But this is the Europa League and this is Sevilla. They always find a way. This is a team that has lost just three of its last 40 knockout matches in Europe’s second-tier competition and never a final, though it has trailed in four of them. Paulo Dybala’s slippery left footed shot was canceled out by Gianluca Mancini’s own goal – it was the third time Sevilla had benefited from this in the competition after two against Manchester United – and Sevilla won with a tiebreaker penalty that had to be repeated to decide an attrition tie that began in May and ended in June.
In Gonzalo Montiel, Sevilla had their man well. The Argentine now has two trophies won with his last kick, the other being the World Cup, so you couldn’t blame him for the post-final selfie with the 15kg trophy, the heaviest in Europe.
Montiel’s penalty brought the Andalusian club an unprecedented seventh Europa League title, five of them in the last 10 years. Even in a LaLiga season in which they were just two points above the relegation zone on March 11 and now, if they end there, it will be their worst since promotion in 2000-01, Sevilla managed to go all the way, the 5(1)-1(1) result at Budapest’s Puskas Arena confirms another Champions League season.
Other teams would have focused on the league in such a situation, but it couldn’t be more than Sevilla, where the Europa League trophies are displayed in the locker room. So after Manchester United, Sevilla beat Juventus to reach the final, their first since 2019-20.
Mendilibar was crucial for the change. He was appointed on a three-month contract to stop a slide into the relegation zone with Sevilla having lost to Osasuna, Atlético Madrid and Getafe. However, in the midst of all this and just after Atlético Madrid had beaten them 6-1, Sevilla beat Fenerbahce 2-0 in the Europa League.
Mendilibar took over on April Fool’s Day, away from Cádiz and won 2-0. From then until a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid, Sevilla racked up 21 points in six wins and three draws. Not even La Liga champion Barcelona got as many. It was a change from Julen Lopetegui’s bad start and Jorge Sampaoli’s confusion, best exemplified by Marcos Acuña throwing away a piece of paper that had instructions from the coach. Too much to play from behind, the president of Sevilla, Pepe Castro, had explained, part of all the triumphant European nights.
Mendilibar has said that he does not force his players to do “square roots, only addition and subtraction.” He has described himself as the “anti-modern manager” who is not a slave to the tablet or the computer. His unsophisticated football style is the opposite of Pep Guardiola’s, but Mendilibar has shown that simplicity is also a Spanish way of winning trophies.
His teams press hard, Roma receiving an average of 5.4 passes before Sevilla challenged them, fighting for second balls and throwing crosses into the box for Youssef En-Nesyri, whose goal against Portugal in Doha had made history for Morocco and Africa.
Sevilla tried 40 centers in the final. Only Jesús Navas had seven. A product of Sevilla’s youth academy and the only player from when they first won in Europe in 2006, Skipper Navas typified the team’s no-frills approach. At 37, he can no longer play on the right side, so Lucas Ocampos does it while he is on the right side. And he has done so well that, although Sevilla had Montiel, every manager this season preferred the 2010 World Cup winner, after whom the club named their training camp. Sevilla tied from a bad cross from Navas.
From Ivan Rakitic to Ocampos, players have talked about how Mendilibar has turned things around by instilling positive vibes, making them understand what to do and then getting them to do it.
During most of his career as a coach, at Eibar, Real Valladolid, Osasuna, Levante and Alavés, Mendilibar has said that he “fought for other types of prizes”. It was mainly about surviving there, although he managed Eibar to finish ninth in La Liga from 2017-18 and won promotion with Valladolid in 2007.
“I have been in the First Division for 20 years and it seems that nobody knew me and now, being in Sevilla and doing what we are doing? What I did at Eibar is as much as what I am doing at Sevilla,” Mendilibar told the Spanish website Relevo. That was before his 965th game in charge and fifth in the Europa League. One that brought relief to Spain in a season in which Manchester City smashed Real Madrid in the Champions League and the country’s soccer was marred by repeated accusations of racism.