There can be no question that Deportivo Saprissa are the undisputed kings of Central American club football at present. Known as El Monstruo Morado (The Purple Monster), the Costa Ricans have been the dominant force on the domestic scene in recent years while also picking up several titles in the CONCACAF region and clinching a notable third place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2005.
The club's history stretches back many years and, although Deportivo have enjoyed countless triumphs and celebrations in that time, they enjoyed humble beginnings and almost went out of existence on several occasions. Such has been their sustained success, however, that The Purple Monster now boasts hundreds of thousands of faithful followers all over the country.
The birth of an institution
Saprissa was founded in 1935 thanks to the efforts of football fanatic Roberto 'Beto' Fernandez. A shoemaker by profession, Fernandez got together with his friends to form a team to take part in national competitions. He also struck a deal with one Ricardo Saprissa, a businessman based in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, whereby Saprissa would provide them their kit and the new club would take his name in return.
Another condition of Saprissa's was that the shirts were red and blue, the same colours worn by the polo team in Barcelona, the city of his birth. But when the shirts were being washed one day, the dyes ran to create the famous purple that has since been synonymous with the club.
A legend is forged
Slowly but surely Deportivo worked their way through the Costa Rican leagues. The breakthrough year came in 1947, when Francisco 'Pachico' Garcia took over as manager and guided them to the third division title they had longed for. The very next season Deportivo built on that success by storming to the second division title without losing a game.
Just four years later, in the 1952/53 campaign, Otto Pedro Bumbel steered Los Morados to their first league title, the first of three championship successes in the 1950s. At the end of the decade Deportivo became the first Central American team to embark on a world tour - a trip that took in 25 countries and 22 games, of which they won 14, drew one and lost seven.
The 1960s and 1970s proved to be a golden era with exceptionally gifted players like Mario Cordero, Guillermo 'Coco' Hernandez, Edgar Marin, Fernando 'Principe' Hernandez, Carlos Solano and Gerardo Urena among others illuminating the team. In that 20-year period the club won 12 titles in all and built up a fierce rivalry with San Jose rivals Liga Deportiva Alajuelense.
While the silverware did not flow quite as freely in the 1980s, the decade was notable for the emergence of the greatest striker ever to play for the club, the legendary Evaristo Coronado, who scored 181 goals in a 14-year career in the purple jersey. Coronado was also known as El Caballero del Futbol (The Gentleman of Football) and was sent off just once in his career following an error that the referee later admitted to.
The club experienced a number of ups and downs in the 1990s, winning four league championships but suffering a sporting and financial crisis that worsened as the decade progressed. By the turn of the millennium, and despite being the best-supported club in the land, Saprissa were on the verge of going out of business.
Deportivo Saprissa today
It was then that the Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara came to the rescue. In March 2003, the owner of Mexican side Guadalajara bought Los Morados and announced that from then on the club would only employ Costa Rican players. The initial scepticism of the media and the fans soon gave way to enthusiasm for the new project and Saprissa were suddenly back in the big time again.
The Purple Monster has been gobbling up the trophies since Vergara's arrival, winning every league title with the exception of the 2004/05 crown, the last of them coming this July. On top of that Deportivo also won the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2005 and finished third at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan a few months later.
The Estadio Ricardo Saprissa is the largest football ground in Central America. Opened in 1972, it has a capacity of 23,112 and was the first stadium in the region to have an artificial pitch installed. It is also the Costa Rican national team's official home venue.