Sevilla’s sixth Europa League triumph in a thrilling final over Inter ensured a Spanish side won one of Europe’s two major competitions for the 10th time in 12 seasons, even in a lean year for La Liga giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Inter were favourites to end Italy’s decade without a major European prize since they won the Champions League in 2010.
But despite amassing almost an entirely new team over the past year with annual revenues of 230 million euros ($271 million) less than the Nerazzurri, Sevilla’s capacity to upset the odds in the Europa League came through once more in a memorable 3-2 victory in Cologne.
All six of Sevilla’s titles in the competition have come in the past 15 years as the mastery of sporting director Monchi in the transfer market and an unshakable belief despite the annual churn of players and a high turnover of coaches has allowed the Andalusians to form a fearsome foursome from La Liga in European competitions.
“Never give up is written on our hearts,” said Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui, himself in his first season with the club.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have each won four Champions Leagues and Atletico three Europa Leagues, alongside two Champions League finals appearances, in the past 15 years as Spanish clubs have swept up 17 of the last 29 major European trophies.
But Sevilla’s success is the most striking without the financial muscle of Barca and Madrid or the stability Atletico have enjoyed in the eight years since Diego Simeone’s arrival as coach.
Victory over Inter continued an incredible record of La Liga clubs against non-Spanish opponents in UEFA finals, with 15 consecutive wins stretching back to 2001.
Sevilla have contributed five of them with their only win over a domestic opponent coming against Espanyol in 2007.
Navas comes full circle
The lone survivor from that side, Jesus Navas, proudly lifted the trophy as captain in Cologne on Friday night.
Also in his second spell at the club, Navas is a perfect illustration of how Sevilla punch above their weight.
A product of the club’s youth academy, the winger won two Europa Leagues and was part of the side that has come closest to winning La Liga over the past two decades in 2006/07.
As with most of Sevilla’s stars he was sold on, moving to Manchester City for £15 million in 2013, where he never reached the same heights and was derided for his delivery from wide areas.
He returned to Sevilla on a free transfer three years ago and has earned a recall to the Spanish national team thanks to his performances as a right-back.
Despite his deeper position, Navas set up Luuk de Jong’s winner against Manchester United in the semi-finals and provided the cross for the first of the Dutchman’s double against Inter.
De Jong himself was discarded by Newcastle and Borussia Monchengladbach before arriving in Andalusia for 12.5 million euros last summer.
Ever Banega ran the game in his final game against his former club who let the Argentine return to Sevilla after one season at the San Siro.
“The philosophy of the club is to try to be close to the player, to help the person and not just the footballer adapt as quickly as possible,” Monchi told AFP of the secrets to Sevilla’s success. “The quicker they adapt, the quicker they can develop their talent.”
A fourth-place finish in La Liga had already guaranteed a return to the Champions League next season, where they have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals.
Monchi admitted that is the “next goal” as they seek inspiration from Lyon and Leipzig’s run to the last four this season.
But it is the Europa League where they feel most at home. As the slogan emblazoned on Sevilla’s dressing room wall on Friday read: “No one wants it like us.” And they tend to get what they want.