Football Stories: The Most Bizarre Season in La Liga

28 Nov 1999: Roy Makaay of Deportivo la Coruna on the ball during the Primera Liga match at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Spain. Pic: Nuno Correia Mandatory Credit: AllsportUK /Allsport

Spanish La Liga has recently been dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona, excluding the surprise crowning of Atletico Madrid in 2014. Today’s story will return you to the days of 1999/00 season. Back then, Real and Barca weren’t the powerhouses they are now, while Atletico were even relegated that season. In 1999/00 there were many tough teams, like Valencia, with Santiago Canizares and Gaizka Mendieta, Gerard and Claudio Lopez. Real Madrid in which Steve McManaman starred, Nicolas Anelka and the local talents Michel Salgado and Ivan Helguera alongside the youngsters Raul, Casillas, Morientes and Guti. Barcelona, who finished second, with the likes of Dutch star Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo, Luis Figo and led by the captain Josep Guardiola. The teams of Alaves and Real Zaragoza also played good football and earned their spots in top six. But the club that impressed most was Deportivo La Coruna.

The Most Bizarre Season in La Liga

The Galician team, that in the 1993/94 season was a penalty away of clinching the title, was unstoppable at the beginning of the new millennium. To make that possible, in the summer of 1999 Javier Irureta made some key signings. The striker Roy Makaay was acquired from Tenerife together with the defensive midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic, right winger Victor was transferred from Real Madrid and the Czech keeper Petr Kouba was brought to be Jacques Songo’O’s backup. Adding them to Pedro Pauleta, Manuel Pablo, Djalminha, Flavio Conceicao, Noureddine Naybet, Fran and Donato, we get a strong enough team ready to be a title contender.

The season started on 22 august 1999 with a comfortable 4-1 win against Alaves at Riazor. Their unbeaten run continued in the next three games, including a 1-1 draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Numancia was the first team who left Riazor with the three points in Matchday 5. Two wins and a draw were the results before facing Valencia in round nine. Super Depor left the Mestalla empty-handed after losing with 2-0. After the loss, they managed to win seven times in a row, including 2-1 against the favourites, Barcelona, and thrashing Sevilla 5-2, topping the table. In the last match of, 1999 high-flying Real Zaragoza beat them but Deportivo were still leading the race.

The first month of the 21st century wasn’t so bright for the Galicians. A heavy loss at the hands of Racing Santander was followed by a goalless draw against Espanyol and another loss, this time versus Alaves. Betis were beaten but on January 30th, Valladolid destroyed Deportivo, who scored only one and conceded four. Somehow, Branquiazuis kept the leadership and started February in fashion; a Comfortable 5-2 win against Real Madrid and the fans believed that this could be it.

Numancia¬†again collected three points, this time winning 1-0 at home. 2-0 and 2-1 victories at home against Athletic Bilbao and Mallorca brought them closer to the title. A loss against Malaga gave their chasers hope but in the next round, Valencia were beaten 2-0. Another loss, against Barcelona, keep Blaugranas’ hopes alive but three consecutive wins put Deportivo in pole position. Defeat in the Galician derby against Celta and two draws in a row didn’t make any damage because Barcelona also had unsatisfied results. All that meant only one thing – Deportivo La Coruna were champions of Spain for the first time in their history. A 2-0 win against Espanyol at home on the last day of the season was just a show for the fans. After the final whistle, non-stop parties were unleashed as both club and fans prepared for more glory days in Deportivo’s history.

In a season full of surprises, Deportivo became champions five points ahead of Barcelona, Valencia finished third and Zaragoza fourth. Real Madrid were only fifth but won the Champions League against Valencia in the first ever Spanish final of the competition, which meant that Zaragoza were dropped to UEFA Cup. Goalscorer was the journeyman Salva from Racing Santander with 27 goals while Zamora trophy was won by Alaves goalkeeper Martin Herrera.

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