This is post five of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.
It’s Sunday the 15th of May 2022, approaching midnight.
The Vallecas sky may be dark, but the stars are shining brightly.
The Rayo Vallecano bus has not long parked outside the stadium after the lengthy return journey from the final league match of the season. An unfortunate 2-0 defeat away at Sevilla.
As ever, representatives of the Bukaneros join these large end of season meetings between the board, management team and supporters groups. All flags, songs and political gusto in full attendance. Tonight’s get together feels a little different, however.
The corridors of Estadio de Vallecas are trembling.
In a scene that evokes memories of the powerful opening of 2005’s Walk the Line where impatient Folsom Prison inmates clap and stomp awaiting the arrival of Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible Johnny Cash, the large gathering of club officials and associates restlessly anticipate Fernando Teixidó. He has not yet emerged from the manager’s office since arriving back in Madrid.
The music may be booming and the inhabitants dressed in their finest attire, but the champagne bottles remain unpopped. But not for long…
The room erupts into applause as Fernando Teixidó and club captain Óscar Valentín join the swell of Rayo staff and most passionate followers, taking their seats at the front of the room alongside club owner Raúl Martín Presa. Presa looks content, giddy. Could the last twelve months be a turning point in the relationship between he and the club? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“I want to begin with thanking you all for your loyal support.” Teixido’s booming voice cuts through the music as the room quietens a little.
“A lot has changed in the near two years I have been in Vallecas. But the most important things have stayed exactly the same. Humility. Integrity. Nobility. Somos pobres con orgullo!”
The room erupts again as those in attendance rise to their feet.
The excitement has reached fever pitch at Rayo Vallecano. It’s to be expected.
The LaLiga new boys have only just gone and finished in their highest league position in their 98-year history and qualified for Europe!
Season two (21/22) is over. Rayo Vallecano’s first campaign back in LaLiga is finished, and if you thought season one’s final day promotion drama was edge-of-your-seat stuff, the end of season two was every bit as chaotic.
Before we get there though, let’s rewind a bit.
Heading into the 21/22 campaign, only 26-year old attacking midfielder Zsolt Kalmár joined in addition to those discussed at the end of post four. The Hungarian cost a measly £120,000, and paid that back immediately with an exceptional volleyed goal from outside the box on his LaLiga debut, a pace-setting 3-1 victory against Athletic Club.
This was Teixido’s most regularly chosen 11 in his second season. Fran García and Iván Martos made their loan deals permanent from Real Madrid and Almería respectively, alongside the new additions. Garcíá would have been first choice left back, but missed a decent chunk of the season due to injury.
The squad and system were set. This year should of course have been a real battle against relegation, partly due to the overwhelming financial gulf between Rayo Vallecano and our competition.
It wasn’t though. Results were a lot better than expected.
In some of the most entertaining games I’ve seen on FM21 so far, we defeated Atlético Madrid (a tight 1-0), Real Betis (a thrilling 6-3) and even managed a nail-biting comeback against Barcelona to gain a point (3-3 draw in the dying seconds).
When we hit the halfway point of 19 league games played, we actually sat 5th in the table, and had only lost three games (the joint lowest in LaLiga, tied with Barcelona). All three of the losses were within the opening five fixtures.
I completed some squad analysis half way through the season, just to check that my logic for player selection from the in-game eye test was being backed up by the numbers. Midfielder Javi Muñoz (remember him from his last day penalty miss against us that had a major hand in us going up last year?) stood out as someone who in his fleeting appearances, seemed to be much more creative than I had given him credit for. In the second half of the season he eventually ousted Santi Comesaña to take the spot at the left side of the midfield three, as a segundo volante. Although his numbers naturally dipped as his minutes ramped up, he still ended the season as our highest key passer per 90 (6.62) and provider of assists per 90 (1.14). A great return from a free transfer who started the season on the bench.
2022 kicked off with a bang. January and February were the months that made me sit up and realise that we were really not in a relegation battle, and in fact, were pushing up towards the other end of the table.
A horrible March threatened to de-rail our great start, but in the end, it all came down to the final day.
The final day
The last day of the season was another nerve-wracking conclusion to a campaign. Almost like El Rayo don’t know how to do it any other way.
To remain in the continental qualification places; absurdly with one game to go, all Rayo had to do (haha) was hope that Athletic Club didn’t beat Real Betis, Almeríá didn’t beat Real Sociedad or if either or both of them did, to better their results away to Sevilla, which was a titanic ask. Especially when victory for Sevilla would keep Valencia out of the top four and secure UEFA Champions League football for the 22/23 campaign.
With 70 minutes gone, unfortunately Sevilla led Rayo by one goal to nil, courtesy of an incredible (deliberate or otherwise) goal direct from a corner by the tricky Rony Lopes.
Unimaginably, both Athletic Club and Almería were also 1-0 down, meaning that we were clinging to 6th place by a single point.
In the end, it was even closer. Both of those teams managed to equalise, to pull back to 1-1. Munir rounded off a great Sevilla performance for 2-0, to secure Champions League football for Los Palanganas. Rayo hearts were in mouths patiently waiting for the final whistle in all three games. A single goal from Athletic or Almería and the European dream was over.
When it eventually came, Fernando Teixidó collapsed on the turf again, all emotion left out there on the pitch. Many of the players did too, as it ended in the most unlikely glory.
Rayo Vallecano finish 6th in LaLiga and secure UEFA Europa League football next season. I cannot believe it.
What does this mean?
Paco Jémez took Rayo Vallecano to eighth in 2013, but the club were not allowed to compete in Europe due to pending bankruptcy. Typical.
Rayo haven’t played continental football in some 20+ years. The 2000-2001 campaign under Juande Ramos ended in finishing 9th in the league, but Rayo won the Fair Play award and qualified for the UEFA Cup. They actually managed to get to the Quarter Finals, where they met Spanish rivals Alavés, only to lose to the eventual finalists.
Liverpool defeated Alavés in the final that year, with a memorable 5-4 victory due to a golden (own) goal. Those were the days of true drama.
On a separate note, Raúl Martín Presa must be feeling the warmth of success, as the below will require considerable investment.
The best player of 21/22 has to be on-loan Granada striker Antoñín. A lot of players are built for the second tier of a league. How many times have we seen players in the English Championship look like world beaters only to struggle when they step up to the Premier League? The same applies in Spain, and certainly does to Antoñín’s 23-goal strike partner from last year, Álvaro García. García currently sits in Rayo’s B squad, begging for the Vallecas exit, but is proving tough to shift.
Not Antoñín. His 20 LaLiga strikes after his exceptional campaign last season made him the second highest scorer in the entire division in this one (behind Celta Vigo’s 21-goal Santi Mina). He also followed in the illustrious footsteps of Matthijs de Ligt and Kylian Mbappé to win the FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player of the Year award. Somehow Granada have allowed me to loan him for a third season, so thankfully our star striker will remain with us for at least one more year.
Looking to the future
34 and 35 year old midfield duo Oscar Trejo and Mario Suárez are both leaving in the summer at the expiry of their contracts, with the latter being replaced by experienced Levante midfielder Nemanja Radoja on a free. A youthful striking option, Thijme Verheijen, joins from VVV Venlo for £650k. Despite Teixidó’s previous faith in Darío Poveda, a hip injury and only 363 minutes of first team action has left fans underwhelmed.
With the addition of a continental campaign to consider, more reinforcements may yet be needed.
Nothing exciting happened in this year’s youth intake, but Presa finally agreed to invest a little in the facilities, so perhaps we’ll be third time lucky and get some decent prospects in next year.
Like in the last post, I’ll leave you with the end of season review screenshots, and we can pick up in season 3, and see how we go about managing a European campaign and trying to repeat our league performance all at the same time.
Click on the first image below and you can flick through it, if you so desire.
See you in season three!
Thanks for reading.