Yesterday’s 1-0 home defeat to Villarreal leaves Real Sociedad glued to the bottom of La Liga’s twenty club table and there’s no doubt in the mind of the Guardian’s Sid Lowe that ” la Real are struggling because they are just not that good.”
There’s no Patxaran or pinchos here, no tasty tucker nailed on to a piece of bread with a strategically-placed and potentially lethal cocktail stick, because El Bar Antiguo is closed until further notice. And, let’s face it, is likely to be closed for some time. The reason is simple: the sign on the door reads: “This establishment will remain shut until la Real [Sociedad] win two consecutive games,” and that’s a pretty big ask. In fact, forget two successive games, winning one is a pretty bloody big ask right now. Because right now Real Sociedad are rubbish.
La Real have not won two successive games for over a year; they have not even won two successive halves all season. Back in August, when blind optimism still hadn’t given way to bitter truth, coach and sporting director JosÃ© MarÃa Bakero insisted that the aim was a European place and the Copa del Rey. Two months later, they have been stuffed 4-1 by Second Division MÃ¡laga in the Cup, gunned down by fighter-jet flying former Bolton striker Salva Ballesta, and have suffered the joint worst start in the club’s league history. Bottom of the table with just two points, they are the only side to have failed to pick up a single victory in eight matches. Small wonder Bakero is now the ex-coach and ex-sporting director – the first managerial casualty of the season; a man who, as one local columnist put it, “signed badly and coached worse”.
The last time la Real started a season this badly was under metaphor-mangling manager John Benjamin Toshack just six years ago, at the beginning of the 2000-01 season, and relegation battles are nothing new in San SebastiÃ¡n. While la Real were runners up in 2002-03, they had finished 13th in each of the previous three seasons and ended up 15th, 14th and 16th in each of the three seasons since. The surprise was that la Real got so close in 2002-03, not that they have struggled since; that season was a freak in which everything clicked perfectly under a coach who would be gone within a year. In which la Real massively over-achieved, when Sander Westerveld had the safest hands in Spanish soccer with his penalty-saving antics, when Xabi Alonso was the country’s best young central midfielder, when Valeri Karpin and Javier De Pedro provided cross after cross from the wings and when Nihat Kahveci and Darko Kovacevic both scored over 20 league goals.
Since then, Alonso has gone, Westerveld has gone, De Pedro has gone (in so many ways), Karpin has retired, Nihat has suffered a string of injuries and been hawked around half of Europe before finally being moved on this summer, and Kovacevic has failed to get into double figures. La Real are over ‚¬30m in debt, have a stadium with a running track that creates little atmosphere, there are cliques within the squad and no stability at the club with president Miguel Fuentes getting through three coaches last season alone.