Perhaps you think of Sevilla Fútbol Club as one of the top teams in Spain. This may be due to the fact that since the millennium, Sevilla have almost always competed in Europe (including a run of 15 consecutive years). But they haven’t always been the successful, European dominant team they have been in recent years. All great teams have that one talisman who they can pin a period of success to. Primarily a great player or coach. Sometimes even a great player who then becomes coach. But for Sevilla, the most successful period in their 130-year history is thanks to a bang average former goalkeeper turned sporting director. Ramón Rodriguez Verdejo, also known as Monchi. 

PLAYING CAREER

Monchi born in San Fernando, Cadiz, not far from the city of Seville. Spent his whole career at Sevilla. Making 41 appearances for their B team before being promoted to the first team, 109 games are all Monchi managed to play over 9 years with the first team.

Rock bottom was hit in September 1997 when Monchi was lobbed. A lob which dumped his club out the Copa del Rey via minnows Isla Cristina. The fans were so furious with their keeper, he had to be smuggled out the ground by the kitman into the back of a van. He missed the next two games as the coach decided to not give him his usual place on the bench, keeping him out the fire line of the furious fans.

Monchi may have not played as much as other one-club players, but his loyalty was never in question. On his debut, which he had waited anxiously to make, he broke his finger in the first minute against Real Sociedad, an injury still visible today. He was part of a footballing generation that saw some great players ending and starting their careers in Sevilla. Diego Maradona arrived in 1992 just after the meltdown at Napoli. Maradona only spent a year in Andalusia but became great friends with Monchi. The friendship began with early morning walks together, so that Diego could avoid the crowds. Monchi used to wear a fake Rolex, and when Maradona discovered this, he bought his friend a brand new Cartier.

Another Argentinian Diego, Simeone, arrived in 1992, aged 22 at the time, and had a fantastic two years with Sevilla, earning him a transfer to Atletico Madrid. Perhaps the most successful teammate of Monchi, Davor Šuker spent 5 years scoring 76 goals before heading to Real Madrid. So Monchi was used to players coming and going, something he would later implement into his work as sporting director. Every player can be sold and replaced.

PROMOTION

When Monchi was hired as sporting director, the club found themselves having just been relegated. They were now playing in the Spanish second division, something back then that wasn’t as alien as it would be now. Sevilla were a club that often flirted with relegation. They bounced straight back from the Segunda without spending a cent. Joaquin Caparros was the coach credited with the promotion, as well as the 4 top half La Liga finishes that followed promotion. Footings that Monchi positioned in these early seasons would really come to fruition in the 5th season when they lifted the UEFA Cup for the first time.

Back in the year 2000, Monchi, who studied law during his playing career, was given two main objectives. With the club just relegated, sporting performance wasn’t the only brewing problem. The club had huge debts and were at a huge risk of going bust. Monchi was tasked with not only improving the youth system but also setting up an enormous scouting network that covered Spain, as well as foreign waters. The club wanted him to maximize profits, essentially the job that’s asked of all sporting directors. Monchi managed this, making over €400m profit, through sales of players from the youth system and those signed via the scouting network. Amazingly he also delivering outstanding on-pitch results and trophies. El Lobo de Sevilla – the Wolf of Seville was born.

TRANSFERS TO TROPHIES

In the 115 years before 2005, Sevilla had won only four major titles. None in 57 years. In the 14 years since they’ve won nine major titles and lost a further 9 finals. Sergio Ramos, Jesús Navas, Alberto Moreno, Jose Antonio Reyes and Luis Alberto were all part of Sevilla’s new-look youth system and we’re promoted under Monchi, and later sold by him, making around €100m, but also helping shape some of those great Sevilla teams that were so successful. 

Fernando Llorente, Adil Rami, Timothée Kolodziejczak, Júlio Baptista, Dani Alves, Álvaro Negredo, Ivan Rakitić, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Carlos Bacca, Kevin Gameiro, Clément Lenglet, Christian Poulsen, Steven Nzonzi, Vicente Iborra, Aleix Vidal, Martin Cáceres, Vitolo, Federico Fazio, Luís Fabiano, Adriano, Seydou Keita, Gary Medel, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Yehven Konoplyanka, Alexander Kerzhakov. The list of 25 players above, cost Sevilla a combined total of €116m. Their sales totalled a staggering €477m when they eventually all moved on. 

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Monchi created an extensive scouting network, with over 700 scouts closely monitoring players. He developed a modern database of players, a huge spreadsheet essentially. This contained data measures such as sprints per game, range of passing, positional discipline. Practically, it is what can now be found on the many sport data applications and software. This was just 20 years ahead of them and data like this was not evident without thorough examinations from the scouts. The scouts, depending on what area/league they were monitoring would compile an ideal monthly 11 players who would consistently score highly in the specific qualities, and then these 11 would be monitored even more closely.

The spreadsheet system also allowed the club to be able to quickly find players in areas they needed. For example, if the manager thought he needed a right-footed full-back, who was good at defending but could run a 50-metre sprint in under 7 seconds, the spreadsheet would be used to narrow down the search for candidates. Then Monchi would start plotting his plan to clinch the transfer.

THE CITY

I have talked about Sevilla’s lack of major success before Monchi and also how they couldn’t compete with the major players in Spain, so how was Monchi able to persuade all these great players to sign? The city. If you haven’t visited Seville, get it on your list. Beautiful Moorish architecture around every corner, narrow streets where you don’t just get lost yourself, but lose many an hour just strolling around them in admiration. All of this under desert-like sunshine,  heat that is felt pretty much all year round. 

Monchi would sell the city this way, however, it’s also got this amazing football-crazy feel that so many cities in Europe have. Seville is different in this way as there are two major clubs in the city, Sevilla and Real Betis. They have a fearsome but at most friendly rivalry which is summed up excellently in the book ‘The Frying Pan of Spain’, by Colin Millar. The players signed would all have to buy into the passion of the Sevilla fans, remembering Monchi was a member and fan of the club. It was this passion that would drive the players to excel.

PRICELESS SIGNINGS 

Frédéric Kanouté, signed for a very questionable €6.5m, due to his 19 goals in three seasons in the Premier League at Tottenham, turned into one of Monchis most priceless purchases. Kanouté netted 136 goals over 7 seasons in Seville, their record non-Spanish scorer. Fundamentally this was thanks to Kanouté really buying into the club’s ethos and the city. Kanouté not only helped deliver the trophies for his club with his goals. He also paid €500k of his own money to buy the only mosque in Seville, due to the private premises being listed for sale, allowing him and fellow Muslims to carry on to honour their faith.

Enzo Maresca signed from Juventus for €2.5m, the man of the match in the 2006 UEFA Cup final demolition of Middlesbrough, scoring 2 goals in the 4-0 win. If that wasn’t enough to make him a favourite with the fans, the €10k prize money for his award he donated to the cities San Juan de Dios hospital. Renato, the Brazilian midfielder, signed for free made 282 first-team appearances. Andrés Palop became Sevilla’s number 1, another free transfer and he kept guard of the Sevilla goal, barely missing a game for 8 years, winning 6 trophies.

The fearsome Javi Navarro, big, tough, no-nonsense centre half was another free transfer who spent 8 seasons in the heart of defence before retiring through injury. Julien Escudé was another regular during the trophy-laden years, signed for €1.5m. After less than a year in the city, Escudé claimed it was ”like going to war” when facing Real Betis in the derby. All the players mentioned in this paragraph, the control centre of the success Sevilla were enjoying, left on free transfers. Apart from Maresca who left for €1.5m. They had joined for next to nothing and moved on almost a decade later for similar values having enjoyed unprecedented success at the club, winning the hearts of the fans, all while becoming fans of the club themselves. It wasn’t all about making profits for Monchi.

A CHANGING MARKET

They didn’t all work out. Arouna Koné was his most expensive signing, only scored 2 in 41. Later he signed for Levante and scored 17 in a season. This proved his scouting worked, but it just wasn’t a good fit. Similarly, Yevhen Konoplyanka signed with everyone knowing his qualities, but it’s believed he just never settled in the city and couldn’t get away quick enough. Money was wasted on players like Javier Chevantón and Aquivaldo Mosquera, both who flopped and were moved on at a loss. However, another major trait of Monchi is how amazing he can reinvent his model to correspond with the current climate. So as quick as dark days descend, Monchi would no doubt have another route to the light.

In 2014, Monchi admitted that the club had endured two disastrous seasons, which left the previously money-savvy club in €22m worth of debt. This was partly thanks to the European Union clamping down on football clubs avoiding tax while also building up massive debts and taking on investment projects beyond their means. Monchi also had to deal with the fact Sevilla had made a bit of a name for themselves. The recent successes and their previous intelligent selling had in turn seen clubs asking for more money when Sevilla came calling for their players. It was back to the tried and tested, signing young players, who seemed to be in a bit of stutter in their career. Developing them, while winning, then moving them on for profits.

BUY, SELL AND KEEP WINNING

The UEFA Cup, now known as the Europa League was won, by the same team, three years in a row from the seasons of 2013/14-2015/16. No team had achieved this since Bayern Munich (74-76), when they also won three consecutive European titles, directly after Ajax had also just completed the same feat. Sevilla were the team who managed this, an achievement that cements their name with the European elites forever. In 2014 they beat Benfica on penalties in the final. That following summer Ivan Rakitić who was club captain and had spent three years at the club, was sold to Barcelona making another €17.5m profit. In addition, Alberto Moreno joined Liverpool for around €16m after progressing from Sevilla’s youth system at the start of the season. Monchi however, can’t take the full credit on the Rakitić signing. When flown over to the city to discuss the potential of signing for Sevilla, Rakitić took to his hotel bar on the evening after talks, to mull over the decision. He ordered a drink from the bar, the barmaid who served him, he took a liking too. Raquel Mauri was her name.. She is now married to Ivan Rakitić after they met that night. He signed for Sevilla the next morning.

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In 2015 Sevilla became the competition’s most successful side as they won it for the fourth time beating Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. That following summer Bacca who bagged a brace in the final moved AC Milan (€27m). Right-back Aleix Vidal was signed by Barcelona (€15m).

Unbelievably in 2016 Sevilla would lift the trophy for a third time in a row, demolishing Liverpool 3-1. Ever Banega went to Inter. Grzegorz Krychowiak To PSG. Atletico Madrid signed Carlos Bacca’s replacement Kevin Gameiro and Coke, who scored two in the final signed for Schalke.

WHY DON’T OTHER CLUBS COPY?

Success in the cups was the priority over league positions, and this would motivate the players as well as attract new ones. Newcastle United tried something similar to what Monchi created, only to make the club money as the preference. They had head scout Graham Carr scavenge through the transfer market, picking out some real gems along the way. However, they were all signed for the reason of making a profit. Stay in the Premier League was and still is the only objective of (current) owner Mike Ashley. These players would be signed, with no relevance to the team, meaning at times the squad would lack in attack but be overindulged in defenders. Also, they would be sold at a maximum profit without a replacement ready, no matter their importance to the team, with the profits from these players rarely being reinvested in the team. Taking every player has a price to a negative angle compared to that of Monchis model. It goes a long way to explain Newcastle’s two relegations under Mike Ashley’s ownership.

Some teams don’t have to be savvy with their funds, but nonetheless, they still make huge mistakes in the transfer market. Manchester United in recent years have spent ridiculous amounts of money, for the players to flop or never reach their potential; Memphis Depay (£30m), Angel Di Maria (£60m), Romelu Lukaku (£76m), Alexis Sanchez (£30m) for example, signed by Manchester United but just never fitted into the team. In the end, some have gone on to fulfil their potential elsewhere which is lucky for the players. However, Manchester United lost around half of their investments in these signings without taking into account the money squandered on their wages. This is all part of the ladder to which Monchi works upon, as these are the clubs who will buy the players he signs on the cheap. Monchi loves the English market in terms of selling. Buying, on the other hand, has never added up for him in regards to the inflamed prices on English players.

As well as turning over a lot of players Manchester United have also become a bit of a managerial revolving door, with managers departing and arriving almost annually. Managers are also something Monchi managed to nail in Seville. Unai Emery and Juande Ramos, the two most successful and both have found it hard to succeed at jobs outside of Seville. As Monchi made them also buy into the Sevilla ethos, as well as allowing the pressure of week to week consistency to be lifted as long as the cups were taken seriously. Success brings happiness.

WHEN IN ROME

It was inevitable that Monchi would one day move on from Sevilla, so in 2017 he headed to Rome. AS Roma appointed him as director of football, looking at him to awaken the sleeping giant and finally topple Juventus’ domestic domination. Italian football sounds like a perfect match for Monchi; with fans in Italy so loyal to their club, this transforms onto the pitch, meaning the players play with their heart on their sleeves. Loyalty is a huge part of Italian football, none more so than in the capital. AS Roma, with players like Totti who never left the club, are famous for having players who spend numerous year’s at the club, almost unsellable you could say. Monchi was first tasked with persuading Totti to call it a day on his playing career and his 25 years as a player. 756 matches and 307 goals later, he joined Monchi upstairs. 

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Although Monchi had already parted ways with Roma by the time De Rossi unexpectedly left after 18 seasons, you wonder if he had a part to play in the decision, as it was reported De Rossi was offered a pay as you play deal in the months before leaving. Since leaving Roma, Monchi claimed one of the reasons it all went sour was the impact of the high quantity of injuries that struck the squad. Monchi claims they cost the team around 20 million, due to players not playing and being paid. Financially he wasn’t as crafty as he was in his home city, the club regretted the sale of Salah to Liverpool which seems like a bargain now. Rüdiger was also sold to the Premier League, Monchi’s favourite market was using him to find bargains. 

Reports recently claimed he turned down the option to sign wonder-kid Erling Braut Håland while at Roma. In the end, he was told to leave along with the manager, Eusebio Di Francesco. Monchi has said after the break up that it was due to him and the President, James Pallotta wanting to take the club in opposite directions. It is worth noting, however, that AS Roma during Monchi’s time reached their first Champions League semi-final since 1984.

Monchi has managed to mix the modern business of football, all while capturing the romance of the game, delivering trophies all at the same time. His time in Rome never really took off but neither was it allowed to grow. He’s back in Seville now and I wouldn’t bet against Sevilla rising to Europes summit again in the coming years. In the era of the sporting directors, Monchi has to be up there with the greatest in this field, making an enormous impact on modern football and putting Sevilla Fútbol Club on the map forever.