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Osasuna trainer, Arrasate. SUR
Bursting with pride

Bursting with pride

Club Atlético Osasuna are easy to love, yet just don't feature when it comes to prizegiving ceremonies

Rob Palmer Commentator, ESPN

Friday, 3 March 2023, 14:55

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Is this the season for one of Spanish football's eternal underdogs to finally win a trophy?

Club Atlético Osasuna is one of those clubs who burst with pride and passion, are easy to love, yet just don't feature when it comes to the prizegiving ceremonies.

Osasuna doesn't exist; it means 'health' in the Basque dialect. The club is based in Pamplona which enjoys plenty of tourists in July for the famous San Fermín festival and bull runs. Most of the year it's rainy and off the map for travellers.

My first visit was to interview a young coach called Rafa Benítez. It should have been his new English signing, a lad from Middlesbrough called Jamie Pollock, but he'd been suspended for oversleeping and missing a kick-off so his boss appeared to apologise.

Hanging from the walls of El Sadar were team photos. I noticed the former Liverpool star Michael Robinson who joined the club as a slim striker, gaining a few pounds with every annual picture until he was forced to retire and go on to become a legend on Spanish television.

His Anfield teammate Sammy Lee always speaks fondly of his few months in northern Spain.

If I was to liken Osasuna to an English club, it would be Crystal Palace. They are off the beaten track with a humble existence, an atmospheric stadium, and a noisy set of fans who fill it every home game.

Commentating on Osasuna is always a pleasure because you are competing with a raucous crowd and the brand of football is always cavalier.

Like Barcelona and Real Madrid, the club is fan-owned. However, the budget is one-twelfth of La Liga's giants. They delve into the 'quarry' of locally produced players to build a squad. It's also easier to commentate when four of the players are called García.

This edition, under the intelligent management of Jagoba Arrasate, Osasuna could make the first Copa del Rey final since 2005.

They also have their eyes set on European qualification and replicating the success of 2007 when they made the semis of the then-UEFA Cup.

There is a belief in a team constructed of mainly local players with just four foreigners in the squad. The style is fast and furious which is why Arrasate is known as the «Basque Klopp». There's a fair chance they can meet Jürgen next season if they stay on their current path.

Osasuna beat local rivals Athletic Bilbao in the first semi of the Spanish Cup with a goal from Moroccan World Cup star Abde Ezalzouli who is described by his coach as a «genius».

«We have to give him that ecosystem so that he shines. We already know the player he is,» said Arrasate. The twenty-one-year-old Ezalzouli is enjoying the ecosystem of the Navarra region on a year's loan from his parent club Barcelona. The intention is to fix a cup final date with his pals or Real Madrid.

Osasuna have one foot in the final after the 1-0 win but now have a month to wait until the second semi in Bilbao. They are probably right to cast themselves still as underdogs with their #BIGATHEART campaign.

But the boys from the city of the bull run still dare to dream that they can finally win the club's first ever trophy in a century of existence. They would be popular winners if they defied the odds.

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