We spoke to Ben Hardman who is the creator of BlogBetis.com, a website dedicated to Real Betis. Ben started following the club around 6 years ago and he created BlogBetis to give English-speaking fans across the globe easier access to this marvellous club. You can find regular updates and insights on his Twitter feed, @hardmanbs.
The new season is right around the corner now. What is the mood like among the fans ahead of the new campaign?
The mood in the Betis camp is definitely one of optimism. There are a lot of new faces at the club, which can be a little unsettling, particularly when they have an integral job, but new manager Gus Poyet and new sporting director Miguel Torrecilla have settled in very well and gone about their business quietly, efficiently, and so far, effectively.
No club outside La Liga has won a European trophy in three years now. How has that level of dominance came about and can it continue?
It’s an incredible stat really. It does show the strength in quality that La Liga has in comparison to the rest of the European leagues. The dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid is clear due to their monetary power and big club sway, but they have not shied away from the competition and delivered at the highest level. Atletico Madrid have also played a major part which I think has been driven by strong leadership and very clever player recruitment.
Sevilla’s dominance of the Europa league is testament to how seriously they take the competition compared to their English counterparts. The Italian league has lost its way in recent years, but I think Serie A teams will start to make more of an impact on the European stage. The competition in the Premier League has increased massively in recent years which I think have impacted negatively on teams’ performance in Europe. It will be hard for the Spanish supremacy to continue and we know these things do come to an end sooner or later with the English, Italian, German and Spanish leagues tending to go through dominant stages.
How has pre-season gone for Real Betis?
Remarkable smoothly, which is strange by Betis’ standards. The management have got much of their business done early which has allowed Poyet to integrate the players and test them out during the pre-season. We have played 10, won 6, draw 3 and lost just once. Results in friendly matches of course don’t count for anything but the level of performance has been good and the players have looked sharp and gelled well. Had wins against Werder Bremen and Sporting Lisbon and even came away winners of the Dresden Cup – a mini tournament in Germany.
Away from the football pitch, the club have sold over 40,000 season tickets which should make for a brilliant atmosphere in the Benito Villamarín when the season kicks off.
What are your thoughts on this summers transfer activity, both in and out?
We have been very active this summer! So far, we’ve brought in nine players (with I think one more still to come) and lost 15. I’ve been impressed with the players brought in and think Torrecilla has done a great recruitment job. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Tonny Sanabria form a partnership with Rubén Castro up top, with youngster Alex Alegria who has been promoted from the B team providing back up. Hopefully supplying these forwards will be new signings Nahuel and Charly Musonda, who can provide excellent attacking pace and trickery down the flanks. New left back and Danish international Riza Durmisi is also a notably signing.
The most noticeable leaver is undoubtedly Alfred N’Diaye who has gone to Villarreal and sadly Alvaro Vadillo who has been released by the club after a series of terrible injuries.
The transfer window will be open for another few weeks. Are there areas in the team that still need strengthened?
The club are still trying to sign a centre midfielder. This is an area to strengthen as it’s the pinnacle and engine room of the team and last year we had no zip or character in the centre. We have Petros in DM already and Dani Ceballos a little further forward and have brought in Jonas Martin from Montpellier and Felipe Gutiérrez from FC Twente but have lost N’Diaye, Xavi Torres and Lolo Reyes. Confusingly, the club are still negotiating on three fronts with David López, Benjamin Stambouli and Mario Lemina – one of these would be good.
If you could make one realistic signing for Real Betis this summer who would it be?
I would bring back Beñat from Athletic Bilbao.
What are your thoughts on Gus Poyet as the clubs manager?
I think he’s very good appointment. He’s ambitious manager, knows his style and comes from a high calibre background, meaning he’s got a lot to give. He did a great job at Brighton, but perhaps not such a great job at Sunderland or AEK Athens where he was sacked after about 6 months.
I think Betis as a club and establishment could be a really good match for what he has to offer and I’m looking forward to seeing his style flourish this season.
Are there any talented youngsters at the club that you expect to have a big future in the game?
There are a number of very talented youngsters at Betis. Most people will watched Dani Ceballos last year. He’s a young, local player but struggled to stamp his authority in La Liga last year after a very impressive season in La Segunda the year before. Perhaps he was a little out of his depth, but started to find his place towards the end of the year. He’s had a good pre-season so I’m hoping he can have a flying start to the campaign now he knows what to expect.
Another youngster who has made big waves this pre-season is Alex Alegria. He’s 23 and build in the same mold as Jorge Molina, except with more natural talent and with an extremely bright future. He’s scored four times during the close season and will form one of the four main strikers for the season to come.
What are your expectations for the season? Where do you think Real Betis will finish?
I have quite high expectation from Betis this season. Last time around, despite being involved a bit of relegation battle, we somehow managed to finish 10th. Not a bad return though as it was our first season since promotion from La Segunda. I think we’re set up much better for this season, but have to be careful against the ‘second season syndrome’.
The teams who finished above us last year, the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal, Celta Vigo and even Sevilla haven’t strengthened particularly much. This presents Betis with a good chance at moving up a few places. Who knows, 4th place is always open for anyone!
Finally, who is your favourite Real Betis player of all time?
For me this has to be Rubén Castro. Since I have been following the club he has been nothing short of remarkable; his goal-scoring record speaks for itself. He is a ‘proper’ centre forward – constantly sniffing around the penalty area, always seems to be in the right place at the right time and is a lethal finisher.