Rayo Vallecano: Everything You Need to Know About La Liga's Surprise Package
It has not even been a month and already La Liga fans are being treated to a few surprises this season.
Real Madrid went without a victory in its first three matches, Espanyol and Valencia are winless and Malaga are somehow winning games despite a very tumultuous summer.
One of the biggest surprises is that the Madrid-based team with the best record at the moment is Rayo Vallecano—a team with less than one percent the income of the defending champs and nowhere near the talent of Atletico Madrid.
You mean the team that narrowly relegation last season with a controversial late winner and the team that sold their best player for almost nothing?
Yes, that Rayo. Los Vallecas.
We are only three weeks in and it is more likely that Rayo will eventually be back in the bottom four instead of the top four, but maybe not.
Last season, Levante showed how even the weakest, most financially inept teams can do very well in one of Europe's most balanced leagues—outside of the title race, of course.
Rayo have been the talk of the town around Madrid and many readers and fans are wanting to know more about the "other team in white."
Bleacher Report is here to bring you up to speed on one of Spain's most interesting clubs this season.
Debt and Corrupt Owners
Los Vallecas are one of the poorest clubs in the league and have large amounts of debt.
Before securing a spot in La Liga before last season, players had gone unpaid for large amounts of time. Captain Javi Fuego said that he had only been paid twice over a nine-month period.
Typical to Spanish clubs in debt, a large reason for such a financial mess is mismanagement from incompetent owners.
Former owner Jose Ruiz-Mateos and his wife—and former club president—Teresa Rivero put the club deep into debt—believed to be around €700 million when the club was promoted.
Jose Ruiz-Mateos was sentenced to three years in prison in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion. It was the second time in his life that he had been charged with such crimes, the first time coming in the 1980s.
The club was sold in 2011 to Madrid businessman Raúl Martín Presa who has promised to pay all debts by season's end.
La Liga is no stranger to new owners who make promises to players only to realize that owning a Spanish team is not as lucrative as they had hoped so only time will tell how Presa does.
Rayo Vallecano have some of the most unique and active fans in the league and especially in Madrid.
The team represents an area of working class families inside the city who happen to be some of the most outspoken, politically active fans in the country.
The ultras—known as Bukaneros—are renowned for their anti-fascists views and are never afraid to protest against the league and club authorities when they become unhappy.
Back in 2010, the Bukaneros staged a boycott of home matches to speak out against having matches on Friday nights.
The typically boisterous Campo de Vallecas sat empty with only a banner reading ‘Say No to Football on Friday’ being seen on TV.
The fans sit in Spain's capital city cheering on their club not waving modern national Spanish flags, but the Republic flags of old. Those usually wave alongside a giant threaded face of revolutionary Che Guevara.
The fans travel very well for a smaller club and after being out of the first division since 2002, were more than willing to make their presence known around Spain once again.
The Surprise That Almost Didn't Happen
Los Vallecanos have been one of the big surprises of this new season, but it is hard to explain how close the club was to not even being in the first division this season.
How close exactly? Seconds at most as Raul Tamudo entered local lore with a stoppage time winner against Granada.
But before getting to that fateful moment, let's recap how Rayo put themselves in such a dire situation to begin with.
Five weeks prior to that, Los Franjirrojos had defeated Osasuna by a score of 6-0 and clinched the magic number of 40 points that traditionally signals first division survival.
The capital side then lost their next six matches by a combined score of 20-2. They went from challenging for a Europa League spot to the relegation zone in just over a month.
As they entered the final week of the season, Rayo were basically in a four-team tie with Villarreal, Real Zaragoza, and Granada who they would play in their last match.
What happened in that match has many Spanish fans still outraged, although it is unsure how justifiable those emotions are.
So back to the goal.
It was a minute into stoppage time and Rayo needed a goal to stay in La Liga. If they only managed a draw against Granada, the Madrid-based club was going back to the second division.
Michu ended up with loads of free space in front of goal, but sent his shot into the top post. Thankfully, Raul Tamudo was there to send the rebound into the back of the net and Vallecas into a frenzy.
Click here for a video of the reaction from fans as Tamudo saved his team from relegation.
Just moments before the goal, a scandal appeared to be brewing.
Word had gotten to the players that Falcao had scored against Villarreal and clinched a victory for Atletico. That meant Granada's place in the first division was safe.
The players from both teams could then be seen talking and allegedly scheming about how to let Rayo score the winner in order to allow both teams to stay in the first division.
Here is a video in Spanish where Michu implies that he had discussed getting the winning goal with Granada and then questioned whether or not the plan was illegal.
For those who believe that Villarreal had been done in, the final play is full of proof for those who would see it as such.
In this video, we can see that the players are, in fact, talking with each other just before the goal scored. The goal itself is perhaps more telling.
Both videos show that Michu received the ball off a seemingly catchable parry to score with hardly any effort from Grandad to block the shot or even prevent him from getting the ball.
Then after Michu's miss, we see that Tamudo was clearly offside on the goal, but was not flagged.
The Great Question—Was Villarreal Done In?
Did Rayo Vallecano and Granada cheat? Did the teams fix the end of their match to ensure their survival?
Villarreal was not a favorite club of the LFP. The Yellow Submarine had been one of the more outspoken teams against issues such as TV rights distribution and inconsistent start times for "lesser" clubs.
It would not be completely shocking to believe that the league had found evidence of match-fixing, but decided to overlook that evidence in order to send a troublesome squad down.
You've seen and read the evidence and can now decide for yourself what to believe.
A Difficult Summer
Despite managing to stay in La Liga, Rayo still underwent some big changes this past summer. The club saw their manager, new hero, and best player all exit the club.
The club's financial struggles forced them to sell Michu to Swansea City for just £2 million and has already become one of the great sensations in England.
Raul Tamudo also wound up leaving for Mexico with 15 other players following him and Michu out the door.
Paco Jemez left Cordoba to take over the Madrid-based side and immediately had to rework the team.
Going into the season, the sheer lack of noticeable talent made Rayo a common pick to finish dead last in La Liga this season.
However, with three games played and the team in a very favorable spot on the table, Rayo Vallecano are feeling much more optimistic about the new season.
A New Season Begins
Fast forward three months. the new La Liga season begins and Rayo Vallecano begins a brand new season with many seeing them as a team that will fight to stay above the drop zone.
Who did the league select as the first opponents for Los Vallecanos? Granada.
Almost as if to laugh at Villarreal, the two teams that may have conspired to have the Yellow Submarine sent down opened the season against each other while Villarreal started its season against Real Madrid Castilla.
The first match of the 2012-2013 season ended in very similar fashion for Vallecano. Roberto Trashorras hit a 95th minute strike that sealed a late, dramatic victory for the capital city club.
After three weeks of play, Rayo Vallecano sit in fourth place, level on points with second-place Mallorca.
An incredibly memorable finish to last season is already being repeated in the first few weeks of the new campaign.
But can they keep it up?
Will this early success motivate the team and be enough to keep them in the first division through next season?
It is far too early to tell, but what we can bet on is that Rayo is more likely to fight for a place in the top 10 than a place in Europe.
Next up on their schedule is a pair of derbies that will be a much truer measure of Los Vallecas' quality.
Next week they paly Atletico Madrid who fields one of the strongest teams in Spain. Rayo will struggle to stop Radamel Falcao while also aiming to outsmart one of the league's best coaches, Diego Simeone.
After that, they welcome perhaps the strongest team in Europe to el Campo de Vallecas as Real Madrid make a trip across town.
The schedule will not get any easier through the rest of the season and Paco Jemez will need to work some magic if he is going to help a less talented team outlast the rest of the pack and stay in La Liga for another season.
They may not have a lot of stars and they are still drowning in debt, but fans of Spanish football would be wise to branch out from the big two of Spain and follow one of Madrid's "other" clubs.
As they proved last season, Rayo Vallecano are a team full of surprises. I hope they earn your attention.