There is a bit of Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo to be found at many of Europe’s most famous footballing institutions. Ivan Rakitic has been deemed the heir to arguably the greatest midfielder of the modern era at Barcelona. Jesus Navas now flies down the wing for Manchester City. Meanwhile, few players were as influential as Sergio Ramos in helping Real Madrid secure La Decima.
Navas and Ramos are graduates of the Sevilla cantera, the youth academy overseen by a sporting director more commonly known as "Monchi." The 46-year-old is the most important figure in the rise of the Andalusian club from the Spanish second tier to the country’s elite. Rakitic is one of his most successful signings, having been sold in June for more than seven times the 2.5 million euros paid to acquire him from Schalke three-and-a-half years earlier.
Monchi was a goalkeeper for Sevilla for 10 seasons before moving upstairs to direct the club’s football operations shortly after his retirement in 2000. Los Rojiblancos returned to the top flight in 2001 under the management of Joaquin Caparros, and have never finished below 10th place in La Liga since. Many believe they should have won the title in 2006-07, but victorious runs in the Copa del Rey and UEFA Cup made for a long season and they ended the campaign five points behind Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Rakitic is following in the footsteps of the likes of Seydou Keita, Adriano and Dani Alves, perhaps the greatest of all of Monchi’s hits in nearly 15 years of work at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. Alves arrived in Europe to sign for Sevilla from Bahia, of Brazil, for no more than €1 million back in 2002. Six years later, Barcelona bought him for €30 million.
Fast forward to 2014 and Monchi is still finding rough diamonds to polish and sell at a profit that keeps Sevilla afloat. A year ago, Sevilla sold Navas, Luis Alberto, Alvaro Negredo, Gary Medel and Geoffrey Kondogbia for a return of around €85 million and promptly won the Europa League while marching to fifth place in La Liga, its best finish since the 2010-11 season. This summer, Rakitic, Alberto Moreno and Federico Fazio left for another €42 million and after eight games Unai Emery’s side is second, a point ahead of Real Madrid and three behind leader Barcelona.
Stephane Mbia (a free transfer from QPR) and Grzegorz Krychowiak (€4.5 million from Reims) have formed a formidable partnership in central midfield and the goals continue to flow for Carlos Bacca, a €7 million signing from Club Brugge on whom Sevilla could double its money tomorrow. English Championship side Reading could not find a place for Daniel Carrico in their team; the €2 million center back has missed only one league game this season in Spain.
It has not always been this good, of course. The back-to-back UEFA Cup victories under Juande Ramos were followed by a couple of years of relative stability under Manolo Jimenez before Sevilla descended into free fall at the back end of the 2009-10 season. Jimenez lost his job, his assistant Antonio Alvarez did not last long as his replacement and suddenly a club that had stuck with three coaches through a decade had seen four come through the door in less than a third of that time. Coaching was not the only problem; Sevilla had not effectively rebuilt a team that relied upon Alves and the ageing Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano. Monchi seemed to have lost his touch.
Gradually, the likes of Negredo, Fazio and Gary Medel improved and Monchi delved back into the bargain bin to turn quick profits on Kondogbia, Martin Caceres and Diego Lopez, among others. In Unai Emery, it has finally found a coach to mould it all together again, and one who grew used to coping with the loss of his best players at Valencia.
Monchi's contractual situation at Sevilla is a bit hazy. His current deal expires in 2016, but it is unclear whether his contract contains an escape clause to join a bigger club. What is for certain is that last term's Europa League triumph has put him firmly back in the spotlight.
The possibility of one of Europe’s richest clubs tempting him away from Sevilla continues to linger. Most frequently, it has been suggested he could follow that well-trodden path to Catalonia, perhaps as part of Agusti Benedito’s bid to become Barcelona president in 2016. Benedito earned only 14 percent of the vote when Sandro Rosell was elected with a clear majority in 2010, but Rosell’s departure in the aftermath of Neymar’s controversial transfer and hotly contested plans to redevelop Camp Nou may complicate matters.
Zenit St Petersburg is believed to have made an unsuccessful approach, while Tottenham has distanced themselves from claims Monchi could replace the under-pressure Franco Baldini. Mundo Deportivo reported Monchi had travelled to Munich to see Pep Guardiola, but Sevilla insists no such meeting ever took place. “I’m going to be at Sevilla for as long as they want me,” Monchi told Canal Sur last week. “I’m more Sevillista than I am a sporting director and that has been the case throughout my time here.”
Next summer promises to be another testing one for president Jose Castro. The players will continue to come and go, but Sevilla will be more concerned with keeping a tight hold on the man who may be more valuable than them all.