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What holds Osasuna together despite its modest means and the overarching presence of Basque giants Athletic Club and Real Sociedad in Navarre, the region Osasuna is based in, is, in the words of the club’s vice president, Jose Manuel Piquer Martin-Portugues, “sentiment, sentiment, and more sentiment.”

Never backing away from a confrontation is a tantalising proposition in this part of the world. Nothing would be a better testament to this than the gruesome ‘Running of the Bulls’ festival, which takes place in Pamplona, Navarre’s capital, annually.

This idea, by default, is woven into Osasuna too. “It [Pamplona] is a small city. We have a strong set of spectators. Ours is a very English-style stadium, such that the fans are very close to the players. People live football with great passion,” says Martin-Portugues.

“Sentiment, sentiment, and more sentiment,” the pillars behind Osasuna’s recent success says club vice president

The El Sadar Stadium in Pamplona.
| Photo Credit:
Abhishek Saini

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The El Sadar Stadium in Pamplona.
| Photo Credit:
Abhishek Saini

El Sadar, Osasuna’s stadium, gave a glimpse of this passion on the final match day of La Liga in the 2008–09 season. Hosting Real Madrid, Osasuna’s future in the top flight was hanging by a thread. Only a win and a subsequent draw between Getafe and Real Valladolid would have guaranteed safety.

When the 19,000-strong El Sadar erupted for Juanfran’s match-winning volley in the 60th minute, the noise was measured at 115.17 decibels—a La Liga record. The El Sadar crowd had bettered Camp Nou’s record from 2000, when the Barcelona faithful granted an unceremonious welcome to Real Madrid’s Luis Figo. The Camp Nou is a stadium nearly five times the size of El Sadar.

“There is not a better stadium to celebrate a goal of that magnitude,” Juanfran had said after securing Osasuna’s place in the first division.

In 2019, El Sadar was given a facelift, which increased its capacity to 24,400 while also adding a standing section in the stadium. The upper tier of the stadium was given a 45-degree inclination to keep the fans as close to the pitch as possible, thereby adding to the acoustics of El Sadar. Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, is known for its close-in seating arrangement, which helps create a loud atmosphere. For anyone in Pamplona, El Sadar is not too far behind Anfield.

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Riding on this home support, Osasuna stitched up a 31-match unbeaten run at El Sadar in La Liga, which stretched across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons. Valencia and Barcelona were among the teams that attempted to breach the fortress and came up short.

But the crowd is only one-half of Pamplona. The other half, which combines to make a visit to El Sadar a daunting and unpleasant prospect, is the abrasive, in-your-face playing style.

The upper tier of the El Sadar, built at an inclination of 45 degrees.

The upper tier of the El Sadar, built at an inclination of 45 degrees.
| Photo Credit:
Abhishek Saini

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The upper tier of the El Sadar, built at an inclination of 45 degrees.
| Photo Credit:
Abhishek Saini

“When we are talking about the essence of the club, it is still there. We are good at this kind of direct football, trying to get around the back of the defender and not sleep on the ball. It is a part of us. We like them to get the ball upfield and keep the pressure on the teams; fast transitions out of defence into attack, that’s what we are good at,” says Patxi Punal, who made a record 468 appearances for Osasuna.

On these two pillars, Osasuna has been able to put up a distinct identity. If Barcelona is the free-flowing, creative giant, and if Real Madrid is the team with flair, Osasuna is the one that will give you a run for your money.

“Financially, we cannot compete. Your home and the colour of your shirt represent who you are and we put as much effort on our part to make them [players] feel at home,” said Martin-Portugues.

Osasuna on the field, however, has broken away from the underdog tag and marked its ascendancy lately. It has avoided the ignominy of relegation for four seasons now and looks on course to make it five.

Last season, it finished runner-up in the Copa del Rey, going down 1-2 against Real Madrid. Its seventh-place finish won it a shot at a UEFA Conference League spot. This season, Osasuna featured in the Super Cup held in Saudi Arabia where it lost to Barcelona in the semifinal.

As ambition begins to pile up at Osasuna’s doorstep, Martin-Portugues asserts that his club will stick to its identity as it embarks on a new chapter in its history.

“Playing in Riyadh against Barcelona helps. We’re trying to get as high as we can as a club. We need money. We need great players to build a strong structure. The most important thing at the end of the day is that the ball gets into the back of the net,” he says.



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