Why did Valencia sack Marcelino? Chaos at Mestalla ahead of Barcelona and Chelsea fixtures

Two fourth-placed finishes and a Copa del Rey trophy, Valencia‘s first title in a decade, made for a very successful two seasons in charge for Marcelino.

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

Valencia snapped up Maxi Gomez for an estimated £13 million this summer (Getty Images)

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

Marcelino and Dani Parejo formed a strong bond at Mestalla (Getty Images)

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?

Albert Celades has worked as Julen Lopetegui’s number two at Real Madrid and with Spain (Getty Images)

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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‘It was a shock’: Marcus McGuane on his sudden fall from Arsenal and Barcelona to the Dutch second division

BARCELONA — Marcus McGuane looks up from his pasta, a glint in his eye as he remembers the night he became the first Englishman to play for Barcelona’s senior side since Gary Lineker.

“It was quite a big thing,” he tells i, days before completing a surprise loan move to Dutch second division side Telstar last week. “Back home it was on the six o’clock news. I got so many messages. So many. My Whatsapp, my Instagram, you can imagine. It was crazy.”

McGuane, 20, made his Barça debut in the Catalan Super Cup in March 2018. Just 36 days had passed since he had signed from Arsenal, who he made two appearances for in the Europa League. Things weren’t supposed to move so quickly. The idea was that he would spend six months adapting to his new surroundings and learning the language. That blueprint was ripped up when Gerard Lopez handed him his B team bow three days after he arrived.

Ernesto Valverde then called him up to train with the first team, before including him in the squad for the Super Cup game against Espanyol, bringing him on as a second-half substitute as Barca won on penalties.

‘I felt the impact straight away’

“Everything was going smoothly,” McGuane adds, before turning his mind back to the moment when things started to deteriorate. “I still hadn’t gone anywhere near my peak but I felt good. I was playing in my natural position and I felt I was getting better. Then Lopez got sacked and [Garcia Pimienta] replaced him.

“I felt the impact straight away. It happened on a Thursday before a game. We were travelling on the Saturday and I wasn’t even in the squad. It was a bit of a shock. After that it was tough. I never had the same feeling that I had during those first few months.”

McGuane was gutted by the departure of Lopez, a coach that he had struck up a rapport with. The change in management was just one of a succession of incidents which would knock the England youth international’s confidence and eventually see him turn down a number of attractive this offers this summer in favour of relative wilderness in Holland.

Under Pimienta, Barca B were relegated. They went from playing in front of crowds of 20,000 at Osasuna to being lucky to hit 1,000 at Cornella in the regionalised third division. There was then an untimely trip back to England for personal reasons after an impressive pre-season in which he had trained alongside Lionel Messi, who was absent from the first team’s tour of the United States. When he returned, after starring in a central midfield position in two friendlies, he found himself out of the team. He wouldn’t play his favoured role again.

‘Once in a lifetime opportunities’

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When he finally broke back into the team it was a right winger. Then he was ruled out with an injury in October. His season might as well have ended there. When it did end, he’d made just 16 appearances.

McGuane admits there’s frustration at being played out of position — “maybe as a kid I played there, when I was nine or 10, but I am not a right winger” — but he’s not seeking excuses. He’s not bitter about how things turned out as he looks to get his career back on track with Telstar.

“I didn’t play as much as I would have liked, but the training and the level of the boys was good and I had opportunities with the first team,” he reflected. “There have been some once in a lifetime opportunities.

“It’s been good to get away from the distractions you have in London, too. In London everything is so accessible, it’s so easy. For a footballer, it’s so easy to get caught up in the London bubble. Being away from that has been good for me. I’ve matured as a person. You find out the things you like, the things you don’t like. It’s helped me grow in so many ways and come closer to family members. It makes you realise the most important things in life when you don’t always have them around you.

“There have been times when it’s been really hard, but I am strong. I don’t give up easily. I wouldn’t have been in Barcelona for any reason other than football. It didn’t work out with the game time that I wanted, but there are no regrets.”

Familiar face in the Netherlands

Former Arsenal youth team coach Andries Jonker is now in charge of Telstar (Getty Images)

Hadjuk Split, Besiktas and Sassuolo all put together attractive packages this summer but they couldn’t offer what Telstar could: Andries Jonker, Louis van Gaal’s former No 2 and McGuane’s one-time youth coach at Arsenal. The Dutchman had been texting McGuane all summer and convinced him he could offer him what he wants: the chance to enjoy his football again, feel valued and play minutes in his best position.

“The most important thing for me now is feeling comfortable,” McGuane explained. “Being happy where I am, in a good environment with family and friends and the people that I love around me.

“Choosing a club this summer has felt like such a big decision. I’m still young, but it feels like a big point in my career. I have just got to get some experience playing. Coming to Barcelona was an easy decision. It felt like the right time. I felt like I was going to have the opportunity to show what I can do.”

His food now finished, McGuane admitted any long-term goals he had of returning to the Premier League or representing England have had to be put on the back-burner.

“With the way football is going, everything is more short-term,” he said. “My mind is just on this season. I just want to play and enjoy football again. Play. I want to get back to the level that I can perform at.”

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Next Barcelona manager: 5 contenders to replace Ernesto Valverde

Ernesto Valverde is just a few games removed from securing back-to-back La Liga titles with Barcelona – you might think his job must be one of the safest in football. But Barcelona aren’t like other clubs.

Continued failures in the Champions League have mounted pressure on Valverde, pressure which reached fever pitch after Liverpool’s stunning 4-0 comeback win in the semi-final last season. A shaky start to this campaign, with an opening day defeat to Athletic Bilbao and a 2-2 draw at Osasuna, only added to calls that a change might be required.

Here are five men the Barça hierarchy could look to if they do decide to move on from Valverde after just two years.

Xavi

Xavi
Xavi is a Barcelona legend (Photo: Getty)

One of Barcelona’s greatest ever players, the club’s top brass shouldn’t have to worry about the fans turning on Xavi if he made a sensational return to the Nou Camp as boss. Xavi played more than 750 times for Barcelona in all competitions – barely anyone could claim to know the club better – but his lack of managerial experience is obviously the main worry. He only retired at the end of last season and was appointed manager of Al Sadd in Qatar – where he spent the last of his playing days – in May.

Odds: 6-1

Roberto Martinez

Martinez
Martinez guided Belgium to a third-place finish at the World Cup (Photo: Getty)

Who would have thought even a few years ago that Roberto Martinez – yes, that Roberto Martinez – could ever even be mentioned as a possible Barcelona manager, let alone be the favourite. He would be the first man to ever manage both Barça and Wigan Athletic. While he has often been derided in England, Martinez’s attacking style of play would appeal to those at the Nou Camp, and he has impressed in international football with Belgium, guiding them to a bronze medal at last summer’s World Cup.

Odds: 5-2

Luis Enrique

Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique would be returning for a second spell at Barcelona (Photo: Getty)

Luis Enrique is a rare man who could claim to know even more about how Barcelona work than Xavi. He spent eight years there as a player, started his managerial career with Barcelona B and has also already run the senior team for three years, only departing in 2017. However, the split was amicable, with Enrique choosing not to renew his contract and taking the Spain job, and a return is certainly on the cards. It could be a fruitful one: Enrique had a win percentage of 76.2 in his first spell, winning La Liga twice, the Copa Del Rey three times and the Champions League in 2014-15 – the club’s last triumph in Europe.

Odds: 5-1

Erik ten Hag

Erik ten Hag
Erik ten Hag took Ajax on a brilliant Champions League run last season (Photo: Getty)

Ajax coach Ten Hag is a popular left-field choice in Barcelona, and who could be surprised considering the wonderful football he got his young Ajax side playing last season, as they thrilled their way to the Champions League semi-finals. Knocking out Real Madrid during that run certainly won’t hurt his chances. He already has a relationship with midfielder Frenkie de Jong, and has the potential to be every Barça fan’s dream if he can replicate his work in Amsterdam in Catalonia.

Odds: 20-1

Mauricio Pochettino

Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino could be lured away from Tottenham (Photo: Getty)

Spurs fans, look away now. Pochettino may be safe from the grasp of Real Madrid, with Zinedine Zidane having returned in the summer, but the other Spanish giant may still come calling. It’s well documented that Pochettino is frustrated with his transfer budget at Tottenham and is dying for an opportunity to genuinely compete for titles – there may not be a better club in the world to do that than at Barcelona. However it’s just that – a lack of trophies on the CV – plus his affinity for local rivals Espanyol which could scare the Catalans off.

Odds: 12-1

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Barcelona’s Neymar interest makes sense after Ousmane Dembele injury: transfer latest

The opening weeks of Barcelona‘s 2019-20 campaign have shown how fragile the difference between success and failure can be for Ernesto Valverde‘s squad. While two seasons ago, the Catalan club would wait until the penultimate week of the league to suffer their first defeat, the top flight’s match day one witnessed the reigning La Liga champions crash to a loss against Athletic Bilbao.

Without their talisman Lionel Messi due to injury, as well as Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan was forced off with a calf problem, Valverde’s side suddenly looked far less formidable. Throw in Ousmane Dembele going down with a hamstring problem that will see the Frenchman miss over a month of action and summer signing Antoine Griezmann‘s versatility is already looking like a valuable asset at Camp Nou.

Following Philippe Coutinho‘s season-long loan deal to Bayern Munich and the decision to let unwanted forward Malcom move on to pastures new, suddenly the talk surrounding a possible Barça return for Neymar makes a lot more sense. There is an immediate gap he could fill.

What has been said about a potential deal?

Ousmane Dembele will be out for around five weeks after picking up a hamstring injury (Getty Images)

Diario SPORT have suggested that the club are prepared to loan the Brazilian forward with an option to buy next year for a fee of 160 million euros – owing to the fact Barcelona have already paid in the region of 125m to secure Griezmann’s signature this summer. Add in the decent investments region to bring in Frenkie de Jong and Junior Firpo (ignoring what was essentially a swap deal for Neto) and plenty has already been spent in 2019.

Read more: Sergio Busquets has a problem called Frenkie de Jong; but do not write off Barcelona’s silent man just yet

Catalan radio station RAC1 has shared this week that Barcelona are still trying to pursue a move for their former player and key players in the club’s decision-making process met on Monday to try and find a compromise that would satisfy PSG’s demands – which are understandably very high. RAC1 claim that said meeting could witness a ‘final offer’ that will be formulated and put to the selling club in an attempt to wrap up the saga quickly.

On Wednesday, Cadena SER shared news that Barça could only afford a huge transfer fee for Neymar if they have the opportunity to pay for that player over the course of two years. Given that a club of PSG’s stature would require a considerable chunk to part with a top attacking player, the overall transfer fee would have to be colossal for the selling club to agree to terms which would not be too beneficial in the short term.

Where would Neymar fit in?

Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have past experience of linking up to great effect (Getty Images)

As it stands, Barcelona would definitely benefit from an attacking player that plays their best football on the left-hand side of the club’s front three. Neymar has already proven alongside Messi and Suarez that he can form part of a dangerous ‘MSN’ trident. The three worked in harmony together before the Brazilian’s decision to depart for Paris in 2017, though Neymar’s tendency to play in a direct manner and see a lot of the ball did detract from Jordi Alba‘s impact on the overlap.

Coutinho and Dembele have both featured on the left wing for Barça, though the latter didn’t do enough to truly impress in that position before being allowed to move on to Bayern. Dembele has been much more of an impact player off the bench than a truly trusted first-team member under Valverde, a coach who likes a balance to be struck between defence and attack.

Griezmann used to play in wider areas for Real Sociedad as a young player, but since his spell at Atletico Madrid the France international has been more of a central threat – as was the case at the 2018 World Cup.

Read more: Antoine Griezmann transfer: How Barcelona’s new signing could fit in alongside Leo Messi and Luis Suarez

Dembele has received plenty of criticism for his private life and general professionalism over the course of the last 12 months, while Griezmann will invariably have been brought in with a view to picking up the slack at the head of the attacked once 32-year-old Luis Suarez requires rotation and rest. Currently, there isn’t a true, established star to be boasted on the left of Barça’s 4-3-3. A switch to a more balanced 4-4-2 system could follow should the club fail to bring Neymar back before the transfer window shuts.

Last month, signing both Neymar and Griezmann in the same window did not sound viable for Barcelona. It didn’t appear to be a financial possible, nor a shrewd purchase, but following Coutinho and Malcom‘s exits, there is definitely room for the club to be inventive with any financial wiggle room they can find by using a loan deal to their advantage.

Recent injuries to Messi and Suarez have left the squad looking vulnerable and defeat to Athletic Bilbao has only heightened that sense of weakness. Neymar should settle back into his stride at the club with relative ease, fitting naturally into a position which will fall victim to round pegs being used in square holes until the return of Dembele to the first-team fray. What previously looked to be transfer gluttony now looks like a much more sensible target if PSG can be persuaded to receive their big pay-off in 2020.

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Atletico Madrid undergo huge renovation to hype up prospect of a proper La Liga title race

Times they are a changin’. Diego Simeone has been Atletico Madrid manager since 2011, but this summer has boasted the most in the way of transition.

When challenging for major trophies appeared to be a little less realistic over the last couple of years, the question was how the Argentine coach could change his style of play to better suit the players at his disposal.

In 2019, a different predicament has emerged: how to gel a new group quickly and excite the club’s fanbase at the same time. As the La Liga season looms, both appear to be going well.

Changing of the guard

Defender and talisman Diego Godin waved goodbye to Atleti this summer (Getty Images)

Simeone is known for the faith and loyalty he shows his long-term servants. But this summer the likes of Diego Godin (389 games), Juanfran (355 games), Filipe Luis (333 games) and Antoine Griezmann (257 games) have all moved on to pastures new, while promising talents Lucas Hernandez, 23, and Rodri, 23, have been prised away from the Wanda Metropolitano by Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively. That kind of experience and understanding of Atleti’s set-up, mentality and system will be tough to replace.

Felipe, 30, has been sourced from Porto as a reliable, experienced central defensive option, while Espanyol’s excellent Mario Hermoso should be a long-term partner for Jose Maria Gimenez. Brazilian starlet Renan Lodi, 21, has been sourced as a replacement for Filipe Luis at left back, armed with bags of athleticism, a real engine and plenty of pace. Kieran Trippier is Atleti’s new first-choice right back and should provide an extra arm of attack with his crossing from the wing.

Read more: Will Kieran Tripper be a success under Diego Simeone?

In midfield, too, Marcos Llorente, 24, is a more tenacious replacement, for Rodri, capable of sitting deepest in midfield to connect the dots in build-up play or offer a constant source of energy when hunting down loose balls. Hector Herrera is arguably one of the bargains of the transfer window after signing on a free from Porto and will aid Saul Niguez in his attempts to support the attack with his endeavour to get forward and let fly. Although stars have been lost, the club’s recruitment department have acted quickly and sensibly with the fees paid to bring in high-quality replacements.

Putting faith in Felix

Joao Felix holds up his new shirt during his official presentation (Getty Images)

Griezmann’s long-awaited departure from Atleti posed the most questions. How would Simeone cope with a player who not only scores goals and creates, but also is so key without the ball when tracking back? Enter Portuguese wonderkid Joao Felix, a 19-year-old attacking midfielder with just one senior campaign under his belt and an £113m price tag to go with it. That’s what scoring 20 goals and providing 11 assists in 43 competitive games will do to your reputation.

Read more: Has Joao Felix made a mistake in joining Atletico Madrid over Manchester City or United?

An electric start to pre-season during Atleti’s tour of the States has helped both the club and the player’s cause. A 7-3 thrashing of Real Madrid put down a marker for just how ruthless and competitive Simeone’s side are prepared to be this campaign, with Felix chipping in with creation and end product. Although he is far less adept on the defensive side of his game in comparison to the man he is theoretically replacing, the teenager is already entertaining in a red and white shirt. Technically very strong, armed with great vision and able to glide across the turf with a real ease and elegance, Felix is the best chance that the club have of bridging the Griezmann gap. His chemistry with Diego Costa will be key.

Costa and Alvaro Morata remain as the club’s main striking options, but they will need to step up considerably if they are to turn Simeone’s unlikely new mix of talent into a force that is capable of surpassing the eerily consistent Barcelona. Costa managed just five goals in 21 games during an injury-hit 2018-19 campaign, while Morata chipped in with six goals in 15 Spanish top-flight games after arriving at Los Rojiblancos in January. Griezmann scored 15 in LaLiga last campaign – more than both of the teammates he has left behind. If Atleti can manage to supplement their goals tally to make up for the Frenchman’s departure, they should be in excellent shape to run both Barça and a resurgent Real Madrid close for the title.

Atletico Madrid fact file

Manager: Diego Simeone

Star player: Jan Oblak

Rising star: Mario Hermoso

Transfers in: Joao Felix (Benfica), Marcos Llorente (Real Madrid), Mario Hermoso (Espanyol), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Felipe (Porto), Renan Lodi (Athletico Paranaense), Ivan Saponjic (Benfica), Hector Herrera (Porto, free)

Transfers out: Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona) , Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Rodri (Manchester City), Gelson Martins (Monaco), Luciano Vietto (Sporting CP), Bernard Mensah (Kayserispor), Diego Godin (Inter, free), Juanfran (released), Filipe Luis (Flamengo, free)

Last season finish: 2nd

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