Valencia just picked a hell of a time to fire its coach.
With the club off to a shaky start to the season – 10th place in La Liga on 4 points through three games – now does not seem like the ideal time to push out a successful manager in favor of an unproven one.
Quite the gamble
But by sacking Manager Marcelino and replacing him with Albert Celades, who has never been a head coach of a La Liga club, Valencia owner Peter Lim is, uh, rolling the dice in a big way – or unnecessarily dismantling a stable operation because of a disagreement with an employee, however you want to look at it.
Valencia’s next two games are a pivotal trip to Camp Nou to face Barcelona in La Liga (Sept. 14) and a UCL match at Chelsea (Sept. 17). If you’re Peter Lim, do you really believe Celades improves your chances at upsetting Barcelona or getting off to a strong start in the Champions League?
We’ll patiently await his response, but in the meantime, this is a total head-scratcher. Or maybe this is just how power struggles with an owner — we’ll review what happened this summer a little later in this piece — go?
What’s best for the team?
The closer you look at Celades’ credentials, the more confusing this gets. The 43-year-old has previously coached Spain’s U21s and briefly worked as an assistant at Real Madrid under Julen Lopetegui, but did we mention Celades has no experience managing a La Liga club??
Now, let’s look at Marcelino’s body of work. In his first year with the club, ’17-18, Valencia finished in fourth place in Spain with an impressive 73 points. It was quite a turnaround for a team that, without him, finished in 12th in La Liga in both ’15-16 and ’16-17. And then his ’18-19 season included another 4th-place finish domestically, as well as a run to the Europa League semifinals, a Copa del Rey trophy and, last but not least, a 7-wins-in-10-games flurry down the stretch in La Liga.
A quick look back
So you can be forgiven for wondering what Lim is thinking. The best answer to that question requires a review of this past summer.
As recently as a few weeks ago, this team was on the verge of losing Marcelino and/or Sporting Director/GM Mateu Alemany due to their differences, mostly over transfer moves, with Lim. And then peace was made, or so we thought. On Tuesday, however, Spanish press reported on Alemany flying to Singapore to meet with Lim. In most circumstances, that would have seemed relatively innocuous. But their meeting must have struck informed Valencia fans as anything but. And sure enough, Wednesday morning (evening in Spain), the club released a statement confirming Marcelino was out.
The biggest thing to keep an eye on is what this means for Alemany, who seemed more likely to leave than Marcelino a few short weeks ago. Who knows whether he’ll stick around, but for now let’s pivot to what’s immediately ahead for Valencia.
In the short term, the trip to Barcelona screams “disaster” – and yes, I’m aware Messi is unlikely to suit up. If Valencia remains stuck on 4 points after 4 games in La Liga, it’s going to have a tremendous uphill climb ahead. In other words, stay tuned, because if this is how Lim reacts to a minor speed bump (we’re three games into a 38-game season) in the grand scheme of things, who knows what lies ahead if the on-field struggles continue.
Good news for Ajax, Chelsea and Lille
What does this mean for Valencia’s chances to make it out of its Champions League group? I won’t rule Valencia out, but I can’t imagine the firing of a manager who was popular with his players — they are reportedly weighing a protest of the Marcelino sacking — improving their play. We viewed Group H as one of the most wide-open groups in the UCL before the Marcelino news, and things figure to be even more unpredictable now. We’re talking about four teams with as many questions as answers, so if there’s one group worth watching, it’s Group H, and not just because of our infatuation with Ajax.