A little bit of history was made this weekend as Club Deportivo Leganés achieved promotion on the final of the Segunda Division season by winning 1-0 at Mirandes. As a result they will become the 61st side to have competed in La Liga when the new season gets under way in August having never previously reached Spain’s top tier.
They will be only the 5th side to have made their debut in La Liga this century following in the footsteps of Getafe, Almeria, Xerez and Eibar. Of the quartet, only Eibar remain and they would have been relegated in their first season were it not for the financial problems of Elche. However Leganés may take some inspiration from local rivals Getafe who managed to establish themselves and at times flourish in the top flight for 12 years before their relegation last month.
Only five miles separates the two towns on the outskirts of the Spanish capital and the two contest the South Madrid derby although recent meetings have been somewhat rare. Although rivals, there are more similarities than differences between the two working class neighbourhoods and their respective football teams.
Like Getafe, who until tiny Eibar were promoted regularly drew the lowest crowds in La Liga, Leganes have always faced the immensely challenging prospect of competing with the Madrid giants for supporters, something that should be slightly easier in the top flight next season at least. Atleti in particular are very well supported in the numerous towns just South of Madrid and average crowds at Leganés games this season were just a fraction over 5,000.
Estadio Municipal de Butarque, where they play their home games only holds around 8,000 but there were many more than that packed into the town’s Plaza Mayor as the side celebrated promotion on Sunday. The hope will be that their surprise promotion and debut participation in La Liga will capture the imagination of the town’s residents, something which despite moments of promise never really happened up the road at Getafe which become a byword for empty seats and the division’s worst atmospheres.
Leganes were in the 3rd tier as recently as the 2013/14 season and have spent more seasons in the 4th tier than other since they were founded back in 1929. However thanks to the relegation of Rayo Vallecano and Getafe, they are now all of a sudden Madrid’s 3rd club and will face the daunting prospect of local derbies against the two sides that contested the Champions League final next term.
They are already being billed as relegation certainties in some quarters but there are plenty of small teams that have defied the odds in recent years having won promotion to La Liga with Basque minnows Eibar the obvious example. It’s also worth noting that all three promoted teams achieved survival this season with Las Palmas, the pre-season favourites for the drop finishing in 11th place, one below Real Betis who they were promoted alongside while Sporting Gijon stayed up on the final day.
Leganes will certainly also be able to take confidence from the season just gone, when despite finishing 2nd by a single point they were arguably more impressive than champions Alaves at least in that they scored 10 more goals and conceded fewer. They were also only knocked out of the Copa del Rey on away goals by top flight Granada and should at least be able to compete with the bottom half of La Liga next term.
They are coached by Asier Garitano, a relatively unknown Basque who spent most of his playing career in the lower leagues and has done likewise as a coach. He has done a stunning job with Leganes though leading them to promotion from the Segunda B in 2014 when they won a tense play-off with Barcelona club L’Hospitalet and has done likewise in the Segunda Division after just two seasons in the higher tier.
Some players to look out for include Alexander Szymanowski, an Argentine of Polish heritage who has excelled in midfield this season finishing as the club’s top scorer with 12 goals. They’ve also made good use of the loan system with three players on loan from Athletic Bilbao while Deportivo La Coruna centre-back Pablo Insua and Juventus midfielder Gabriel have also featured prominently.
Garitano will be hopeful of extending the loan deals of the players who have impressed and may get his wish too with the side now in La Liga. He may also look to the loan market as the club’s best chance of strengthening the squad given funds are obviously tight with the club’s annual revenue minimal although clearly that will increase over the next 12 months and perhaps beyond.
Indeed there may be a real window of opportunity for Leganes to grow as a club on the back of this promotion rather than simply slide back into relative anonymity. They have gone up at a time when Spanish TV money is increasing with the smaller clubs set to receive a bigger piece of the pie than ever before, something that could really help them push on with the expansion of their tiny and somewhat bland Estadio Municipal de Butarque likely to be a priority.
The fact that Getafe and Rayo Vallecano have just gone down, means there is considerably less competition on football weekends in Madrid and that combined with the buzz of promotion should mean they will be able to regularly sell out their stadium in the top flight next term.
Perhaps more significantly Atletico Madrid’s 2017 move away from their traditional heartland to the east of the capital and Estadio La Peineta, just a couple of kilometres from Barajas Airport could see their appeal grow further. If they can stay up this season, Leganes would be set to become the only top flight club in the huge Southern Madrid catchment area, which is home to the majority of the city’s residents.
While clearly the hardcore followers will continue to support Atleti, locals in the nearby towns of Mostoles and Fuenlabrada and the Southern suburbs of Madrid might be more inclined to head to Leganes for a dose of Primera Division action rather than take on the long slog across the capital which on a bad day could take in excess of an hour.
Of course so much is dependent on them adapting to life in the top flight, something which is very much foreign to them at this point. However with a bit of smart business this summer there is no reason why they won’t be able to be at least competitive in La Liga next term and with a bit of luck Leganes could be the latest in what is becoming a pretty long list of small Spanish sides to experience a period of exponential growth.
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