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Footballers taunting and mocking their rivals ahead of a big derby game is an admirable activity, in a generally polite world of platitudes concerning all matches being challenging and the need to respect the opposition. However, the real key to the success of such a bold approach is to win the forthcoming fixture and not be defeated heavily whilst having your star player sent off for head-butting an opponent, thus looking like total eejits in the process.
Celta Vigo were deserved recipients of this fate on Friday with a 3-1 defeat at Galician rivals Deportivo La Coruña, that caused the club's columnist in Marca to write that the loss was "one of the most painful in history."
All the nonsense began in the days preceding the game, with born and bred Celta striker, Iago Aspas, noting that a defeat for Deportivo would leave the club "with two feet in the second division." Technically the forward was quite right, with Deportivo bottom of the table on 17 points going into the game and needing Champions League qualifying form to get the side out of trouble.
The problem was that it was neither the appropriate time for such a comment nor was Aspas the appropriate player to make it. If you speak to the previous Celta coach and former Liverpool trainer, Paco Herrera, who took the northern team into la Primera after a five season spell in the second division before being sacked in the middle of February, the manager might say that Aspas was the main reason for his firing. Herrera repeatedly criticised the forward for having completely lost focus after talk of a move to Valencia in June.
Last week was not the first time that Aspas was guilty of taunting Deportivo. After Vagner booted Diego Tristan in a previous derby between the two teams, the feisty 26-year-old admitted that he celebrated the midfielder's rough challenge like a goal. "I consider myself a good Celtista therefore Anti-Deportivista", said Aspas in 2011.
Not a single player at Celta was in any kind of position to make fun of Deportivo anyway, with the Vigo side second from bottom of the table and proudly possessing a lamentable away record of just one victory from 14 ahead of the Riazor clash. Injured defender, Hugo Mallo, didn't think that was an issue though when the Celta full-back had a photo published which showed him holding up a sign saying "For Sale" with the Depor flag merged with the Portugal flag, a reference to the supposed influence of agent, Jorge Mendes, at the club and the nationality of many of the players. At the time of the photograph, Mallo was on a coach for visiting fans on his way to La Coruña to watch the game in the stands.
Deportivo had only won a single league game since November 4 but proceeded to look like world-beaters against Celta Vigo with Riki giving the home side the lead after nine minutes. What little chance the visitors had of bouncing back vanished when a Celta player dished out a head-butt to Depor defender, Carlos Marchena, who was on the floor at the time midway through the first half. The offending player was Iago Aspas, who subsequently apologised for his action on Twitter. However, it was too little, too late against a fired up Deportivo who ran out easy 3-1 winners to move onto 20 points. "We are still in the emergency room," admitted Deportivo boss, Fernando Vázquez.
Before the firing of the popular Paco Herrera there was a lot of love for Celta Vigo in Spain and many hoped they would stay up this year. The club had nearly disappeared during its spell in the second division and seemed to be in steady hands under Herrera, with the club president giving support to the boss even if relegation back to the second division was to be the side's fate in the summer.
Celta played some very attractive football at the start of the campaign, but weren't able to take advantage of the chances they created and the dominance the team often had during matches. However, the cruel firing of Herrera, who was replaced by grumpy old-timer, Abel Resino, and the events of the weekend may have seen a lot of the affection for Celta Vigo disappear.
To stem the tide, the club is now pursuing a policy of damage-limitation. As well as the apology from Aspas, Mallo has also said sorry for his behaviour. "This wasn't my intention. The Depor badge doesn't deserve this," he grovelled. Veteran Celta striker, Mario Bermejo, admitted to being appalled by his teammates: "We are not a 'barrio' team, we are professionals and we represent a club in la Primera. Now we'll have to deal with all the stupidity that's been done." Local news sources have said that the two players will be given an "exemplary fine".
Controversy aside, the result of the derby only gave fleeting hope to Deportivo that they can save themselves. However, the international break at Celta Vigo might well produce a fortnight of infighting and bickering at a club whose spirit appears to have been broken. The one bright note from all this is that there should be two more entertaining affairs between the two clubs next season. It's almost certain, though, that it will be taking place in the second division.
Round 28 Results:
Deportivo 3-1 Celta Vigo
Real Sociedad 4-1 Valladolid
Getafe 1-0 Athletic Bilbao
Real Madrid 5-2 Mallorca
Valencia 3-0 Betis
Granada 1-1 Levante
Barcelona 3-1 Rayo Vallecano
Sevilla 4-0 Zaragoza
Osasuna 0-2 Atlético Madrid
Málaga 0-2 Espanyol
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