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Coach fighting leukemia puts Sevilla back on track in Spain

April 18, 2019
FILE - In this file photo dated Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, Levante's coach Joaquin Caparros gesture during their La Liga soccer match against Real Madrid at the Ciutat de Valecia stadium in Valencia, Spain. Sevilla coach Joaquin Caparros announced Sunday April 7, 2019, that he has leukaemia but will stay on the job with the Spanish club. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz, FILE)
FILE - In this file photo dated Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, Levante's coach Joaquin Caparros gesture during their La Liga soccer match against Real Madrid at the Ciutat de Valecia stadium in Valencia, Spain. Sevilla coach Joaquin Caparros announced Sunday April 7, 2019, that he has leukaemia but will stay on the job with the Spanish club. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz, FILE)

MADRID (AP) — The surprise announcement came after another important win by Sevilla in the Spanish league.

The club had just beaten Valladolid 2-0 to get back into the fight for the final Champions League spot. Everyone expected the team’s coach, Joaquin Caparros, to come out at the post-match news conference and talk about Sevilla’s good run since he took over.

Instead, the 63-year-old Caparros stepped into the podium and shocked everyone.

“I have chronic leukemia,” he said, speaking briskly before making any comments on the game.

It was the type of news no one wanted to hear. Concern immediately turned to his health.

But it was Caparros himself who quickly downplayed the situation.

“It won’t keep me from doing my job,” he said. “I’m living a normal life. I won’t talk about the subject anymore but I wanted everyone to know that everything is OK.”

There was relief all around. It meant the coach wasn’t as sick as many initially believed and, sportswise, it meant the team wouldn’t be losing its commander at a crucial moment of the season.

Sevilla had just been eliminated by Czech club Slavia Prague in the last 16 of the Europa League and was far from fourth place in the Spanish league when Caparros — who was acting as the team’s sports director — was picked to replace the fired Pablo Machin.

With the Seville native at the helm, the club won four of its five matches, including the high-profile city derby against Real Betis last Saturday. The result put the team back in fourth place in the league, in the final Champions League spot.

Sevilla can solidify its position this weekend when it visits fifth-place Getafe, which is only one point behind with six matches remaining. Sixth-place Valencia is three points behind Sevilla entering the weekend.

Sevilla had already taken a chance with Caparros when it assigned him as coach to finish last season after firing Vincenzo Montella. With a run of three wins and a draw in the final four matches, he helped the team secure a Europa League spot.

This time, Sevilla’s only setback was a home loss to Valencia in the second match with Caparros in charge, giving him 22 points of 27 possible. In addition to beating Valladolid and Real Betis, Sevilla also defeated Espanyol and Alaves under the man who first coached Sevilla from 2000-05 and recently surpassed 500 matches overall in the Spanish league.

“The team has improved a lot since Caparros took over,” Sevilla president Jose Castro said. “We felt it was the right time to make the change and we are glad that we made that decision. We think it was the right one.”

Although there is still some work left for Sevilla to secure a Champions League spot this season, Caparros’ good run has already prompted talks about whether the team should try to keep him in a full-time position for next season.

“Of course Joaquin is an option for next year,” Castro said. “But we have to wait until the end of the season. Now it’s time to stay focused on adding points.”

After the visit to Getafe, Sevilla faces three teams in the bottom half of the standings: Rayo Vallecano, Girona and Leganes. It will close out its season with a visit to second-place Atletico Madrid and a home game against seventh-place Athletic Bilbao.

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