But just three games into the 2019-20 La Liga season, the 54-year-old was unceremoniously sacked a month after disagreements between himself, general manager Mateu Alemany and owner Peter Lim.
It was believed just weeks ago that both Marcelino and Alemany would resign as a result of their ambitions not being understood by those in positions of power – and those bubbling forces of discontent proved to be enough to result in a messy sacking this week. A lack of investment in the playing squad has been cited as the main reason behind the frustrations at Mestalla despite the club building impressively on the pitch from back-to-back 12th-placed league finishes in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
Marcelino’s ability to take a flailing squad from mid-table mediocrity and turn them into organised, disciplined winners after the disappointing appointments of Gary Neville and Nuno Espirito Santo has been one of the quickest transformations in top-level world football over the last couple of years. Although the success on the field has been clear, Lim’s issues with his manager’s public outbursts – implying further disagreements beyond the things seen by the media – outweighed the obvious value that Marcelino brought to Mestalla.
A terrible start to last season left Valencia in 15th place after 12 games, just four points and three places above the relegation zone. Then, many fans were calling for their coach’s head. After the club’s upturn in form, fourth-placed finish and cup triumph, the idea of not appreciating what you have until it’s gone could hit hard this season after the hiring of Albert Celades as Marcelino’s successor. An assistant for Julen Lopetegui at both Real Madrid and Spain, as well as a national youth coach with three different age groups, Celades has no senior management experience.
Frustrations in the transfer market
Despite the late signing of proven La Liga striker Maxi Gomez this summer, Marcelino showed little hesitancy in airing his personal grievances in public. It mirrors a past situation from 2016 where the coach found himself sacked by Villarreal just days before a Champions League play-off against Monaco, a case of getting on the wrong side of those above him in the club’s hierarchy and, in their opinion, biting the hand that feeds him.
Marcelino wanted to bring in Denis Suarez and Rafinha, two players he had worked with in the past, but both opted to return to Celta Vigo. Rodrigo Moreno, meanwhile, one of the players to make the biggest improvements in their game under the Spaniard, even spent time away from the group’s pre-season preparations as talks rumbled on with Atletico Madrid.
“The club have told me that Rafinha will not be coming, the squad is still a bit shallow,” Marcelino complained in a recent press conference. “If Rodrigo ends up leaving we will have to change our objectives. We are seeing the investments made by Sevilla and Betis, next season will be tough.”
Though Rodrigo stayed put in the end, the only extra player signed by the club was 20-year-old right back Thierry Correia from Portuguese giants Sporting. Even then, the deal was made as a reactionary move in a key area, given that Cristiano Piccini picked up a serious injury in training that will see the Italy international sit on the sidelines until at least January. Ever since the sale of Joao Cancelo to Juventus in 2018, Valencia have needed to strengthen in that very same position – an example of where Marcelino would feel frustrated with the club’s transfer strategy.
A distraught dressing room
Valencia players took to Twitter and Instagram to share their own opinions on Marcelino’s departure. The likes of Piccini and Denis Cheryshev thanked their former boss for his faith in them despite injury problems, while Carlos Soler, Jaume Costa and Rodrigo wished him the best for the future. Ezequiel Garay and Dani Parejo, however, two key leaders in the squad and key pillars of Marcelino’s successes over the last two years had far more stronger words to say.
“Whoever took this decision not only trampled over you, but dragged down a whole fanbase and team, something that I will say loudly and clearly: IS NOT FAIR,” Garay wrote on his Instagram account.
“Boss, I wish you the best,” wrote club captain Parejo. “I am sure that things will go well for you wherever you go and they will let you work. Thank you for making the club bigger and me a better footballer.” The inclusion of “they will let you work” lends itself to suggesting that there has been some perceived meddling in the football side of things at Mestalla that should be left to the manager alone.
It is clear that while Marcelino might have been removed for non-footballing reasons, there are plenty of internal factors at play which could see his departure affect Celades’ start at the club. Rodrigo Moreno and Dani Parejo re-energised their careers under his tutelage, while the likes of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Goncalo Guedes shone in 2017-18.
What will Celades bring to Mestalla?
Club president Anil Murthy detailed that trusting in young players was the motivation behind bringing in Celades, yet Marcelino gave plenty of opportunity to the likes of Carlos Soler (22), Toni Lato (21), Ferran Torres (19) and Kangin Lee (18) over the last 12 months. The aforementioned names owe their former boss for kicking off their fledgling careers, while the older heads in the group have stepped up to a very impressive level after floundering in mid-table obscurity up until the summer of 2017.
Valencia face Barcelona this weekend in La Liga, before a midweek trip to England to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. In terms of timing, there could be no worse time to pull the rug out from underneath their squad. Under Marcelino, Los Che became a demanding, intense and organised opponent whose solid defending and vertical counter-attacking approach posed a big threat for any club. Take away the man responsible for implementing that style and guiding the club back to the continent’s top table and suddenly Valencia look like a banana skin that is far easier to dodge.
Marcelino is known to be a demanding and, at times, abrasive personality, but the rough must be taken with the smooth. His intense approach got the best out of an underachieving group, while his softer side with his players showed that any rough words were only a result of needing to have the competitive edge required to keep on progressing. This isn’t the first time that he has faced the sack for his own frustrations getting the best of him, but it also won’t be the last time that he immeasurably improves a football club.
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