In 2003 something strange happened in Spain.
A Barcelona team containing the talents of Xavi, Marc Overmars, Carles Puyol, Luis Enrique, Andres Iniesta, Gaizka Mendieta, Phillip Cocu and Juan Roman Riquelme finished sixth in La Liga.
Two places above Barcelona were Celta Vigo, who equalled their highest finish for 55 years with a maverick bunch of cult heroes.
A cult squad must have Brazilians. Celta had five, although Doriva left for Middlesbrough halfway through the season and striker Catanha was capped by Spain.
The star of the show was left-back Sylvinho who was in his second season at Celta following three years at Arsenal.
Then came the one-cap wonders.
Striker Edu and midfielder Vagner both turned out for Brazil just once. That was once more than team-mate Everton Giovanella.
Made in Africa
Edu and Catanha were Celta’s first-choice strikers, scoring 12 and four league goals respectively, but when they were out manager Miguel Angel Lotina could call upon two of Africa’s finest.
South African Benni McCarthy started just twice, scoring two goals, while a 19-year-old Mido, who was on loan from Ajax, scored four times in eight starts.
Both also received red cards despite their minimal playing time, which will come as little surprise to anyone who watched the pair during their respective careers.
Following the end of the campaign Mido moved to Marseille, sparking a European odyssey, and McCarthy was reunited with Jose Mourinho at Porto, winning the Champions League in his first season.
A mercurial no.10
Master of ceremonies at Celta was Russian playmaker Aleksandr Mostovoi, whose supreme technical ability was more than matched by a fiery temperament.
The ‘Tsar of Balaidos’ possessed a rocket of a right foot and, like all good no.10s, was always on the verge of boiling over.
His stats from the 2002/03 campaign read five goals, five yellows and a red but the excitement he brought to Celta’s midfield couldn’t be measured in numbers.
For Gary and Phil Neville read Jonathan and Iago Aspas.
Jonathan made his Celta debut as a 17-year-old in 1999 but didn’t make another appearance until November 2003.
His brother Iago was making his way through Celta’s academy although, no matter what he does back at his hometown club, he’ll always be remembered in England for *that* corner.
So did Celta build on their success the following season?
No, is the simplest answer to that question.
Champions League football was too much for Celta.
The Galicians finished 19th in the league and were relegated to the Segunda Division.
A fitting end to the rags to riches tale.
WE’RE GOING TO MISS YOU RONALDINHO:
- Why did Ronaldinho’s Barcelona debut kick off at midnight
- Ronaldinho and Neymar played arguably the best game of football ever
- Ronaldinho once got a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans