I love talking to La Liga fans who pull for someone other than the big two. It’s so much more interesting. Today we get to talk to Valladolid fan Martin Devlin and learn how he discovered this club, what they mean to him, and how they can get out of their current predicament. We also talk a little Enes Unal. Enjoy!
1. First, how did you become a Valladolid fan?
I found Real Valladolid, or maybe they found me in 2010. I have been a fan of Spanish football since the 90s and followed Barcelona as many people outside of Spain with an interest in football do. I had seen them play in Clasicos, in Europe and in the league. I had managed to meet all the big name players such as Ronaldinho, Xavi, Messi etc. but I never felt it was the “right” team for me. I watched a Spain Under-21 match one day and was impressed by the goalkeeper, Sergio Asenjo, so I read up about him and found he played for Real Valladolid, a team I was aware of but knew little about.
I was born in a small city called Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, which is famous for such things as being next to Loch Ness and ... not much else. In the summer of 2010, Spain had just been crowned World Champions and Real Valladolid had just been relegated from Primera. Real Valladolid embarked upon a preseason mini-tour of Scotland and were going to base themselves in Dunblane, a town approximately 40 miles outside of the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. They were due to play matches against St. Mirren, Kilmarnock, St. Johnstone and a Celtic reserve side. Shortly before they arrived in Scotland, St. Mirren pulled out of their match and Real Valladolid hastily arranged a match against the local side here, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Keen to see a Spanish side in my own area, I went to the match (which was a drab 0-0 affair) and basically fell in love with the club. I took a Spanish flag with me and it attracted the attention of some of the technical staff who came over to speak to me before the match and I got a mention on their website in the match report. After the match, I met with some of the players who were very down to earth and not at all like the pampered, stand-offish superstars I had met on the Barcelona and Spain sides.
When I got home that night, I found a Real Valladolid fan forum online. I introduced myself and spoke a little bit about the match. The reception was amazing, lots of people welcomed me and suggested I should become their new Scottish fan, so I did! People began to send me scarves, flags and stickers and made me feel like one of them straight away. The interest grew from there and I have been so lucky to meet many wonderful fans, to make connections and to find friends for life. My website, Pucela Escocia, and my Twitter account is my way of growing awareness of the club to people who might not know much about them and to repay some of the kindness they have shown me.
Editor’s note: I love that he casually name drops a few of the best footballers of the last 20 years then even more casually calls them ‘stand-offish’. Also love the early days Asenjo reference!
2. Last year, Valladolid was a scrappy, defensive, mid table side. So far this year the wheels seem to have come off. What went wrong?
Last year could have been a lot worse, had it not been for the emergence of Mohammed Salisu in defence. He replaced Fernando Calero who moved to Espanyol in the summer of 2019, and Salisu made his first ever start in LaLiga in the opening match of the 2019-20 season. He looked like a veteran player from the outset and his performances - along with the magnificent Kiko Olivas - in central defence meant that Real Valladolid could grind out results despite not scoring many goals. With Salisu leaving for Southampton this off-season, their frailties have been exposed. Goalscoring (or lack of!) remains a huge problem and they have been very unlucky with injuries to players in their defence. Kiko Olivas suffered a long-term injury at the end of last season and is not expected back until Spring of 2021, Javi Sánchez (who is essentially stepping into the Salisu role) has been in and out of the side with injuries, Joaquín Fernández - who was a huge bright spot last season - was injured in the second match of the season along with now-departed captain Javi Moyano. They have brought in Bruno González, Luis Pérez, Yawad El Yamiq and Saidy Janko over the summer to play in defence but they have all been relatively sub-par with the exception of Janko who only played once - the previous match against Alavés before injuring himself and is set to be out for three weeks. With nine new signings, the team has not gelled into a cohesive unit and the lack of firepower upfront is even more concerning now that the defence is not there to mask those deficiencies.
3. When I think of Valladolid, I can’t help but immediately think about the owner: Ronaldo Nazario. As a fan, what are your feelings about this particular icon owning the club?
Ronaldo’s purchase of the club was surprising to say the least. I was excited by his arrival, especially given his connection to Barcelona and - in particular - Real Madrid and I had visions of talented, young players from both clubs being given their chance to play top-flight football while on loan at Real Valladolid. In truth, however, his impact has been far less tangible. There have been some renovations to the José Zorrilla stadium and the outlying facilities used by the B-team, the Promesas, as well as plans for a “sporting village” to be developed in order to foster and nurture up and coming players. Ronaldo has a long-term plan and, as unsatisfying as that sounds, it means he is committed to the club and building the project within its means. Despite his notoriety and wealth, there is no “magic wand” that the Brazilian will be waving any time soon. Last season’s 13th-placed finish is an improvement on the year before but this season’s slow start is gravely concerning for everyone connected with the club as relegation would be catastrophic for their ambitions.
Editor’s note: As a Villarreal fan, a lot of this resonates with me. Having the powerful owner is great in a lot of ways but building within the club’s means is the only way to have sustainable success.
4. Since 1980, Valladolid has spent all but ten years in the top flight. What changes need to happen for them to continue at the top level next year?
If we can consolidate our place as a Primera side for another year, it adds momentum to the project and will hopefully allow us to attract some more quality players in the future. Traditionally, Real Valladolid are a club who operate heavily in the loan market or sign players for small fees. However, for me, the crux of the matter is the lack of goals and this needs to be addressed. The signing of Shon Weissman, an Israeli who was the top scorer in Austria’s Bundesliga last season, came with a lot of expectation but he has yet to find the net and there is no-one around him who looks capable of providing a reasonable amount of goals. With the defensive issues I alluded to earlier, winning 1-0 or drawing 1-1 is not going to cut it this year. There needs to be greater offensive production to make up for the drop off in defensive security. A key factor for us is to beat the sides around us, they are the bread and butter games. Our season will not be determined on how we compete with the elite level sides in the league, but it is imperative to start collecting points against those closest to us.
5. Enes Unal spent last season on loan at Valladolid from Villarreal. What were your thoughts on him as a player?
I may perhaps be in the minority here, but I really liked Enes Ünal. He spent two seasons on loan at the club and in the first one he had the unenviable task of filling the place left by Jaime Mata who left for Getafe after hauling Real Valladolid to promotion from Segunda. Mata scored for fun in the lower league, and Enes was asked to come in and try and replace him against a better calibre of opposition. He managed six goals in 33 league appearances and was roundly criticised by many sections of the support, which I felt was unfair. He returned to Villarreal that summer, but was then loaned out again. He bagged six again, this time in 35 league games, and scored a handful in the Copa del Rey. What impressed me most about Enes was his selfless work ethic and the amount of ground he covered for the good of the team. He seemed to cover every square inch of the pitch and was not afraid to rack back deep and make a tackle, or to pressure opposition players into making mistakes. He was a very dedicated player for us, and I was sad to see him leave again. I wish him all the very best at Getafe where he and Mata will team up and no doubt score against us in both fixtures!!
6. Who are the players in the current side Villarreal fans should be keeping an eye on in our upcoming match?
Villarreal would do well to keep tabs on Rubén Alcaraz, an accomplished midfielder and one of my favourite players in the side. He is another player who has struggled with injuries this season and his absence was keenly felt in the matches he missed. Now that he is back, I hope he regains his full form. He is composed in possession and a good passer of the ball. He can also strike a very good freekick. Aside from him, I don’t see too many of our players causing Villarreal problems. Fabián Orellana has not really hit his stride yet, but will be dangerous when he does but the squad is so disjointed at the moment that it is anybody’s guess when things will start to click into place. I really hope it is soon!
7. What makes Valladolid unique as a club?
Apart from their colours... probably the pride that the fans have in them despite not having won a major trophy since 1984, the now-defunct Copa de la Liga. Being relatively close to Madrid, some people in the city opt to support one of the two big sides from the capital as well as Barcelona, but Real Valladolid has some extremely passionate and loyal fans who support the side unconditionally. It’s like a family.
Statistically, Real Valladolid are also the 13th most successful in terms of league points gained. We also own the title of scorers of the fastest goal in LaLiga history, that honour went to Joseba Llorente who scored after just seven seconds at home to Espanyol in 2008. And we have a fox with a sword as a mascot! How can you not love that?!
8. Score prediction for the match?
I can see us struggling to score again and losing 3-0. It pains me to admit it, but I have seen very little so far this season to fill me with any confidence. The first win of the season will come, but I don’t think it will be this week.
I just want to thank Marti for sitting down with us, I really enjoyed the closer look at a really special club in La Liga, and I wish them all the best in all but two of their league matches this season!