Why Deportivo need to make most of their good fortune

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The Independent Football

As they pulled off a miracle in the week of Easter, you might think Deportivo La Coruña consider they have the right, as well as the might, to go the distance now in the Champions' League. However, the eager anticipation of Wednesday's semi-final against Portois mixed with nervousness, since the Galician club's future could depend on it.

Deportivo's plight is a famil-iar one. A combination of overspending and over-ambition has left them £120 million in debt, and Augusto Cesar Lendoiro, the club's quirky president for the past 18 years, is in the throes of negotiating a £35m loan.

The outlay has certainly brought success in the last five years, with Deportivo winning the Spanish league in 2002 and the cup two seasons later. Now, having twice got as far as the last eight in Europe, they are semi-finalists. But the outlay has been heavy for a club whose stadium holds only 35,800 and who are based in a city whose population is not among Spain's top 10, and not even the biggest (behind Vigo) in Galicia.

The crunch came last year when Deportivo were forced to sell their Dutch striker Roy Makaay to Bayern Munich after Lendoiro had insisted he would never part with any of his top players. But the president was left with little option when the rest of the squad urged him to go through with the transfer so as to guarantee their own wages. Now the rumours are that Barcelona may buy their striker Alberto Luque, and that Real Madrid want their Portuguese defender Jorge Manuel Andrade.

These uncertainties, plus the need to replace ageing players such as midfielders Mauro Silva (36) and Fran (34), have served to return to earth the feet of Deportivo's manager, Javier Irureta, following that miracle win over the holders, Milan, the first time any Champions' League team had overcome a three-goal deficit from the first leg.

The 56-year-old Irureta, who comes from the Basque border town of Irun, can match his president when it comes to quirkiness. He wears the same coat, rain or shine, to watch matches, never sits down until his team score, and chews the same piece of gum from kick-off until post-match interview time. A disciplin-arian whose tinkerman tendencies have led to training- ground bust-ups at a club where there are more talented players than places in the team, Irureta is the man whose arrival six years ago changed Deportivo's fortunes.

His prospects of contract renewal, after some shaky times such as that 8-3 walloping in Monaco, have blossomed following the crushing of Milan. Irureta's popularity has much to do with his quotability. Having said that he would travel the 40 kilometres between La Coruña and the pilgrim city of Santiago de Compostela on his knees if Deportivo beat Milan, he confirmed the intention to do so at the end of the season, albeit on foot rather than knees, something he has undertaken before, when his side won La Liga four years ago.

It is the fans of Deportivo who are kneeling at the moment, in a combination of jubilation and disbelief. The city of 250,000 people is awash with the blue-and- white colours of their team. "Since the victory over Milan people in bars, offices and the streets are talking about nothing else," said Jose Hermida of the Spanish daily El Pais. "This is unusual, because we are not as hot-blooded around here as the people of places like Andalucia. We are Spanish but quite different, people who are more reluctant to show our emotions, like northern Europeans."

That said, feelings are running high in La Coruña at what is regarded as a miserly allocation of only 2,600 tickets for the 20,000 who were hoping to make the 150-mile journey across the Portuguese border for Wednesday's first leg in Oporto. This may be down to cunning in the Porto camp, since Irureta has paid tribute to his team's enthusiastic following as "the equivalent of a 12th man."

Having lost 2-0 to Porto already this season, Irureta is cautious about overcoming the Portuguese League leaders. Pointing out that Depor-tivo "are capable of the worst, as well as the best", the manager added, "Porto don't lose many games and last season won the Uefa Cup."

Whether another miracle would be on the cards should Deportivo ship some goals on Wednesday is debatable, but their Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani is convinced his side possess the belief, as well as the work rate, to get to the final. "Football has changed a great deal," he said. "It is no use having better players or being favourites. The team that gives everything will win." And should that team be Deportivo, their creditors will be happy.