La Sombra – 11 – Earned it

This is post eleven of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

18 May 2026

In last July, ahead of the 2025/26 season; the bookmakers published their pre-season odds on LaLiga winners and losers, as they always do. Looking for a fourth league title in a row, Marcelo Gallardo‘s Barcelona were logically considered evens favourites. It’s no surprise that Zinedine Zidane‘s Real Madrid were second favourites at 7-2.

Despite previous LaLiga finishes of 6th, 7th, 2nd and 4th since their promotion under Fernando Teixidó in the 20/21 season, the bookmakers tipped historically thrifty upstarts Rayo Vallecano to finish 9th. The ‘poor but proud’ Madrid club were priced at 50-1 for the title. To put things in perspective, Valencia were tipped at 20-1 to win LaLiga. The same Valencia who hadn’t finished in a Champions League qualification place for five years.

Lots happened in the 25/26 campaign to confound the critics, bookmakers and fans alike. Let’s get into it.

What happened?

Fast forward nine months to the present day and the landscape of Spanish football has been turned upside down.

Basque giants Athletic Club are competing in Spain’s second tier for the first time in their history and as it stands sit 4th in the table with three league games remaining. No guarantee of an instant return to LaLiga.

Zidane is currently unemployed after being sacked for poor performance to end a stop-start 25 years at Real Madrid as a player, coach and then manager. Interim boss Alfredo Merino will step aside at the end of the season when current Juventus manager Mauricio Pochettino will make his long-awaited move to the Bernabéu. The Argentine’s arrival can’t come quickly enough for Los Blancos. Real Madrid finished in 8th this season, missing out on UEFA competition qualification of any description and finishing in their worst league position since 1977.

Rayo Vallecano owner Raúl Martín Presa finally sold up and moved on, selling the club for an extremely healthy profit. According to economic reports, El Rayo‘s value has increased from around £15.5million in 2020 (when Fernando Teixidó took the job) to a reported £1billion in this year’s tax year-end records. The new board are made up of wealthy Spanish businessmen. Their first order of business was paying off the circa £35million loan taken out to build the new ‘Rayo Vallecano Stadium’ scheduled to open in Madrid later this year. Their second was to arrange for the incoming transfers of two sought after footballers they had mentioned in their pitch to buy the club. Those players were AZ‘s Steve Spiering and Athletic‘s Nico Serrano. Both are explosive wingers in their early 20s with huge sell-on potential and the skillset to get Rayistas off the edge of their seats to applaud, but more on them later. The combined outlay for the two transfers could rise to £112.5million. By comparison, Rayo’s previous transfer spend record was the £4.6million Teixidó parted with in July 2025 for flop winger Ştefan Baiaram, who has since moved on to Standard Liège.

Oh, and Rayo Vallecano won LaLiga.

Wait, what?

Rayo Vallecano are the LaLiga champions of the 2025/26 season. It’s true.

A two-horse race between the ‘little’ Madrid club and Barcelona ended in Rayo ‘doing a Leicester’ and lifting the title. After the just two points which separated those two (Barcelona finished second despite only losing a single league game), Atlético were some 19 points further behind, with Real Zaragoza surprisingly filling out the UEFA Champions League places.

It was quite a season.

Rayo Vallecano under Teixidó have been a mercurial phenomenon. Last season, Rayo fans had to witness a ten game losing streak which was covered in detail by my theangrylinesmen colleague Carl Hagedorn in this linked article. Luckily for Rayo, the streak was sandwiched between a first and final third of the campaign where they showed almost untouchable form, a steely work ethic defining their counter-attacking strategy. This in turn saved what could have been a dark stain on Fernando Teixidó‘s otherwise stellar CV.

This year, El Rayo continued in that positive vein. Many expected the losses to come eventually, but apart from a slim 3-2 away defeat to Sevilla on the 1st of February, they never did. Form started strongly, and so it stayed.

It seems like an easy judgement or observation to put Rayo Vallecano‘s incredible year down to fortuitous timing, but that is to discredit the spirit shown by the eventual champions.

Scoring three goals or more in 47% of their LaLiga matches, Rayo’s 95 goals scored in the 38 matches was some 31 more strikes than nearest rival Atlético Madrid if you remove the incredible outlier of Barcelona‘s 113 goal haul. Conceding 0.86 goals per game was the third least in the division too. So Rayo were as defensively sound as they were offensively clinical. This is where some of the statistical comparisons against previous seasons can prove incredibly useful.

While the ratio of tackles won, pass completion success and shots on target percentage remained largely the same as the previous campaign, the 25/26 iteration of Rayo scored an average of almost a goal more per game (2.5), while conceding 0.37 goals less per league match. Scoring 2.5 times per game against an xG of 1.93 is a marked overperformance; while conceding 0.87 against 0.94 xG conceded per match is largely par for the course in the SciSports xG model, yet no less impressive.

What many could call a “freak” season could arguably be explained by a series of serendipitous circumstances for the triumphant Rayistas, complementing those great performances.

Mid-season injuries to regular strikers Antoñín and Astrit Selmani forced Teixidó’s hand into prematurely promoting Francisco Pereira. Pereira was a 19-year-old striker who had been plucked from semi-professional Amarante in his native Portugal for just under £55,000 a couple of years earlier. Pereira spent most of his time in Rayo’s development B-team, with the exception of a loan last year at Tenerife where he caught the eye in the final third playing in a team that were ultimately relegated due to defensive frailties and lack of midfield creativity. The result was that Francisco Pereira slotted in as the furthest forward attacker on the field in Teixidó’s 4-4-2, and the young Portuguese ended up bagging 18 goals and 8 assists in just 21 matches. Incredible.

Additionally, just when the defence was looking a little tired and weary, Teixidó arranged to part with some £15million for defensive pair Abdou Diallo from Lyon and Emerson from Inter Milan. Diallo had previously lifted Ligue 1 with Paris Saint Germain a couple of times, whereas ex Barcelona right back Emerson had been in and out of Inter’s team for the past four seasons. Both went on to play in 19 and 18 games respectively since joining Rayo, forming two defensive mainstays in Teixidó’s back four. Rayo had signed some quality players previously, but usually from the lower divisions or plucked from obscurity abroad, not two mid-to-late 20s first teamers at large European clubs, paying handsome wages.

Rayo’s relative success against their own expectations in the last few years has meant that times had changed financially, but not in comparison to how they were destined to this year.

The takeover

Jorge Rodriguez had been rumoured to be putting together an all-Spanish consortium with a view to buying a LaLiga club for some time. Rodriguez owns several hydropower operations, and many of the consortium are similar “family” businessmen who have had a collective eye on purchasing a football club. In 2023, the story goes that Eibar were set to be purchased by the group of investors, only for the sale to fall through when they were unexpectedly relegated at the end of that season after a dismal drop off in form towards the end of the campaign.

As mentioned previously, Rodriguez and co made bold promises during the takeover process. Typical of these scenarios (see the ultimately ridiculous ‘Mbappe to Newcastle’ rumours in 2020) lots of big names were circulated as possible Rayo signings when the loan debt was cleared after the new owners’ arrival.

There were two names mentioned by Rodriguez and signing them turned out to be a lot more than just excitable hyperbole.

AZ‘s gifted winger Steve Spierings was taking the Eredivisie by storm. Goals, assists, mazy dribbling runs complemented by terrifying pace and a strong work ethic, Spierings had been linked with some of Europe’s top clubs over the last 12 months, and it’s easy to see why. A fee rising to £63million later however, and he was a Rayo player. The Dutchman signed in January 2026. In his half season so far at the club he has managed 25 appearances, 12 goals, 10 assists and 7 man of the match awards. Despite his late arrival, Steve Spierings won the LaLiga Player of the Year award.

Sometimes spending big can backfire spectacularly. Other times it’s a match made in heaven.

Unveiled jointly with Spierings was Nico Serrano. A similar player to the Dutchman, but the Basque winger generally plays on the opposite flank. Technically gifted and exceptionally quick and agile, Serrano also has the advantage of being 6 foot tall and good in the air. Capped twice for Spain by the time he turned 21, signing Serrano was arguably an even bigger statement of intent from Rayo’s new board. Especially given that he is a Spain international who arguably could have been on his way to Barcelona or PSG. Both of whom were said to be tracking his progress. £49.5million is the ultimate fee that will be paid for Serrano, including conditions.

The two lively wingers delivered a massive boost to Rayo, just at the right moment in mid-season. The combination of their impact plus the experienced additions in defence steadied the ship, creating a delicately balanced cocktail of stable performances; ultimately leading to the lifting of the LaLiga trophy on the final day.

Rayo Vallecano are ‘poor but proud’ no more.

The analysis

Mention must go to Diogo Nascimento and Þorsteinn Björnsson. The youthful central midfield pairing consistently displayed the right combination of technique and grit to carry entire matches for Rayo.

The first choice XI.

We at theangrylinesmen have written at length before about the divisive nature of statistical data analysis, so the below plot aims to visualise it simply.

Attacking contribution considers key passes, chances created, assists, shots on target, goals and xG per 90 and xG per shot.

Defensive performance includes interceptions, tackles, and an adjusted figure for headers won per 90.

Left-back Juan Miranda was crucial in defence, while playmaker Diogo Nascimento was key in a creative sense. There is no surprise that Steve Spierings proved to be the second most useful attacking force, while contributing more in a defensive perspective than some of Rayo’s centre-backs and defensive midfielders. Incredible.

We’ve covered Gaoussou Traoré in detail before, and the now 19 year old is making great strides towards becoming a first team regular (12 goals in 20 league appearances this year), but “GT” isn’t the only young striker catching the eye.

Eugenio Fidalgo was a £1.2million capture from Marbella when he had just turned 16 years old. Eyebrows were raised when that figure was parted with for a player so young, but now it looks like an outright bargain. Now 17, he bagged 85 goals in 60 appearances for Julio Baptista‘s Rayo under-19 side, and now looks to be the ‘next big thing.’ Look out for theangrylinesmen podcast, where self-confessed Rayo fan Carl Hagedorn is preparing to wax lyrical about this prospect’s potential. Even Rayo fans on Twitter are paying attention.

Last but certainly not least, investment continued into the future potential of the team. The £6.5million Argentinian attacker has a name which reminds me of another Argentinian footballer, I just can’t place who.

What else happened?

Rayo performed admirably in the UEFA Champions League, managing to defeat Marseille and Manchester City, but it wasn’t enough to prevent dropping into the Europa League. Torino were dispatched 6-3 on aggregate, but Leverkusen proved a bridge too far. The European dream was over.

Semi-final exits in both Spanish cups were impressive and entirely acceptable results, and even gave Teixidó the opportunity to give first team minutes to many fringe players.

It even included Rayo’s record goalscorer Astrit Selmani‘s 70th strike. It was quite a volley.

What’s next?

This is where it gets tricky. New owners, a new stadium, a glut of developing young players itching to burst into the first team. Rayo Vallecano are the dream project for any promising manager right now. The dream continues, right?

Maybe not.

What of current boss Fernando Teixidó? Six years in charge, 300 competitive matches in total, Teixidó has achieved inarguably more than anyone could have thought. More than just emerging from ‘la sombra’ or ‘the shadow’ of Real Madrid and Atlético, Teixidó’s Rayo have gone one better, finishing above both for the second time in six years, even beating Barcelona to the LaLiga title.

172 victories in 300 competitive games, two trophies and (excluding the fees paid by the board for the two new wingers which Teixidó did not instruct) a transfer spend of only £50.5m over six years.

The Peruvian’s contract runs until the summer of 2029, but rumours are building that Teixidó may step down from Rayo Vallecano to take a break from management in the next few weeks. Remember Pep Guardiola‘s exit from Barcelona when his stock was arguably at its highest, just before an inevitable burnout could occur? That could be Fernando Teixidó at this point.

Having lost just one league game all season, only an invincible campaign and further progression in Europe could really better the 25/26 campaign that has just finished. Is it even possible for Rayo Vallecano? Has Teixidó taken them to their ceiling?

Ancient Greek statesman Pericles said it best when he said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

The impact of Fernando Teixidó has been incredible in Vallecas. A small working-class community are now supporters of the champions of Spain. With his legacy of humility, nobility and integrity now cemented in Rayo lore and two trophies in the cabinet, is it time to go?

If Teixidó does choose to leave Rayo Vallecano in the coming weeks to take a break or to seek a new challenge, one thing is for sure. He’s earned it.

Jonathan Simpson for theangrylinesmen

Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

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