Profiles - Sergio (2)

The best news for Sergio in the summer of 2005 was his return to the Spanish team during a 2-0 friendly-win against Uruguay in Gijón. But at the same time it would be the last time he wore the Spanish tricot. He was later picked for the squad against Serbia, but the competition of players like Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Ivan de la Peña was fatal for the Catalan player of Deportivo. Sergio was almost 29-years old and now definitely had to do it without Mauro Silva, who had said farewell to football after 13 years at Deportivo. Sergio and Duscher, who already had joined forces in many matches recently, were now supposed to handle Deportivo’s midfield and they were accompanied by new-signing Julian De Guzmán while ‘Toro’ Acuña also still was at the club. Despite all the rumours, as usual, players like Assuncao or Riquelme weren’t signed. Meanwhile, Caparrós (known for his ability to work with youngsters) had as plan to ‘recuperate’ the qualities of ‘lost players’. And he didn’t have much of an alternative because of the lack of new players: Coloccini had been signed in January and the only new arrivals were Taborda, Juanma and already-mentioned De Guzmán. It was evident that Deportivo were going to face a tough season; and the idea of improving the performances players like Manuel Pablo, Duscher, Sergio, Diego Tristán and Víctor Sánchez sounded appealing.

At first, Caparrós wasn’t convinced by Duscher and more problems in midfield seemed to appear. But later he changed his mind, and during the disastrous Intertoto match at Marseille there were two Argentineans covering midfield (Duscher and Scaloni) because of Sergio’s European suspension. Although that obviously wasn’t a success, the trio Scaloni/Sergio/Duscher all appeared during the 0-1 win at Mallorca five days later when Deportivo opened the Liga very successfully. Sergio and Duscher became Deportivo’s references in midfield that season and both started thirty-one matches. Sergio’s role had become something more offensive and he had more freedom now to move to the sides. It increased his performances and his form was quickly growing, indicated by the call-up for Spain. But Sergio also noticed other changes that Caparrós brought: “We were used to play with a lot of combinations and passes and now the physical aspect is more important than the technique. The coach believes that our physical condition should be perfect, in this sense our defensive system will work and later we can think of the offensive aspect”. Sergio said that the team had to be “ambitious” which was including to fight for the six best spots in the Liga.

With a new coach and another quality-drain, all surrounding Deportivo knew that the combination of good results and great displays had become more difficult every year. Caparrós aimed at results, and he was very effective. On December 17th 2005, the team won 0-3 at arch-rivals Celta de Vigo and shared third spot with Real Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal. The team had lost just three matches and leaked only fourteen goals, signs of a very solid team. Deportivo had bounced back from two goals down against Barcelona in Riazor (3-3) and achieved the annual win against Real Madrid (3-1). Especially the away wins at Racing de Santander (0-3), Sevilla (0-2) and Celta (0-3), contrary to more average home results, showed that Deportivo had changed. Sergio himself had earned Deportivo another valuable result away from home: 2-2 at Valencia. It’s obvious that in such a solid team, the role of central players like Duscher and Sergio was very important. They were the pillars of this team and together formed a solid block. But Caparrós didn’t always use Sergio in centre midfield. During the 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad he played right wing, and in October and November he only came on as a substitute in four Liga matches because of all Duscher, Scaloni and De Guzmán playing.

Although Deportivo were doing very well, in December of 2005 Sergio had mixed feelings. His chances of a final return to the Spanish team seemed to have finished and now Caparrós didn’t always count on him. After Sergio retook his starting position and Deportivo achieved three consecutive Liga wins against Sevilla, Cadiz and Celta de Vigo, things started to backfire. The results had backed Caparrós as fighting for Champions League football had seemed impossible at the start of the season. But after that win at Celta de Vigo, the months of January and February were disastrous. Deportivo survived Copa rounds against Osasuna and Valencia (including a goal of Sergio). But mediocre displays were now accompanied by poor Liga results. The team took four points out of the next six matches and early February 2006 not only dropped to eighth place, but also squandered a valuable Copa-lead at Espanyol. The 2-1 loss proved to be fatal as an impotent Deportivo couldn’t break open Espanyol’s defence five weeks later. Meanwhile, few points were accumulated although Deportivo played a heroic match at Barcelona (3-2 loss). But the team never regained the form of the first four months of the season. Deportivo finished the season with average results, and even missed out on Intertoto football on the last day of the season. Hopes of qualification for UEFA Cup football already had vanished when Deportivo had given away a home-lead against Athletic (1-2), including a penalty-kick caused by Sergio. Caparrós had kept on experimenting and also had tried a scenario with Sergio in front of Duscher and Coloccini as replacement of Valerón. Sergio was taken-off at half-time at Atlético, something which caused him to say that he would “Have to think carefully” about his future at the club. Although, as usual, he was an important figure at Deportivo’s team (in a statistical sense), his role as central figure wasn’t secured. Caparrós especially experimented with Sergio which led to many starting positions in roles which weren’t his.

Sergio also seemed to have an attitude problem as he, sometimes, lacked concentration but certainly had gained weight. A possible return of Sergio to Espanyol was even used in their presidential elections as bait to attract votes. It must have been nice news that another Espanyol player was going to play at Deportivo, as Lopo arrived on a free transfer. But in June 2006 a return of 29-year old Sergio to Espanyol seemed to become materialized. Deportivo already announced on their website that a deal with Espanyol was done and sources indicated that the amount involved could be around 7-8 million Euros (to be paid in the next years) including the approval of Espanyol for Lopo’s move (both clubs had disagreed about compensation to be paid). Now it was between Espanyol and Sergio to negotiate about his salary, but that proved to be difficult. Espanyol wanted Sergio and Sergio wanted Espanyol, but financial difficulties obstructed a move. Not only would Sergio have had to accept a lower salary (but still becoming Espanyol’s best-paid player next to Raúl Tamudo), he also would have had to let go financial claims he still had with Deportivo.

Sergio eventually rejected the offer of Espanyol (while interest of Atlético wasn’t materialized) and watched how Deportivo caused a revolution in its squad. Juan Rodríguez arrived from Málaga on a free transfer while Duscher and De Guzmán stayed at the team and Coloccini was now a midfield-option. The days of Scaloni at the club were over after a public row with Caparrós some months before. All Sergio, Coloccini and Juan Rodríguez started Deportivo’s first Liga match of the season against Zaragoza (3-2). Sergio scored from the penalty spot and was involved at Arizmendi’s goal. Many young players had arrived, of which Catalans Rodri, Cristian and Verdú aimed at Sergio for their reference. Only Sergio and Valerón had survived from the team that won the Copa Del Rey in 2002, and the older players in the squad of Deportivo seemed to connect well with the younger ones. But the intentions of Caparrós stayed the same, which was shown at Mallorca when all Duscher, Coloccini, Sergio and Juan Rodríguez played and there was no central striker. It was no wonder that the match finished 0-0. But as the season got underway, Duscher quickly dropped in Caparrós’ ranking. Sergio, Coloccini and Juan Rodríguez took the midfield positions but none of them would have full coverage all season. If one played, another would surely enter as a substitution. This is why Sergio would only play eleven Liga matches from finish to start that season, his lowest number since arriving at Deportivo in 2001.

Sergio reached the number of 300 Primera matches early that season surrounding his 30th-birthday. “It’s something to be proud of”, he said. “It means that I have been around for a while at Primera. Although it seems easy to fulfill, the true is that it is complicated. It took me nine years to achieve this, and makes me realize that I have worked well and that the coaches have understood my work”. Sergio admitted that this was probably the final part of his career, but he didn’t regret his failed return to Espanyol. “I have a special feeling for Espanyol, but things weren't done in a proper way. But that's an old story. It’s something personal that only I and the clubs know about. I knew that Caparrós counted on me and I was satisfied with that, as Deportivo already occupies an important place in my heart”. Sergio also accepted his status as a veteran in the squad. “When I was younger I had to learn a lot. Now it's my turn to hear the problems of the young players. I hope that they will think about approaching me every time they might have a problem”.

As a team, Deportivo was copying the start of the previous season. There was just praise when the ‘rejuvenated’ team was fifth on October 21st 2006, after having beaten Atlético (1-0). Again, displays weren’t that convincing and statistics showed that matches of Deportivo contained few goals. But this time the set-back came more early. Deportivo obtained only two Liga points in November while December was just a horror-show: one point, no goals scored and ten leaked. Sergio missed two home matches those months and both ended without Deportivo scoring a goal. He was not lined-up against Racing de Santander (0-0) and the week before was replaced during half-time when the team was crushed 4-1 at Osasuna. Of course, Sergio wasn’t happy with that. But he also started to point to a tough reality. According to him, they couldn’t hide the situation anymore, because “This team isn’t made to play for the top spots. Our team is mid-table and in this way we can find stability. Later, we always can think about better positions”. Sergio was severely criticized in the press when the results got worse. One paper even wrote that “Definitely, instead of a leader, they (the younger players of Deportivo) are discovering to have a vulgar person (Sergio) at their side”. Caparrós defended the veterans though, including Sergio, and called their work behind the scenes as “Invisible, but basic”. Another newspaper gave the theory that by axing Sergio, Caparrós was trying to please the fans as Sergio was seen as scapegoat. But the newspaper pointed to his 300 Primera matches and asked if Caparrós, after the numerous rows he had with players, wanted to become the only star at the club.

It was the most difficult days of Deportivo since at least 1998 and Sergio felt the pressure. Both he and Coloccini were sacrificed after the 4-0 defeat at Valencia, but the result became the other mentioned home match when Deportivo failed to score at home: a 0-2 loss against Bilbao when De Guzmán and Juan Rodríguez took the central positions. Confusion and uncertainty surrounded the team, and it was back to start when Sergio and Duscher formed the midfield during the 4-0 loss at Sevilla. Coloccini never returned as central midfielder again, and Sergio was benched by Caparrós and now aimed at De Guzmán and Duscher for his final hopes. Sergio missed the next five Liga matches, when Deportivo achieved two wins and three draws including a show of football against Real Madrid (2-0). This, and Copa success against Mallorca and Valladolid, saved Caparrós’ job. Sergio only played the Copa matches, but an injury of Duscher made him return at Villarreal (a 0-2 win). The duo Sergio/De Guzmán displayed an excellent performance and Sergio set-up the own-goal that was scored by Villarreal midfielder Senna. Duscher returned against Levante (0-0), but another injury gave Sergio a permanent return to the team. A suspension spoiled his presence against Betis Sevilla, when De Guzmán and Verdú weren’t the best couple thinkable. Caparrós now opted for De Guzmán and Sergio in midfield with Juan Rodríguez as back-up. By then, it could have been too late. Deportivo had crawled back into a safe Liga position but the mediocre results of March and April (ten points out of eight matches) indicated that Deportivo, indeed, were not more than a mid-table team. The Copa Del Rey matches against Sevilla could have saved the season, but the results (0-5 on aggregate) and the incidents surrounding these matches were the beginning of the end for Caparrós. May and June only brought four points from six matches and all involved were looking forward to the end of the season. It was assumed that Sergio’s match at Espanyol (he scored a fantastic goal) could have been his final one at Deportivo and that Espanyol (still) was a likely destination. But Espanyol’s good season lessened the need for an (expensive) midfielder and a deal wasn’t sealed. A summary of Sergio’s season was that he, according to the Peña, was Deportivo’s worst player of the season 2006/2007.

It was a difficult season which Sergio faced. His numbers and performances had been the worst since his arrival at Deportivo in 2001. He wasn’t the guide that Deportivo needed, and neither his defensive contributions satisfied Caparrós. He was honest when he labeled it as “My most complicated year, also in a personal sense. But we all should learn from that”. With two years of contract left, including a very good salary, the chance of leaving Deportivo was limited. His performances didn’t arouse interest and clubs knew about his personal wishes. The only chance for Deportivo to retake the player he was three years ago was to try with a new coach. It wasn’t a surprise when Caparrós announced his good-bye and Deportivo quickly hired Lotina.

Both Sergio and Lotina had to count on each other. Sergio badly needed new confidence and something to play for while Lotina was looking for veterans in a squad which had become younger every year. Talks of a possible move were quickly over and Lotina ousted his confidence in the press. “Sergio is a reference with his experience and football. We have to recuperate the best of Sergio and we must ask a lot from him. If he is fine, it will be a key factor. He puts quality in midfield. He is a 'second pivote' with a good ability to support the work up front. Sergio is a player with a tremendous qualities and one of the most important players in Spanish football. I want to see him becoming an important player for the team, for football and for him. The squad needs Sergio. He is a great player, different. We have to make him feel important, because he likes that, we must demand this from him”. Sergio himself kept quiet during the pre-season. But when the season approached, he said that "I’m hopeful and I’m trying to start from zero. This year is like having a new chance to play at Primera. For me, it's an important challenge and I don't want to disappoint anybody. I know that the coach trusts in me and I want to demonstrate on the pitch that he isn't wrong”. Asked about the fact of being a leader in the squad, he responded that, "The coach is demonstrating that the veterans must fulfill an important role inside the team, and I'm hoping that all of us will be able to throw of this car in some kind of way, that's the important thing. As long as I can, I will try to liberate my team mates from their responsibilities. I will try to carry out with the weight of the team as others did with me when I was younger”. When asked about the targets of this season, he said: “This year the objective is the permanence. But we will try to improve what we did during last season”.

But first, Sergio had to take a final blow to his confidence. The duo De Guzmán/Sergio never could cope with the Almeria players during the first match of the season (0-3) and Sergio was picked out as the supporters blamed him. Sergio responded with courage that “I am not afraid of their whistling. They are free to do so, because they are the ones paying the tickets. But I won't give up; I will just try to change their opinion. During the last seasons, every time we had a negative result at Riazor I was seen as the cause. I have to accept that, but I am not here in order to cry, but to lift my head”. Lotina supported him: “I'm asking the public to judge him for his behaviour. He played a bad match, yes, but he is training well and it was simply a bad game of all of us. I believe that people must show their disapproval when a player doesn't run or when he isn't doing his job. But if a player is trying without achieving results, then I believe it’s the right moment to cheer him up”. The results didn’t help either. Sergio and Juan Rodríguez were the duo when Deportivo obtained a late point at Valladolid (2-2), but they had a troubled match. Against Betis Sevilla (1-0 win), both men did much better and Sergio seemed comfortable covering the back of playmaker Verdú. But Sergio/Juan Rodríguez had renewed troubles at Getafe (0-0) and the couple was helpless against Recreativo at the Riazor (0-2). Tensions now rose very high. Sergio asked the supporters “To stay home if they simply want to whistle at us. What happens is that the players want to please the fans, and perhaps that's why we commit mistakes. Sometimes, it seems that to be at home is better for our rival than for us. The exception should be the Riazor Blues, they always demonstrated their support”. Sergio had to hurry to correct his words and said that his intention "Wasn't to offend the fans, neither anybody else involved with Deportivo". Again, he was defended by Lotina, “I believe that his statements were made with the youngsters in mind. Maybe he didn't use the right words, but he was trying to cheer up the fans. He wasn't thinking of himself, he was thinking of the team. We must keep that in mind. Besides, he clarified his words the next day. You must look at all the facts” The coach said.

The Galicians got into more troubles; the relegation zone was a reality after losing 1-0 at Sergio’s ex-club Espanyol. But it was different this time. The team, changed on several positions and with De Guzmán next to Sergio, displayed a great game and could have won it with a wide margin. Lotina expressed his satisfaction about Sergio and De Guzmán and more or less found his central duo for the rest of the season. It was always kind of obvious to compare De Guzmán to Mauro Silva as the Canadian was signed when the Brazilian left. But Mauro Silva always cared that Sergio could play his game, which is more offensive than the one of the 1994 World Champion, and De Guzmán took over Mauro’s role. One week after the Espanyol-defeat there was a major success when Sevilla was beaten in its own stadium (0-1) with a perfect centre midfield of Deportivo. The Galicians started to display good passing football and would do so in the remaining months of the season. But the results didn’t accompany that. In the next three months the team only took nine points out of thirteen matches. Seven points were taken against the teams which would be relegated (Murcia, Zaragoza, Levante) and draws against Mallorca and Athletic did the rest. But when Deportivo played against quality sides like Valencia, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal it wasted several leads. Especially the late defeats against Racing de Santander (0-1), Osasuna Pamplona (1-2) and Almeria (1-0) were a huge blow.

Even during that difficult period, Sergio was climbing out of his personal valley and started to perform better. In October 2007 he once more pointed to the fact that regularity was his main virtue and not playing great the one day and crap on another. He also admitted that the season had started more difficult than expected. “But it’s now up to us to show why we are at Primera. I don’t have an answer to the question why we beat a team like Sevilla in their own stadium but lose points against more inferior teams. Football doesn’t give explanations, and that’s why people follow it with passion”. The match at Real Madrid was special for Sergio’s statistics as he became Deportivo’s fifth player in Liga numbers by passing Romero and situating himself behind Fran, Mauro Silva, Donato and Juan Acuña. He already was in the top five of current active players at Primera División with most Liga matches after Raúl González (Real Madrid), Santiago Cañizares (Valencia), Joseba Etxeberría (Bilbao) and Alberto (Valladolid). The Madrid-match wasn’t just of festivities though. The Galicians scored an early goal, dominated the match for sixty minutes with Sergio and De Guzmán being its motor and winning it against Gago and Guti, but started to lose it when both midfielders lost their breath. The match was done when, near the end, Madrid took the lead and Sergio was immediately send-off for a second booking. Sergio apologized for that, and described Deportivo as “Having swum for so long and then to drown near the beach”.

Sergio missed the Mallorca-match (1-1) because of suspension but started the four after. One of them was the 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao, a team led by ex-Depor coach Caparrós. Several players of the team were asked about their relationship with him now that the Andalusian coach was gone, but Sergio wisely didn’t go into that too much. When asked about as possible physical fight between both men that could have occurred last season behind closed doors, Sergio replied that, ”What happened or not between us is a thing that should stay at the dressing room, that's a secret of him and me”. Although Deportivo rescued a late point from that match, the late defeat against Osasuna (1-2) led to a meeting of the players behind closed doors and Sergio spoke to the press as the team’s representative. One of the issues he touched was that The squad supports the coach and he has our confidence and also the one of the club”. Personally, Sergio started to face new difficulties. He and Aouate were ‘sacrificed’ after the Osasuna-defeat and Sergio only was a substitute at the Barcelona-match. Antonio Tomás took his place and also started the home match against Zaragoza (1-1). Sergio did start the Copa match at his ex-team Espanyol, together with Juan Rodríguez, and scored another goal (a free-kick) in the city of Barcelona which gave Deportivo a good result for the return match (1-1). Four days later he was back in the starting line-up, together with De Guzmán, for the crucial match at Levante. It was do-or-die for the team, and eventually it was Sergio who took his responsibilities and converted a penalty-kick near the end (0-1). He scored his third goal of the week during the Copa home match against Espanyol, but the team lost this one in extra-time (1-2) and were out of the cup tournament.

Despite the success at Levante, the team was still 19th and more misery was to come. The team lost the matches against Atlético de Madrid, Villarreal and Almeria. Sergio started all of them, and scored his fourth goal in five matches during the Villarreal-match, but Deportivo occupied its worst Liga position since the season 1991/1992. In the mean time, Sergio and the other captains appeared in public to condemn the row between goalkeepers Munúa and Aouate. The match against Valladolid was like a final to, at least, Lotina and the coach introduced a new system: three central defenders, with two defensive midfields in front of them and a playmaker. Sergio wasn’t part of this team which won 3-1, as Juan Rodríguez, Antonio Tomás and De Guzmán took the places. It was a huge blow to Sergio and he also didn’t start the next three matches against Betis Sevilla, Getafe and Recreativo. He substituted Antonio Tomás during two of them, but an injury of the young Cantabrian midfield gave Sergio another starting place against Espanyol (his fourth against them that season). Sergio provided Coloccini with an important goal, and the midfielder was praised in the media for his convincing performance during the 2-0 win. The Catalan midfielder had to miss the Sevilla-win (2-1) because of flue, but made his final return to the team at Valencia (2-2). Lotina now could choose between De Guzmán, Sergio and Antonio Tomás and picked first-mentioned players because of the characteristics of the game. Sergio scored a great volley which started Deportivo’s come-back from 2-0 down, and in the remaining part of the season he only missed the match against FC Barcelona because of suspension. Especially during the wins against Murcia (3-1), Racing de Santander (1-3) and Bilbao (3-0) he was all over the place. In the fourth match of this series, at Osasuna, he scored the winning goal from the penalty spot and saved an effort of opponents at the goal line. It was Sergio’s finest hour, also because he was involved at half of the goals the Galicians scored. A newspaper described him being “A field marshal, defined with class, plasticity and being cold-blooded”. He scored seven official goals during the season 2007/2008, a record during his seven seasons at the club. Most of them were from the penalty spot, something he explained to the press, “I feel the moral obligation to take those penalties. My experience is something that should be used for the benefit of the team. Of course, I have scored important goals from the spot, but I think that it was simply my obligation”. Sergio also revealed his secret, “I always kiss the ball. It's a mania, an amulet. It's like thanking the ball for the goal. And it demonstrates my love for the ball, no matter if it enters or not into the net”.

In the meantime, Deportivo was storming at the top spots. The team was unleashed after the Almeria-defeat and took 32 points from the next 14 matches. Sergio scored two important penalty goals against Bilbao (3-0 win) and Osasuna (0-1 win) which even started to give Deportivo options to achieve direct qualification for the UEFA Cup tournament. The supporters and Sergio were in love with each other again. Sergio was the calm, and veteran, leader directing the team towards a 1-0 win against Real Madrid and received a standing ovation from the Riazor crowd when he was substituted. He said: “I know that the relationship with the fans is a love-hate one, something that's difficult to explain. But on Saturday, I felt like a privileged person. It was a long time ago since I felt the same sensations at the Riazor and I'm talking about the moment in which I was replaced. I liked it a lot and let's hope it can be repeated”. Asked about his future at the club, he revealed that “I will finish my contract which runs until 2009 and then I will think about if I can still contribute to Deportivo or at another place”. It was a pity that Deportivo was out of steam at the end of the season as direct qualification for the UEFA Cup had become a realistic target. With four matches remaining, and the team already being safe from relegation, concentration faded away. The team had played with a lot of, mainly negative, tension for eight months and started to relax more. The relaxation, as announced by Sergio, was lethal when the team played at Real Zaragoza and Atlético de Madrid. Both these teams desperately needed a win for their personal targets, and the idea was that Deportivo could have achieved something more than two 1-0 defeats if the team had kept up its concentration. A late, and narrow, 1-0 win against already-related Levante almost assured Deportivo of Intertoto football and not even the 0-2 home loss against second-placed Villarreal spoiled that. There was a symbolic incident in the Levante match as the Levante players, in protest towards the Levante board, declined to play in the first minute of the match and gathered around midfield. Bodipo kicked-off the match and Sergio advanced without opposition, and passed the ball outside Levante’s goal as signal of support.

The conclusion of that particular season was that Sergio was back. Poor striker Bodipo had taken over his ‘role’ as scapegoat of the team because of very inefficient finishing. Sergio, for his part, claimed at the end of July that he was already considering to extend his contract which was ruling out in 2009. But nothing was signed in the summer of 2008 and the Catalan player started his eighth season as a Deportivo’s player. Again the ex-Espanyol man had a decent job as he added 28 appearances in la liga and ten more in European competitions. He also scored four goals plus one in the UEFA Cup. His contract was ruling out in June of 2009, but a clause was allowing him to extend it for an additional year. At the end of August it was announced that Deportivo and the player reached a verbal agreement for two more seasons, something that would have meant a decrease on his salary, but that deal was never signed and the Catalan midfielder stayed at Depor due to the previous mentioned clause in his contract, something that allowed him to start his ninth season at Deportivo.