FC Barcelona visit Alavés this Saturday for a Liga fixture that doubles as a dress rehearsal for the Copa del Rey final against the same club. We take a closer look at the club currently ranked twelfth in the league standings.
The club are from the picturesque city of Vitoria (or Gasteiz in Basque), which may not be as large as Bilbao or San Sebastián but is considered the de facto capital of the region because this is where all major political institutions are based. The team itself are named not after the city, but after the province and historical region of Álava (or Araba in Basque).
Although football had been played in the city since the turn of the century, it was not until 1921 that a team called by the English name of Sport Friends opted to form an official society, known from then onwards as Deportivo Alavés.
As well as the self-explanatory ‘El Glorioso’, Alavés are also known as the babazorros, a Basque expression meaning ‘bean-sacks’. Though originally used to mock the people of this region, who would allegedly eat beans with everything, the club now uses the name with pride.
Of the current Liga clubs, only Sporting Gijón and Valencia can claim to have even older grounds than Alavés. Opened in 1924, its name Mendizorroza means ‘sharp-pointed mountain’.
This is Alavés’ fifth spell in the top flight and twelfth Liga season in total, and although they have never won any major honours they are best remembered for one of the most dramatic European nights ever. Liverpool looked to have the 2001 UEFA Cup Final done and dusted with a 3-1 lead at half-time, but the Basques battled back. Jordi Cruyff’s late header settled things at 4-4 to send the game into golden goal extra time, where Delfí Geli’s own goal meant the cup was headed for Merseyside.
Mauricio Pellegrino first came to Europe from his native Argentina in 1998 to play for one season on loan to FC Barcelona during Louis Van Gaal’s first tenure. Not to be confused, of course, with either Manuel Pellegrini or Mauricio Pochettino!
Goalkeeper Adrián Ortolá is currently on loan to the Basque club from Barça B but has only played one game this season, a 0-0 draw in January’s derby with Athletic Club. And regular Alavés right-back Kiko Femenía spent two successful years at Barça from 2011 to 2013.