Remembering the great Deportivo La Coruña of the 90s and early 2000sWhen we think about Spanish football, two names usually come to mind to us: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF. They are by far the biggest teams in Spain, and they have been consistent for the most throughout the league's history, constantly fighting one another for trophies and representing the country in the upper echelons of European football.
In that regard, the third and fourth place are usually rotated, but from time to time you get these teams that manage to challenge Madrid and Barcelona for trophies, thus making things a lot more interesting because things become a lot less obvious. And while all of us can think of several different options and names, today we are going to talk about one that holds a special place in the hearts of old school La Liga fans: Deportivo La Coruña.
Before their rise in the early 90s, the biggest reason Deportivo La Coruña were known to football fans was because they produced Amancio Amaro, who would go on to be extremely successful with Real Madrid in the 1960s, and Luis Suarez, the legendary Spanish player that won the Ballon d'Or and won lots of trophies with Barcelona and Inter Milan. Other than that, they were this small Spanish club that had spent most of its existence in the lower divisions of their country.
Ciudad Deportiva de Riazor - Deportivo La Coruña stadium
The turning point in 1988The turning point, however, was the summer of 1988. They barely avoid relegation the previous season in the second division, and they elected a new president, Augusto César Lendoiro. He was in charge of changing the club's fortunes, and while they finished in 11th place, it was a lot more stable than the previous season, and by 1991 they came back to La Liga for the first time since 1973.
In their first season back in La Liga, they avoided relegation, but, amazingly enough, by the next season, 1992/93, they somehow managed to start fighting for the trophy. In fact, this wasn't a one-time thing; in the following three seasons they finished in third, second and second position, thus showing that they had become one of the strongest teams in the country.
In fact, they were a missed penalty away against Valencia from winning the league in the 1993/94, but that miss ended up handing the title to Barcelona. However, Deportivo La Coruña managed to reward their fans with a trophy in the form of the Copa del Rey in the 1994/95 season, defeating Valencia in a replay of the final at the Real Madrid stadium, the legendary Santiago Bernabeu.
Signing some star playersAfter getting a few new commercial deals in the mid-90s that boosted their budgets, Deportivo revamped their squad with a few more players, including the starlet Rivaldo, which added to the Brazilian spine that the club had enjoyed in recent years with the likes of Mauro Silva and Bebeto, both World Cup winners in 1994.
All these signings and increased budget allowed Deportivo La Coruña to constantly challenge for honors, but there was a piece missing: the right manager. And in 1998 they got the right man from their neighbors Celta de Vigo: Javier Irureta.
The ended up sixth that season, but Irureta was slowly finding the pieces to mold that 4-2-3-1 formation that he deemed the right one for success at the long term. It turns out that the people at Deportivo La Coruña wouldn't have to wait that long as the 1999/2000 season proved to be the most important in the club's history.
Winning La LigaDeportivo La Coruña would win La Liga for the first time in their history, overcoming the odds and finally delivering after years and years of falling short near the finishing line. This was the culmination of years of hard work, of constantly pushing for the club's development, and the reward after so many decisions that the people in charge of Deportivo La Coruña got right to take them from almost getting relegated to the third division in 1988 to win La Liga against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the year 2000.
Afterwards, while Deportivo never won La Liga again, as of this writing, they did finish in second place twice and were a regular part of the UEFA Champions League, with the 2003/04 one being particularly impressive as they reached the semifinals after eliminating two great Juventus and AC Milan teams in the process. They would lose against eventual winners Jose Mourinho's Porto, but it was still an amazing Champions League season for the "Super Depor".
Winning Copa del ReyAnother major success for them was winning the Copa del Rey in 2002 against Real Madrid during their centenary in the Santiago Bernabeu. It was one of those moments that felt like part of a movie: Deportivo going against all odds and defeating the juggernaut in the least likely scenario.
Sadly, the years of spending started to take a toll on the squad, and after Irureta left in 2005, things were never the same again at Deportivo La Coruña. All the quality players started to leave due to the economic issues, and the board failed to replace them properly. It was sad for Deportivo supporters, of course, but it was also very disappointing for neutral fans who saw in this club a fun, free-flowing team that had a lot of charisma and personality.
Deportivo La Coruña was one of the nicest surprises in European football for a long time: they were a small club that did things right to be successful and they managed to do so for a certain period of time. It is a shame that they have fallen down in the pecking order, even getting relegated in the process, but no one is going to forget what this great Deportivo team did for so many years, adding a lot of flavor and excitement to La Liga.
No one is going to forget the "Super Depor".