Goal.com's Subhankar Mondal looks at Spanish side Sporting de Gijon's season and says that Spain should be proud to have such a club.....
The Emirates observed an exodus when Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal went in, the Bernabeu resembled a cemetery when Gerard Pique hit the sixth, the Valencia fans didn't bother to turn up at the Mestalla last season and the Juventus followers vent their anger at the club’s training ground.
Sporting de Gijon fans, on other hand, were cheering their team when they conceded the sixth of the night against Barcelona, were at their loudest when Real Madrid hit their seventh, continued to support their side as they conceded five against Atletico Madrid and couldn't help applaud their old hero David Villa even when he struck the penalty for Valencia against them.
Sporting’s fans are a strange lot, and a whole lot better too. They never lose their voice or their spirit, are at their loudest when their side are at their lowest, have a party throughout the 90 minutes and welcome the opposition - any opposition - with open arms. In Spain they have this habit of booing their own players and walking out on the team at the worst of times but in Asturias and especially in Gijon they don't follow this tradition at all.
El Molinon doesn't brag a UEFA-rated five-star rank but it has one of the best atmospheres in Spain and in Europe. The 26,000 capacity stadium is the oldest in Spain and booms on every matchday. It doesn't matter whether it’s Madrid, Barcelona, Real Betis or Numancia in town; every time there is a Liga match in Gijon, the crowds pour in from everywhere, with their Sporting scarves and kit, the literal embodiment of the 12th man.
Part of the reason is that Sporting supporters are just happy to be brushing shoulders with the big lads of Spain. The last time they featured in the Spanish top flight was in 1997-1998 when Denilson was the world’s most expensive footballer and Villarreal had yet to play a Spanish Primera Division game. It's been ten years and countless failures since then but at the end of last season the biggest club from Asturias was back in the national frame.
But the best fraction of the party is Sporting de Gijon's football team that is dedicated entirely to playing the beautiful game beautifully. Sporting were expected to struggle in their first season in the Spanish top flight and they have not disappointed in this aspect. But unlike what many teams in their position and with their sort of budget would do, they have not played ugly at all and following the almost obsessive and perhaps self-destructive Spanish footballing culture, have adopted a gung-ho style, showing little regard to defending.
Statistically Sporting have the worst defensive record in the Primera Division, having conceded a whooping 77 goals in 36 league matches. They have suffered the highest number of defeats (23) and have the least number of draws - a Liga record of only one. Their backline has been pretty much absent in matches and with their philosophy to play entertaining football even with their restricted budget and limited playing resources they were slated to head for the drop.
But have Sporting been as bad as those damning statistics suggest? Maybe, maybe not. They haven't played the galactic cultured football of Barcelona but their football has been hugely entertaining nevertheless, with a certain degree of refreshing naiveté. The Rojiblancos have dedicated themselves to playing smart passing football, keeping the ball on the ground, playing it among the attacking players and getting on the attack from all sides of the park whenever there is an opportunity to launch an attack on the opposition. Striker Mate Bilic might not be the best in the business but 11 goals in 13 starts have made him a Sporting hero.
Moreover, out of the 77 league goals Sporting have conceded, 20 have come in matches against Spain's Big Two. Their start to the season which saw them take on Sevilla, Barcelona, Madrid and Villarreal in succession was always going to be difficult, but after that Manuel Precidao’s side won four successive league matches.
With two more rounds of matches left in the Spanish top flight this season, Sporting de Gijon are one place above the bottom three, level on points with Osasuna but ahead because of a superior head-to-head record. At the weekend they won thanks to a world class diving header from Helder Rosario into his own net that pulled them out of the relegation zone. In the next two matches Sporting confront nothing-left-to-play-for Real Valladolid and bottom of the pile Recreativo Huelva.
Gijon fans have waited ten years to return to the Spanish top flight but their stay might last for one year only. Asturias have not had a team in the Primera Division since Real Oviedo went down in 2001 and in a league where much of the spice comes from socio-political divisions so characteristic of Spain, a team from Asturias is as much romantic as necessary.
Sporting are La Liga's very own fairytale, La Liga's answer to Serie A's Chievo, another of football's last remaining romantics. And hopefully Sporting’s romantic tale will stretch beyond this season.
Subhankar Mondal, Goal.com