Spanish Debate: What's Wrong With Betis?

Ewan Macdonald looks at Betis' dreadful start to the season and asks whether or not the Andalucians could be in for the drop...
With six matchdays behind us there are just two sides without a win in the Liga. One, Osasuna, this week became the first club to part with their manager as Cuco Ziganda was ousted in favour of José Antonio Camacho.

The other, Real Betis, have apparently issued Paco Chaparro with an ultimatum as they sit rooted to the foot of the table with two points from a possible eighteen.

Osasuna, with all due respect, are not of the same stature, yet even they have seen fit to sack a boss while Betis limp along in last place. Few would argue that the Béticos are one of Spain's bigger clubs. Their support is not confined the Andalucia, where their crowds still rival those of Sevilla despite their city rivals being in the midst of their best ever decade, and Betis at one of their poorer ones.

But in fact Betis' start to this season is no massive shock. Chaparro, one must remember, was originally given the job back in Spring 2007 with the goal of rescuing the verdiblancos from relegation: something he managed at the very last minute. The 2007-08 season, meanwhile, saw Betis safe with a few weeks left to go, but they were nothing if not lower-half fodder for the whole season.

What, then, is wrong with this club?


The fact is that for years now Betis has been something at a drama bomb, and the irony of ironies is that we actually catch them at one of their more sedate moments.

Since arriving back in the top flight in 2001, Betis have done it all: top half finishes, Champions League places... and then, in the last three seasons, lower-half battles. And what's characterised recent years is a merry-go-round of managers. Chaparro may have been given all of last year, but when he took over he was the third manager that season alone, Luis Fernández and Javier Irureta (or Iruretagoyena to his parents) having fallen foul of CEO Manuel Ruiz de Lopera.

Then there was the playing staff, which seems to get weaker with each euro spent. There's no shortage of big names, but there is a shortage of form. From David Odonkor through to Mark González and out past Rafael Sobis, the club spends big but finds little by way of return. All too often these players are in and out of the line-up, which hardly helps.And I need not even remark on Denilson...

But we must come back to a name mention in passing earlier: Ruiz de Lopera. Politely known as a "colourful" character, the Córdoba-born businessman seeps controversy from every pore. He is no longer president - he's "just" the CEO now - but reminders of his reign are everywhere you look. In a show of modesty typical of Spanish football presidents, he named the club's stadium after himself, but it would be unfair to say that he doesn't garner support from at least some of the fanbase.

Such support remained even as Betis, who were for a stage riven with improbable levels of debt, were disgraced by Lopera's courtroom wranglings. Allegations of his siphoning off club funds, meanwhile, never quite seem to go away. Yet through it all he has spent transfer funds, and spent them big. The squad remains prominent. The fanbase remains large. But the results don't come.

Grand Designs

From an outsider's perspective I must ask why this is. The fact that the Ruiz de Lopera is a bit of a wreck is symbolic. Betis' reach exceeds their grasp; their expenditure always has a hint of desperation about it; their size, perversely, condemns them to over-optimism.

Each summer they seemingly must have at least one international star, even if it's one who isn't necessarily right for the team. Denilson and Sobis are the textbook examples, but one imagines that there will be more to come. Meanwhile the performances tend to grow ever more disjointed as square pegs are forced into round holes.

The odd thing is that Betis has a pretty decent youth structure - first teamers Arzu, Rivas, Capi, Juande, and of course captain Juanito all came through the Bético ranks. Perhaps if they can focus their transfer expenditure a bit more carefully, and maybe direct a few more funds towards the youngsters, the team will lift itself. After all, Andalucian clubs - not least Betis - are known for their passion. Local boys exhibit that more than anyone.

But one wonders how this can happen with the current, big-talking CEO at the helm. Maybe only relegation can bring him to his senses both on and off the pitch...

Ewan Macdonald,