If you thought romance in football was dead, think again. The smallest club ever to play in La Liga, Eibar, are enjoying a hugely successful second campaign in the Spanish top flight. A league they only remained in because of financial irregularities at Elche.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The story begins at the end of the 2013/14 season. Eibar had qualified to La Liga for the first time in their history and it was historic in every sense.
The entire town has a population of just 27,500 people. Enough to fit into the Camp Nou and still have 60,000 empty seats. Their Ipurua Stadium held 5,000 at most, and would need to be extended to 6,000 to comply with league rules. Still the smallest stadium by a distance.
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Any celebrations were short lived however. Despite being the only club in the top two flights that were not in any form of debt and "in the black" as it were, a 1999 decree required every team to have a capital equal to 25% of the average expenses of all sides in the second division, excluding the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two with the smallest.
That placed the financial bar way above the head of Eibar, which launched a share issue to raise the €1.7 million ($2.3 million) needed to take a place at Spain's top table. That they were able to do so in the smallest of time frames, avoiding relegation to the third tier by way of punishment, is the beginning of the fairy tale. And one that shows no sign of ending.
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Opposition teams don't enjoy visiting Ipurua. It's tight and imposing, and almost non-league-esque in its construction. The supporters are so close to the pitch that they can touch the players when they take corners or throw ins.
Good old days
A throw back to the good old days you might say.
Eibar's first season was, to coin a well-worn football phrase, a game of two halves. Up until Christmas 2014 the underdogs were flying - as high as eighth place at one point. But an astonishingly poor second half of the season saw the minnows finish in the relegation places.
The football gods were obviously smiling on them again because Elche's inability to pay their staff saw them relegated in place of Eibar. And boy have they grabbed their second life with vigour and both hands.
Already with 30 points on the scoreboard, just ten points are required to reach the magical 40 which is the benchmark for teams looking toward safety.
The difference this season is that the team and indeed the club have learned from their mistakes in the last campaign and are much better placed to make an assault on the European places.
Better than Valencia
They are playing better football than Valencia who are seven points adrift of them. They are playing better football than Sevilla and they're also ahead of Athletic Bilbao.
Three teams that are normally nailed on for either Champions League or Europa League places come the shake up at the end of the season.
Yet, only Atletico Madrid and Villarreal can match them on current form in the entire division.
With Borja Baston taking all before him, in an attacking sense Eibar have quality leading the line, and what they lack as a team in terms of skill, they more than make up for with application and commitment.
Playing with such confidence and belief week in and week out, there's no reason why they can't continue this remarkable success story.
Can Eibar secure a Europa League spot come the end of the season? Give YOUR opinion in the comment box below!
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