When a coach gets the sack there tends to be a debate about patience, whether bad results would soon turn around and if it was too short sighted. When Valencia decided to let go of head coach Marcelino earlier this week, there was no such discussions.
The move has been universally derided by both supporters and players alike because there is simply no sporting justification for it.
The Asturian is the most successful and loved Valencia boss since Rafael Benitez, someone who took a side that was beginning to flirt dangerously with relegation and returned them to their rightful place in the Champions League.
Better still, he produced a consistency that had eluded Valencia for years, last spring achieving back-to-back Champions League football for the first time since Unai Emery’s final year at the Mestalla in 2012.
If that wasn’t enough, Marcelino also masterminded a 2-1 win over Barcelona in the 2019 Copa del Rey final, earning Los Che their first trophy in over a decade in the most glorious of manners.
He did so at the end of their centenary season, making sure the landmark year will be remembered as one of triumph and not humiliation.
Most tellingly of all, Marcelino is so universally loved that the Valencia supporters – who have a reputation for being Spain’s most demanding fan base – refused to turn their back on him during a tricky spell in winter when results weren’t arriving.
The squad, who admire him just as much, put their own necks on the line and insisted that fortunes would turn around if they stuck by the boss and stuck to his philosophy. They were proven right come the end of the season, Champions League football guaranteed and silverware in hand.
All of that is a resounding, glowing review for Marcelino that makes him a very attractive candidate for any jobs that come up in England or elsewhere now that the Spaniard is on the market. So why get rid of him in the first place? The explanation is a cautionary tale of yet another owner who put his own ego and interests ahead of what is best.
The key to the matter is that Marcelino’s success was made possible because owner Peter Lim allowed the coach as well as football director Mateu Alemany to run the sporting side of the club with relative autonomy. That concession only came after several years of failure in the transfer market and ill-advised managerial appointments from the Singaporean.
Paradoxically, the success that followed his relinquishing of control ultimately only further proved that the previous model of running things hadn’t worked. That obviously stung.
There were signs from the start of this summer that something was about to change. Marcelino and Alemany were both clear in their views that Valencia needed to strengthen to avoid stagnation or even falling behind other clubs like Sevilla, who were investing heavily, but the suits disagreed.
The coach first asked for Denis Suárez, who Barcelona were willing to sell at an accessible price, but he was soon told that was impossible. When Denis subsequently ended up at Celta Vigo – who have a far smaller budget than Valencia – it became evident that Marcelino wasn’t being backed. The warning signs were there for all to see.
Back-to-back top 4 finishes
Beat Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey
Currently level on points in the league with Barcelona
— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) September 11, 2019
The next target was Rafinha, and this time a deal was even agreed with Barcelona only for Lim to intervene at the last minute and call it off (the Brazilian also ended up at Celta).
“The club let me know that the owner didn’t give it the OK,” Marcelino lamented in August, before adding pointedly that he had to accept the decision ‘like anyone who creates a plan and then has it modified by the owner’.
That issue of having sporting plans meddled in by the owner was most evident of all in the case of Rodrigo Moreno, Valencia’s star striker and a fundamental piece of Marcelino’s successful system.
Both the coach and sporting director Alemany were caught off-guard when Lim let it be known that he would sell the forward to Atletico Madrid for €60m with little time left to find a replacement.
Rodrigo (represented by Lim’s close friend Jorge Mendes) said his goodbyes and a furious Marcelino started planning without him, sending another clear message in a press conference when he noted ‘we’re one team with Rodrigo and another without him. If he’s not there we need to re-think our goals’.
Atleti failed to find the funds to complete the transfer, and Rodrigo ultimately returned to a team he thought he was leaving, but the fatal blow had already been struck to the relationship between Valencia’s owner and its coach.
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There was now no doubt for Marcelino that Lim couldn’t be trusted and wasn’t willing to make the minor investments necessary to prolong the winning project, while Lim was furious to have his authority questioned – particularly when the challenger’s success had exposed the owner’s failures for all to see.
So, Lim did what he had long wanted to do and finally pulled the trigger, despite the likelihood that it will be to Valencia’s detriment.
The timing of the call is spectacularly bad. In the space of seven days Valencia will face Barcelona and Chelsea in two of their biggest matches of the season. The replacement hardly inspires confidence either – new boss Albert Celades has barely any experience of note.
The fans are furious and will certainly manifest that at Valencia’s next home match on September 22. And the players are equally angry, several already expressing that publically and taking aim at the owner.
And what of Marcelino? Ironically Marcelino comes out of this best of all. He leaves behind a position that was made untenable with public and professional opinion on his side. The coach is now on the market, more attractive and employable than ever.