Before he converted a penalty to send millions upon millions of other Argentines rapt for days, 25-year-old Gonzalo Montiel was – well – just another footballer.
Of course, the former River Plate defender was known to those in Buenos Aires and across the South American nation, and in Spain’s southern Andalusia region as an industrious, if unspectacular, full-back for Sevilla. Fast forward to a night in mid-December and a World Cup kick has propelled his profile to a whole other dimension.
La Liga football returns at the end of the year and Sevilla need 2023 to make a fresh dawn. Starting as a Champions League entrant, the side’s subsequent elimination means Europa League football is on the menu for now. More worrying is the team’s failing league form before the World Cup, which has seen them sink to 18th place – just inside the relegation zone. It’s a far cry from where the fans, who pack the attractive city’s metro on their way to games every other week, expect the team to be.
Fortunately, Montiel and Argentina’s rise to stardom provide the perfect strength for Sevilla to get back on track.
Sevilla, serially among the top teams in Spain, for once look a bit lost under sporting director Monchi, whose brains and knowledge of the transfer market have kept it at a high level for so long. A sign of the times is the talented, high-profile midfielder Isco – previously in the wilderness at Real Madrid – and now without a club, with Sevilla terminating his contract less than five months after recruiting him. Not like Seville at all. Statistically, the team have lost half of their league games this campaign, scoring a paltry average of just under a goal per game. Not very Seville either.
However, the site can cling to a certain optimism. The problems have led to a new coach too – or an old one – after Julen Lopetegui left to be replaced by former boss Jorge Sampaoli, who was steady enough in his last spell at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuan, which bodes well for a rebuild.
But what bodes even better for Sevilla is that with a small handful of World Cup-winning Argentines in their squad, they can draw on their success and confidence to rediscover their mojo in both the league and the other cup competitions.
Hoping to lead that recovery, Montiel will feel ten feet tall after ending Argentina’s 36-year wait for international football’s most coveted prize. Also keen to use the World Cup triumph as a catalyst to save Sevilla’s season are fellow defender Marcos Acuña and forwards Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gómez and Erik Lamela – although the latter did not make the final squad.
All in all, the WC can benefit the club. Morocco – a surprise semi-finalist – went far thanks to another of their players, goalscorer Youssef En-Nesyri. Likewise, Yassine Bounou, or Bono, was an instrumental goalkeeper and will be needed to help Sevilla secure much-needed wins when games resume.
Of course, Sevilla are not the only team to benefit from the global competition. Atlético Madrid duo Rodrigo de Paul and Ángel Correa are now world winners, while Paris Saint-Germain will be the happiest abroad. The Ligue 1 holders will have a jubilant Messi back in the fold alongside Kylian Mbappé, now one of only two players to score three goals in a World Cup final, along with the great Geoff Hurst.
For ex-Barcelona icon Messi, his maddening moment has a ripple effect. That can only be a good thing for PSG’s brand, as well as its momentum on the pitch in France and its pursuit of the elusive first Champions League title it desires. And then there’s the stock value of sponsors, like Pepsi, which is booming after his success.
But Sevilla can be the real winner if the players – some with a spring in their step – kick on. Beyond the status itself, staying in La Liga means more financial strength in the transfer market and satisfying salary requirements for important team members. Before qualifying for Europe, the financial security of being among the top 20 clubs nationally is always the most important foundation to build on. For this 2022/23 season, La Liga Sevilla issued a spending cap of around €199 million ($212 million). Stopping it from relegation, which would happen if they were relegated, is a significant incentive, even if this season has not gone as hoped.
Next up for Sampaoli’s side is a tough but winnable game in Asturias against Celta de Vigo before what should be an easy win against Deportivo in the last 32 of Spain’s Copa del Rey. Sevilla’s stuttering campaign suggests it could stumble on, but a welcome break and a returning group of winners mean better days are ahead.