Cologne (Germany) (AFP) – “No one wants it like we do,” is how Sevilla’s renowned sporting director Monchi explains how a club with modest resources is preparing for a sixth Europa League final in 14 years against Inter Milan on Friday.
The Spaniards have won the previous five, making them the most successful side in the history of European football’s second most coveted trophy.
“I think the history between the Europa League and Sevilla is a love story,” Monchi told AFP in Cologne, where the final will be held behind closed doors.
“No one cares or plans to win the Europa League like us. Inter or Sevilla can win because that is football, but the desire, the excitement that the Europa League awakens in the club, no one else achieves, because this competition is what has made Sevilla a big club.”
How much it means to be back in the final for the first time since 2016 was evident in the manner in which Monchi and his staff, club directors and substitutes collaborated to compensate for the lack of supporters in the stadium for Sunday’s semi-final win over Manchester United.
There were perplexed looks on the United bench as they largely sat in silence compared to the wave of noise coming from those in Sevilla suits in the stands.
Despite their success on the European stage over the past 15 years, Sevilla still had to bridge a huge financial gulf to beat United and will need to do so again when facing a rejuvenated Inter under Antonio Conte, who could spend 75 million euros ($89 million) on top scorer Romelu Lukaku last summer.
Monchi does not have that wealth to work with but has built a reputation as one of Europe’s shrewdest movers in the market, buying low and selling high the likes of Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Clement Lenglet, Wissam Ben Yedder and many others.
But the summer of 2019 was radical even for the former goalkeeper. After helping Sevilla to 11 trophies in 17 years as director of football, Monchi left for a new challenge at Roma in 2017.
His methods were not nearly as successful in the Italian capital and less than two years later he returned home to a fanfare rarely seen for a sporting director as he was paraded in front of a full house at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
A huge rebuild ensued with 17 new players arriving over the course of the summer and winter windows and even more leaving, including top scorers Ben Yedder and Pablo Sarabia.
There was also a new coach as Julen Lopetegui took his first role since being sacked by Real Madrid just months after also being fired by Spain for taking the Madrid job just days before the start of the 2018 World Cup.
However, the combination of Monchi’s return and Lopetegui’s redemption has not only seen Sevilla past Roma, Wolves and United since the Europa League resumed earlier this month, but also secured a place in the Champions League for the first time in three seasons after finishing fourth in La Liga, level on points with Atletico Madrid.
“For me the key this year has been Lopetegui,” added Monchi. “The boss has been capable of knitting together a completely new squad in little time and getting the best out of every one of them.
“I know him and he doesn’t like to look back. He looks to the present and the future. He is happy at the club and we are very happy with him. It has been a perfect marriage.”
Given his experience in Italy, the huge turnaround in players and a season that was stopped for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Monchi concedes this is the final that gives him the most satisfaction of all.
But even for the kings of this competition, one huge hurdle awaits in an Inter side that smashed Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0 in their semi-final and finished just one point behind Juventus in Serie A.
“The level of the teams is much higher now,” continued Monchi, comparing to Sevilla’s first win in the competition in 2005/06.
“In the semi-finals of the Champions League there was Leipzig, Lyon, PSG and Bayern. In the Europa League with Manchester United, Inter and Sevilla, there were more European titles. That’s why victory means even more because it gets harder every time.”
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