The owner’s decision to dismiss the popular coach has resulted in uproar, with the influence of super agent Jorge Mendes raising eyebrows
Not for the first time in recent years, all hell has broken out at Valencia.
On Wednesday, owner Peter Lim sacked Marcelino – Los Che’s most successful manager in over a decade and a man loved by players and fans alike.
This has left the club in crisis ahead of the weekend visit to Barcelona and their opening Champions League clash against Chelsea.
A tempestuous outfit at the very best of times, civil war has been breaking out on Spain’s east coast – and just at the wrong time for a club which had finally gained some serenity.
Albert Celades, who has no experience at club level beyond being Julen Lopetegui’s assistant at Real Madrid, has been appointed coach in a decision which will only further anger supporters and cast doubt on the club’s prospects this season.
Marcelino had pulled a sinking ship back to the surface after being appointed in 2017 as Lim’s sixth coach in two years.
Valencia were closer to relegation than European qualification when his predecessor Pako Ayestaran was sacked.
Marcelino restored Valencia to the Champions League in his first year in charge, following that up with another fourth-place finish.
Best of all, he ended an 11-year wait for a major trophy, beating Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey last season.
The club backed him during the start of that campaign when Valencia struggled, but he turned things around dramatically and for once it truly felt like the coach, players and fans were united at Mestalla.
It couldn’t last, though, and things unravelled this summer.
Director Mateo Alemany and Marcelino were working well in the transfer market, but Lim wanted increasingly more say in the construction of the squad.
It reached a head this close season when Alemany and Marcelino wanted to sign Barcelona midfielders Denis Suarez and Rafinha. Lim and one of his advisors – super agent Jorge Mendes – had other ideas and the two players instead ended up at Celta Vigo.
Mendes’ influence at Valencia has been strong, but the players he has brought to the club have largely flopped. These include the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Aymen Abdennour, Enzo Perez and Nani. Understandably, Marcelino didn’t want any more of Mendes’ players and this caused the conflict that eventually ended in the manager’s sacking.
Singaporean billionaire Lim was also seemingly unhappy about the lack of youth products being brought through under Marcelino, a churlish complaint given the coach’s success.
The signings Marcelino wanted to make were viewed by Lim as potentially obstructing youngsters such as Kang-in Lee and Ferran Torres, two players who may benefit from the upheaval.
Valencia, level on four points with champions Barcelona ahead of the clash at Camp Nou on Saturday, haven’t started the season in brilliant form but it’s explicitly clear that results had no say in Marcelino’s sacking.
Valencia’s new coach Celades led a number of Spain’s youth national teams and will be keen to give younger players chances. His lack of experience means he will be easy for Lim – and Mendes – to keep in check.
By the end of his tenure, Marcelino felt empowered enough in his press conferences to speak openly about the transfer disagreements and take digs at the owner, safe in the knowledge that the outside world was on his side.
His dismissal has not just incensed fans, who bombarded social media with angry messages and tweets on Wednesday.
Dangerously, the squad itself has been also furious at Marcelino’s untimely exit.
“Whoever took this decision didn’t just trample over you, but a whole team and fanbase. I will say loud and clear: THIS IS NOT FAIR,” seethed defender Ezequiel Garay on Instagram.
Some of the squad found out about Marcelino’s sacking through the media and others because the coach’s children and his assistant Ruben Uria told them as they were collecting his belongings from the training ground.
Midfielder Dani Parejo, whose form under Marcelino saw him ascend to the Spanish national team, wrote a heartfelt tribute on Twitter: “Boss, I wish you the best, I’m sure that you’ll do well wherever you go. Thanks for making this club bigger and me a better soccer professional.”
Celades, a former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder, has the potential to get swallowed up by Mestalla. He acknowledged the pressure on him in a press conference to announce his arrival.
“Regardless of the situation, Valencia are always a bull, huge, a giant,” he explained.
“We will try to work in the best way. I have no fear, I know the demands are huge and I understand the worry, I don’t have great experience at club level.”
However, his links to Mendes will do nothing to endear him to the fans.
Celades’ agent Carlos Bucero works for the Portuguese, while Lopetegui has been one of Mendes’ clients and Celades has been extremely close to the current Sevilla coach.
Former Valencia goalkeeper Santi Canizares believes Celades has his work cut out for him, stepping into a bubbling cauldron that has been spitting poison.
“Celades has lost all concept of honour and ethics,” Canizares told Radio Marca.
“He does not know how he will be received in the dressing room, his job will be hugely complicated from the start.
“He’ll find a distracted team, ashamed of what’s going on. He will be forced to play Ferran Torres and Kang-in Lee, those two plus nine others, because that’s what Peter Lim wants.”
The club has been set for further chaos in the coming days. Alemany’s position has been close to untenable, given his links to Marcelino, and he has been touted as the next head to roll.
Valencia fans are always keen to protest and their next home game, against Leganes on September 22, will likely see anti-Lim banners displayed.
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Since the Gary Neville debacle in 2016 – when the former Manchester United defender endured a disastrous spell on the bench in his first and only managerial job – supporters reached the end of their tether with the owner.
The best-case scenario would be Celades winning over supporters and the squad with his attractive, possession-based football, culminating in Valencia competing both in the top four and in the Champions League.
More realistically, though, one of Spain’s sleeping giants has been about to enter another depressing period of upheaval. Expect plenty of whistles, white handkerchiefs and protests as Marcelino’s great work has been quickly ruined.