Granada back in the big time after rock-throwing play-offs

Are you sitting down? If not, find a perch immediately. For LLL has some shocking news to reveal: Spain's football bosses have had a good idea.

Launching a play-off process for promotion to la Primera for the clubs finishing third through to sixth in la Segunda was, for once, a sound concept. Certainly better than the current ridiculous rule which allows clubs in administration not to pay their players or suppliers but still do transfer deals.

Economically, the play-offs are a good thing for a bunch of beleaguered, cash-strapped second division sides battling for the available places as it gives them more meaningful games at the end of the season. What’s more, the process can also help prevent any ‘odd’ results and goalkeeping performances that cause scandals from time to time by giving more teams more to play for at the end of the campaign. LLL is looking at you, Hércules. But not in an accusatory way, of course.

Although Barcelona’s second side finished in third this year, Luis Enrique’s former team were barred from going up – leaving Elche, Granada, Celta and Valladolid to go into battle, as they did almost literally, with the second leg of the final finishing on Saturday night in a rather unpleasantly violent manner.

In the semi-finals, Elche disposed of Valladolid whilst Granada squeaked through against Celta on penalties – throwing the third- and fourth-placed teams together in a duel. Last Wednesday's first leg in Granada ended goalless, leaving the tie as open as Atlético Madrid's exit door.

And so Saturday night saw a 39,000 sell-out Elche’s Martínez Valero stadium. Playing a match of such importance at nine at night was necessary because of the heat and TV audiences, but it certainly increased chances of some fans becoming a touch tired and emotional before, during and after the match – something which became clear when the final whistle went.

Granada took the lead through a great solo effort from Ighalo in the first half. Elche then had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside, but did pull one back with 10 minutes to go. However, Granada hung on for dear life to win a place back in la Primera after a 35-year absence.

Their opponents weren’t in the mood to shake their hands and give them a pat on the back with supporters running onto the pitch to have a pop at the Granada players – including goalkeeper Roberto, who was hit on the back.

The heckles were just as high on the benches, with Granada manager Fabri being sent off with two minutes to go and Elche coach José Bordalás accusing his counterpart of doing a bit of an ‘up yours’ gesture after Granada’s goal, although LLL would suggest it was more of a ‘Come on Tim!’ Henman-style fist pump.

“Fabri is not worthy of his profession. I didn’t like anything about his attitude or the way he behaved,” ranted the taking-defeat-on-the-chin Bordalás. “He gave off the image of a regional manager – at the end he came over to provoke us.”

That was certainly what small sections of the Elche support did before and after the game, with bottles and rocks among the objects thrown at the Granada team bus as it arrived at the stadium. TV pictures also showed objects being hurled at the celebrating Granada supporters in the stands after the game, despite riot police and security staff trying to control the situation. “Intolerable aggressions which betray the values of sport and exceed the excitement felt by football,” wrote Marca’s editorial on Sunday.

The question now is whether Granada have any chance of staying up next season. The club’s rise and rise to the top flight has been quite remarkable, with back-to-back promotions out of the Segunda B division under Fabri, an experienced coach now at his 24th club.

Technically, Granada are in an administration process with debts of €7m but that isn’t really an issue in Spanish football with clubs allowed to continue on their merry way despite such a burden around their neck.

Granada are benefiting heavily from a deal signed in 2009 with Udinese, who had links with current president Enrique Pina. “They have backed our project with economic investment and above all players,” explained the Granada president, referring to the 12 members of the squad currently on loan from Udinese. This may help boost Granada’s survival chances next year, with talk of Barcelona players being loaned to the Andalusian outfit as part of the deal for Alexis Sánchez from Udinese.

Granada may well go into the new campaign as one of the strong favourites to go down, but the club’s Italian connection may well give la Primera’s newest members a helping hand. 

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