It was the 92nd minute, they were 1-0 down, desperate, and Ander Berrenetxea was running up the wing towards their goal when José Bordalás stepped across and made the tackle, taking the ball from his toe. Next thing he knew he was confronting Carlos Fernández, accusations flying, arms too, and people were pulling them apart, the referee arriving to hand him his second red in a row. None of which would have been especially unusual but for one thing: in his tight dark turtle neck, black trousers and polished shoes, neat parting and glasses, José Bordalás isn’t a Getafe player. He’s their manager, possibly the best they have had. He is also, he claims, a victim.
Most of all, he is a man under pressure, feeling his iron grip weaken and his enemies close in. This has been a difficult week for Bordalás, one that left his team defeated three times, the relegation zone rearing into view and him exposed. It’s been a difficult year in fact, slipping away in the silence of empty stadiums. From the moment president Ángel Torres refused to travel to face Internazionale in March last year, there’s been an inescapable feeling that something has broken somewhere, some part of what they were. And yet it is also what they are, what they always stood accused of being, that brought them so far before and brought them here now, fingers pointing their way. In Carlos Fernández’s case, literally.
Last Saturday, Bordalás was sent off at the Sánchez Pizjuán when Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui watched Lucas Ocampos carried off on a stretcher crying “they’ve destroyed my leg”, and turned on him. On Wednesday he watched from a glass box, suspended, as his team surrendered without a fight at Real Madrid, complaining that they had been “scared” to make tackles and left unprotected by their own club. And then on Sunday, back from his ban, he was sent off again, the spiral speeding up.
Alexander Isak had headed in to give Real Sociedad the lead and Getafe had been unable to find an equaliser. As it went into added time, 18-year-old Berrenetxea chased a ball up the line. Unable to keep it in, he went off the pitch and on again, still going but slowing to a halt. Bordalás, already crossing the line, stuck out his left foot. Chest out, he shot a defiant a look at someone – Berrenetxea or Fernández – and words were said. Something about shitting and mothers. Fernández dashed across, finger out, Bordalás swiped at it, slapping it down, and it began: players, delegate, linesman and referee getting involved, Bordalás and assistant Patricio Moreno getting sent off.
“It makes no sense,” Getafe’s manager complained afterwards. “I went to stop the ball so we could take [the throw in], nothing else. What anyone would do. The player carried on and I don’t know what he said and then Carlos Fernández came and raised his finger at me. It was an incredible lack of respect. I did nothing in Sevilla and I did nothing today and I have had two red cards. That’s reason to be sad and angry. We’re the easy card for people to play; I’m the easy card people play. And it’s totally unfair.”
There may have been something in that. The week before, Lopetegui apologised for losing his head and turning on Bordalás after Djené’s dreadful tackle on Ocampos, insisting “the manager of Sevilla cannot do what I did”. And stepping on to stop the ball this week was no great crime – although it is enough for a red. There has long been something facile in how readily Getafe are accused. They’re a dog given a bad name, instead of something great like Anfield, Messi or Zlatan, when this dirty, boring, cynical team actually played higher up than anyone in La Liga, when there was more variety to their game than most admitted, touch and technique as well as toughness. “A team of thugs doesn’t reach [what we have],” striker Jorge Molina said, and not without reason. Where they had reached, by the way, was the verge of the Champions League.
All that is true. But it also true that one player admitted “you sometimes wonder if he is going to hit you”, and that’s the image in which Bordalás has built this team and all his others. If there is something in what he said, there is something in what they say too. Getafe are the team that have committed the most fouls in primera, this season and last. They are the team with the most yellows. They are direct, they do like a duel – no one goes in for more – and do attempt fewer dribbles than anyone except Osasuna, while only three teams attempt fewer passes. Adept at that “other football”, games are there to be played, but also to be broken.
When they faced Ajax last season, the ball was in play 42 minutes – a record low. As Ajax got increasingly wound up, in Spain you couldn’t help smiling and thinking: “Have you met Getafe?” At one point that night an exasperated Ryan Babel threw himself to the floor and rolled around lampooning Alan Nyom’s play-acting; at one point this season, Ronald Koeman accused Nyom of insulting him and asked Bordalás to have words with him. Thing is, you couldn’t help imagining those words being “good” and “work”. This was the player El Día Después had caught with instructions for shithousery written on his hand, Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera shaking his head and muttering how he had never seen anything like it.
Confrontations with opponents were not always all that and certainly not always all Bordalás’s fault, but the list grew. Legend grew with it, a lot of myth mixed in with the reality. But it didn’t do so in a vacuum; it happened in a context that had been consciously created by Bordalás. And it didn’t go unnoticed, either, soon coming back on him. Now he can’t shake it.
The first time Bordalás exploded was against Osasuna coach Jagoba Arrasate, calling him “shameless” and a “brass neck”. “They say we’re the team that stops the game, breaks it up. There was only one team that wanted to play today and it was Getafe,” he ranted. “There were 37 stoppages – I’ve never seen anything like it – but then it’s us who do that?! I’ve had this for four years at Getafe and I’m not going to let it happen anymore.”
The attack made little sense, its target mistaken: Arrasate had defended Bordalás the day before, admiring his success. But as Bordalás admitted, this was the “last straw”; at some point he was going to blow, even if it was the wrong point. Slowly, it had eaten away at him; now it looks like it has consumed him, making a victim of him. Last summer, there had been suggestions of a big move – he has long been seen as a potential successor to Diego Simeone – but it didn’t happen. Maybe the pandemic got in the way; maybe the image had. For years, maybe it had got in the way of him having a shot at primera in the first place: it had taken him quarter of a century to get there.
The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.
Bordalás had taken Getafe from second bottom of the second division to the gates of the Champions League and built a team of expendables on a budget among the smallest in the division, yet there was always a “but”, their achievements denigrated – he at least felt that way. Resentment was a recurring routine: if they didn’t enjoy what he was doing and didn’t focus on it, it started to look like nor did he, destructively aware of being denied recognition, hitting out at the injustice he couldn’t get out of his head, real or imagined. His success had been extraordinary but it hadn’t been enough.
And now he doesn’t have that either, which may help to explain the tension. When the lockdown began, Getafe were fourth, a point behind Sevilla. For all the whining, they had beaten Ajax brilliantly and were heading to Milan believing they could win. When president Ángel Torres defied Uefa, almost certainly saving lives, he knew they might be missing something historic.
Nothing was the same again. Getafe came back and won once in 11 league games. They were knocked out by Inter. This season, they have won six league games and were knocked out of the cup by third tier Córdoba. Thirty-five post lockdown games yielded 32 points: relegation numbers. They sit just three points above the drop zone and things are getting worse: they have lost four of the last five, drawing the other 0-0, the red card revealed as red herring except as an expression of increasing anxiety.
It’s hard to put your finger on where it went wrong. “Maybe it’s confidence, we don’t know,” Bordalás said. Getafe are not – here comes another facile judgment – the most obvious candidate to miss fans but Mauro Arrambarri suggested that they enjoyed playing the role of bad guys away and admitted that gaps have opened, the compactness and coordination of before now lacking. The departure of Molina might have mattered too: the striker Bordalás likened to El Cid, everyone following, and the player to whom they played most.
Maybe there has just been a regression to mean and there is time too for a recovery. But recover what? Be what? The arrival of Carles Aleñá and Kubo, two players built for a different approach increased that lingering sense that they’re not themselves and not sure what they are supposed to be. Maybe that’s being expressed in the search for someone to blame, an external enemy. In midweek against Madrid, oddly insipid, they weren’t even good at fouling. Afterwards Bordalás insisted Getafe had to get their “identity back”: “criminalised” for what happened in Seville, innocent victims of another campaign, he claimed they’d been scared to make tackles. They had to put their foot in, he said, and so four days later he did.