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Deportivo La Coruna’s extraordinary European night

AC Milan comeback gives Barca hope but Depor have dropped dramatically since then

Gulf News

As we know, Barcelona head into Wednesday night’s Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain looking to do the near impossible — overturn a 4-0 loss.

Though it’s unlikely, they only need to look to Deportivo La Coruna for a precedent and inspiration. Back in 2004, the Galicians were given no hope against holders AC Milan after losing 4-1 in the first leg of their quarter-final in Italy.

Despite being the most lengthy underdogs that the competition has ever known, the hosts raced into a deserved 3-0 half-time lead in the second leg through Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque. The comeback was completed when Fran stroked home via a deflection on 76 minutes.

It was, by a distance, their best and most important win and performance of the season.

The result sent shock waves around Europe for it was the first time that any team had come back from a three-goal deficit. All the more impressive when you consider that Milan had the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Shevchenko, Cafu, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka, Rino Gattuso and Filippo Inzhagi playing for them.

But what of Depor? What happened to the club that hit the highest of highs but are now struggling at the wrong end of the La Liga table on 23 points and with only one win in their last 12 games? The club that while Barca play prime time in the Champions League will have just completed their La Liga match against Real Betis — a game shunted to an earlier kick-off because of the big one.

Depor’s fall from grace began almost as soon as their European adventure came to an end, with results and the form of key individuals to blame.

Wages were becoming a problem, leading to president Augusto Cesar Lendoiro changing the fiscal policy at the club which, in turn, led to star players leaving for a financial upgrade elsewhere.

Slowly but surely, Depor began their slide down the top flight and there was a sense of inevitability that relegation wouldn’t be too far in coming.

That they managed to stay in La Liga until 2011 is a mini success story in itself, however when the reality finally hit home, it was devastating for Los Blanquiazules.

Though they rallied themselves and managed to come straight back up again for the start of the 2012/13 season, things behind the scenes were still just as gloomy as they had ever been.

In early 2013, the club were put into administration and Depor even filed for bankruptcy protection. Another relegation followed, the club employing three different managers without success.

Not good enough for La Liga but too good for the Segunda (Second) Division, Depor came up at the first time of asking again.

Since then, there seems to have been an almost endless stream of ‘fire fighting’ by managers and staff. Once again, players who could bring the club success — such as Lucas Perez — have been sold.

Sold because new president Constantino Fernandez Pico is finding balancing the books and the needs of the squad as difficult as Lendoiro did.

Now, bereft and virtually hopeless, the club have employed Pepe Mel to perform the circus act of keeping them where they belong and to hopefully build from the bottom up again.

Coming in with a fresh pair of eyes has clearly paid dividends as a battling draw vs Atletico Madrid and a win at Sporting Gijon has proved.

Mel provides a calming presence and an experienced head, and a relegation battle, should it turn into one, won’t faze him. That’s arguably why the club turned to him, letting Gaizka Garitano go in the process.

Supporters who were initially underwhelmed by his appointment have changed their minds in 180 short minutes, and his players are right behind him. If they don’t stay up, it won’t be for the want of trying.

Confidence is back and everyone is starting to pull in the right direction again, and though it might be an almost impossible task to keep them up, Depor have defied the odds before.

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