; Djené Dakonam has impressed; and the speed and skill of Ángel has been striking. But this is a collective and then there are a couple of other players who particularly stand out. Markel Bergara has given them consistency and a character that is contagious. In 14 games he has also scored more than he did in 146 for Real Sociedad. Then up front they have Molina, one half of Bordalás’s favoured little-and-large approach, top scorer last season with 20 goals and central to everything they do this – the 35-year-old who helps define their style.
“He’s the only one in the team who is irreplaceable,” Cala insists. “Ángel can be missing, Markel can be missing, Djene, me … but Jorge can’t. We don’t have anyone else who can do what he does. 60%, 70%, of our game is long ball and the only one who brings it down is Jorge. He battles with the centre-backs, controls it, moves. People say ‘yeah, but so-and-so …’ No, no, no: Jorge. If you’re defending and you can go long to him, that means the world. He gives us life.”
There is life in Getafe, where as far as the manager is concerned every defeat is a “death”, week after week after week. Last Monday, Getafe were defeated 1-0 at Espanyol. “After that, the week he gave us … pffff,” Cala says. “Horrific.” Six days later, they became the first team this season to beat Valencia, denying them the chance to close to within two points of Barcelona at the top. It was the kind of game that defines them, for better and worse. Despite being a man down from the 25th minute after Mauro Arambarri got his second yellow, despite suffering at times, Bergara’s deflected shot gave them a lead after 67 minutes. Dani Parejo hit the post with a free-kick, Guaita was sharp and the goal came as Valencia were starting to get behind them and create chances; after that, the game changed. It would be tempting to say it died, which was what Getafe wanted.
As the clock ticked away, there were bodies everywhere. Players in blue dropped like flies, if not flies who actually had much wrong with them. Simone Zaza grinned at a ballboy, gesturing to him; the cheeky scamp grinned back. They both knew what he was up to and he wasn’t about to go any faster. There was still time for more opportunities, though: the board went up with five minutes on it – it could have said twice that – and in the very last minute Zaza headed over. At the whistle, the Coliseum erupted, Getafe’s players embracing and punching the air. They really are back.
Before the game, Bordalás had gone round telling his players of the importance to make it “uncomfortable” for Valencia and they did that. Afterwards, just as Ivan Rakitic had done a few weeks before, Parejo complained about the state of the pitch, which was dry and cut up. “It looked like they haven’t tended to it all week,” he said. Parejo insisted it was “no excuse”, but it was part of the explanation – even though, while it probably helped Getafe, it has been a problem that some of their players feel they have endured too – just as the way the home side tried to prevent much happening was part of the explanation. Up until the sending off, they had three cards and lots of fouls: “That’s football but it made it difficult for us,” Valencia’s assistant manager Rubén Uría admitted.
“Today this looked like the team I want,” Bordalás said, throat hoarse and voice barely audible. “If we don’t compete, we fall a long way. Today they gave everything. What honour! What humility! That’s what I take with me – that and the kilometres they ran.”
They had done what no one else could – not Barcelona, not Atlético, not Sevilla either – and beaten Valencia, taking Getafe nine points and 10 places clear of the relegation zone. “Fans are ‘brave’; maybe they’ll start talking about Europe but our only objective at the start, now, and at the end is survival,” Cala said. “And tomorrow Valencia will have gone. Tomorrow he’ll be talking about Saturday again, living the game, like: ‘Bloody hell, we’re playing for our lives here’.”
• “Another train departs,” ran the front cover of AS. On Saturday afternoon, Barcelona departed the Camp Nou, heads down, Sergio Busquets lamenting the two points lost against Celta while Iago Aspas, who was superb, insisted: “It’s never a good day to come here but this time we deserved a draw … in fact, a point might even be too little given that we had another chance to make it 3-2.” By Saturday night, though, the point looked pretty good. “A point the size of a Cathedral,” Sport called it. By Sunday night, it looked even better.
The reason was simple: Barcelona drew with Celta, but Madrid couldn’t take advantage. Twice they hit the post and there were opportunities to have won it but they drew 0-0 at San Mamés. After 35 consecutive away games scoring, that’s two in a row that have finished without a goal. Zidane said he was happy, which is what he always says, and Madrid might have won it but yet again this wasn’t just about missed opportunities. As the game went on, so they ran out of ideas, delivering cross after cross that mostly went nowhere in particular. In the pouring rain, the imprecision was alarming – and not just from Athletic.
So, Barcelona’s lead over Madrid was retained – and, ultimately, their lead over Valencia was expanded. That said, they lost Samuel Umtiti to a torn hamstring. La Liga’s best defender so far this season, he’ll be out for two months. “Another league starts here,” said AS, and they might be right. Madrid are fourth now, and have next week’s opponents Sevilla just behind them after they won on Saturday. Of the top four, only Atlético got all three points, their first big night at A Stadium Called Wanda ending with an 88th-minute winner to see off Real Sociedad 2-1. For all the doubts, they’re unbeaten this season – a run that goes back 18 games, a club record.
• Applause for Asier Garitano. Not only did his Leganés side beat Villarreal, to end a four-match, fearful-fixture packed losing run, he also got into a touchline discussion with Villarreal captain Mario in which he told his opponent not to give the ball back from a throw-in and then told off his fans for whistling him. “We don’t kick the ball out and we don’t ask anyone else to do so either,” he said.
• “At last,” said Xavi Aguado. “It was a matter of time,” replied Pablo Alfaro. They both received 18 red cards in La Liga. That was a record once, but not any more. On Sunday night Sergio Ramos got his 24th red card, his 19th in the league.
• And Las Palmas won! (Pako Ayesteran was sacked in midweek, in case you’re wondering.) They sliced through Betis, whose manager Quique Setién is on the ropes. “The players are scared,” he said. “The ball is burning their feet.”
Results: Málaga 0–0 Levante, Barcelona 2–2 Celta, Atlético 2–1 Real Sociedad, Sevilla 2–0 Deportivo, Athletic Bilbao 0–0 Real Madrid, Leganés 3–1 Villarreal, Getafe 1–0 Valencia, Eibar 3–1 Espanyol, Las Palmas 1–0 Betis. Monday: Girona v Alavés.
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