In the summer of 2004, coach Miguel Ángel Lotina promoted a 21-year-old centre back called Dani Jarque to the first team on a permanent basis. The youngster, an Espanyol fan and product of the youth system, had represented the Spanish national side at all levels up to under-21. He had made a handful of appearances over the previous couple of seasons as part of a generation that included Moisés Hurtado and Coro, and they would now slot into a squad led by Carlos Kameni, Mauricio Pochettino, Iván de la Peña, Maxi Rodríguez and Raúl Tamudo.
The season was a hugely successful one for the club. They recorded one of their highest ever points tallies to finish 5th in the league and qualify for the UEFA Cup the following year. Highlights included a one-nil victory over Real Madrid at the Estadio Olímpico on Montjuïc, where Espanyol played their home games at the time.
The club was flying and the squad was further bolstered with the arrivals of Walter Pandiani, Luís García, Albert Riera and a youthful Pablo Zabaleta in preparation for the European assault. Dani Jarque cemented his place in the first eleven, playing more minutes than any other player (a feat he was to repeat in every subsequent season) and endearing himself to fans with his obvious leadership qualities. However, the 2005-06 season was a decidedly mixed one. League form slumped, with survival not assured until an 89th-minute winner from Coro against Real Sociedad on the final day of the season. The European adventure came to an end in February after a heavy defeat to Schalke in which Kevin Kuranyi and Ebbe Sand marked the difference. The only reprieve was a cup run which took them all the way to the final at the Bernabeu on April 12th 2006. It is a date which all pericos remember well.
The Copa del Rey victory brought Espanyol’s first trophy in six years, and came with the added bonus of repeated UEFA Cup qualification. While fans headed off on their summer holidays licking their lips at the prospect of another bite at the continental cherry, Lotina was ushered out the back door and former player Ernesto Valverde was given a warm welcome to the dugout. Pochettino decided to hang up his boots and left the club to pursue his coaching license, but otherwise it was a summer of continuity in the dressing room. Realistically, the club had a mid-table squad, and after a slow start, winning only one of their opening 10 matches, they began to live up to their billing and sat in 9th position at Christmas, having made it safely through to the knockout rounds of the UEFA Cup.
The new year fireworks came in the form of a 3-1 victory over Ronaldinho’s Barça, who were battling Real Madrid for La Liga, and league form remained consistent until April. There was more hope than expectation when the UEFA Cup quarter final draw threw up a tie against Benfica. But Espanyol had won all five of their home ties in the competition thus far, with an aggregate score of 16-3, and the Montjuïc fortress wasn’t going to let them down now. Tamudo, Riera and Pandiani netted in the first leg, with Nuno Gomes and Simao replying for the Portuguese side. A week later, in Lisbon, they would hold on for the goalless draw that saw them through.
Uncomfortable memories of the drubbing at the hands of Schalke were rekindled as the semi finals presented another German opponent in the form of Werder Bremen. 2006 World Cup golden boot winner Miroslav Klose fancied his chances of breaking the Montjuïc charm in what would be a stern test of the inexperienced centre-back pairing of Jarque and Torrejón. If nerves played a part, it didn’t show as Espanyol turned in one of their finest performances in recent years.
There were still some nervous moments when Hugo Almeida got the Germans off to a flier in the third minute of the return leg, but when Miroslav Klose got himself sent off for diving the writing was on the wall. A 2-1 comeback win added some polish, and return ticket sales from El Prat to Prestwick went through the roof: Espanyol were heading to Glasgow to face fellow Spaniards, and reigning champions, Sevilla.
The date of the final was May 16th 2007, a full month before the league season came to an end. With a mid-table finish seemingly assured in the latter competition, all eyes were on the final at Hampden. Valverde stuck with the side that had barely put a foot wrong in the whole campaign.
Have a look at the highlights below to see how things transpired.
It was certainly a tough one to take. The team had exceeded all expectations, gone unbeaten throughout the 15-match UEFA Cup run, and had only an empty feeling in the stomach, and wet feet, to show for it. Football is particularly effective at producing this type of feeling, but it is also rather adept at providing a shot at redemption. Espanyol’s came sooner than most.
FC Barcelona had topped La Liga for most of the season, but trailed bitter rival Real Madrid on goal difference going into the penultimate round of fixtures. With a final match against the already relegated Nástic to come, Barça knew that if they could better Madrid’s result, the title was all but theirs. Madrid faced Zaragoza away from home, while Barça would host Espanyol in the Barcelona derby. As both matches drew to a close, Madrid trailed 2-1, while Barça led 2-1 and had begun to showboat at the Camp Nou. Then, in an extraordinary 18 seconds, this happened.
Van Nistelrooy equalised for Madrid, and, before TV channels had even managed to switch their attention back to Barcelona, Tamudo had struck. Barça had suffered the Tamudazo, and Madrid would win La Liga. But best of all, Espanyol fans got to sip some of that sweet, sweet elixir: schadenfreude.
These had been a tumultuous couple of years, and things calmed down somewhat over the next couple of seasons with mid-table league finishes and unremarkable cup runs. That isn’t to say that there weren’t any changes: Albert Riera and Pablo Zabaleta were sold to English clubs for large fees. A new stadium was being built, which meant that the money raised from these sales wasn’t reinvested in the squad. Valverde moved on and Pochettino was named as his replacement in what was his first managerial role. Jarque’s influence continued to grow, he was by now a firm fan favourite and a solid defence was built around him.
In the summer of 2009 the shiny new RCDE stadium in Cornellà was finally ready. Liverpool were invited as guests of honour for the inaugural match on August 2nd. Espanyol ran out comfortable winners, with Dani Jarque wearing the armband for the first time as club captain. There was a celebratory mood in the air and, once again, hopes were high for the campaign ahead.
Just six days later, Dani Jarque suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 26.
After the intitial shock, football, of course, went on. But the club has not forgotten their “eternal captain”. Fans applaud during the 21st minute of every match, the training complex was renamed in his honour, and many fans, players and representatives from other clubs have made tributes over the years. Andrés Iniesta, who became used to receiving standing ovations at grounds all over Spain after his world-cup-winning heroics in 2010, would perhaps have expected the RCDE stadium to be one place he would not experience such a welcome. Iniesta, though, was a close friend of Jarque’s, and brought his undershirt from the World Cup final to the Espanyol ground as a tribute.
Since then, he was religiously applauded by Espanyol fans each and every time he visited with Barça.
Today marks ten years since the untimely death of Dani Jarque. The club has opened gate 21 to allow fans to pay their respects. I hope that by focusing on the exciting times for the club in which Jarque played such a crucial role, this post has given you an idea of why so many continue to do so.
Remember, Espanyol are back in Europe this year for the first time since losing the final on penalties 12 years ago. Their adventure continues away to FC Luzern at 9pm tonight (local time here in Spain). I’ll be back later this afternoon with a look ahead to that. Until then.