El Centrocampista

Capital Gains and the unlikely rise of La Liga’s minnows

Photo: Getty Images

Neighboured by the giants of Real and Athletico Madrid, Rayo Vallecano are a team that often get overlooked by both media and fans alike. Situated south east of the capital in the working class district of Vallecas, the club have built a reputation of something of a ‘yo- yo’ outfit due to their penchant to flirting between the top two divisions of Spanish football.

Rayo have certainly had their difficulties and after narrowly avoiding relegation last season, even the most optimistic of fan must have expected to face another season embroiled in relegation turmoil – especially as financial restraints meant they had to part with talismanic attacking midfielder Michu in the summer.

Far from fighting it out at the foot of the table however, the opposite has happened. Rayo, the club with the smallest budget in La Liga have scaled to the dizzying heights of sixth place in the table.

Friday night’s 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao was their fourth victory in a row and Paco Jemez’s team are currently on a run that has seen them springboard up the La Liga table.

With the greatest respect to Rayo, few really expect them to be challenging for European places at the end of the season but more crucially, they have all but secured their place in next seasons La Liga campaign.

It may only be January but standing on 31 points, Rayo have a comfortable fifteen point cushion over Granada who currently occupies 18th place.

Club captain Francisco Medina Luna – also known as Piti – has taken responsibility for replacing the goals that Michu provided last season and has bagged nine goals so far this term. Joining him in the firepower ranks has been young Brazilian striker Leo Baptistao who has made a huge impression since being promoted from Rayo’s B side in the summer.

Manchester United, Liverpool and most recently Atletico Madrid have all been linked with the 20-year-old, with the latter being reported to have agreed a deal to take him across the city to the Vicente Calderon next season by sports daily AS,

Fellow South American Alejandro Dominquez is also proving to be an inspired signing, completing a free transfer to Rayo after he was released by Valencia in the summer.

A staunch River Plate fan, Dominquez reasons for joining Rayo Vallecano may have been strange – he cited the fact that the clubs home shirt dons a red stripe on a white shirt – but  fans will care not one iota should he  repeat his performances in the second half of the season.

Young Spanish centre half Jordi Amat joined the club on loan from Espanyol and has also relished the opportunity for first team football. The Catalan-born defender, who has played for Spain at every age group from under-16 to under-21, has been a central figure in a defence which has conceded just 13 goals at home this so far this season.

Very much one to look out for, rivals Barcelona are believed to have had an approach in the summer rejected.

Like every club, Rayo Vallecano has its off field problems, but as models go for running successful clubs on a low budget, many will be casting a curious and envious eye on matters at the modest Campo de Futbol stadium.

If they manage to keep their remarkable run going and do finish in the European places, it will be one of the most spectacular and unlikely La Liga stories to date. A romantic and refreshing sign that in football, dreams can sometimes come true.

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