In today’s cut-throat world, a lack of instant success in terms of trophies is forever being punished with the quick-fire sacking of managers.
Several clubs across Europe, such as Newcastle, Atlético Madrid and (these days) Heart of Mithlodian, are infamous for the ruthlessness (or stupidity, as you may choose to see it) of their chairmen, although this formula does not in most cases seem to have been particularly successful for the clubs (hence the voluminous arguments offered by Spurs fans against the sacking of big MJ).
However, there is no doubt that job security is at a premium in modern-day football; the departure of José Mourinho sent shockwaves through the world of football precisely because it was inconceivable that a manager with such a record could be dismissed in such a way. One only has to look at the treatment (by the media, at least) of Roberto Mancini to understand to what extent football is a fickle world.
During the “great one’s” tenure at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho constantly vilipended other top managers whose sides were not winning trophies, suggesting, for example, that Rafa BenÃtez ought to have found himself out of a job due to his failure to win the league for Liverpool despite hefty expenditure on players.
However, it is to BenÃtez’s former club, Valencia CF, that I wish to turn as a case story.
After a decent season in charge of Getafe (who are now struggling, despite having a far superior squad – this shows how important the role of a manager and the momentum of form can be), finishing 13th, Quique Sánchez Flores, ex Valencia youth-team coach, succeeded Claudio Ranieri (another unfair Abramovich victim?) at the helm of the Valencian club, Rafa BenÃtez having left Valencia the previous summer for Liverpool.
Flores inherited a team low on confidence after a disastrous campaign, when the club had hoped to retain their La Liga title only to finish outside of the UEFA Cup places for the first time since 1998 (although in that year the club had at least redeemed itself and gained UEFA Cup entry by winning the Copa del Rey). So it’s not as if Flores had it easy. However, playing a slightly more attacking brand of football, Flores quickly turned around the club’s hopes, reaching the quarter final of the Copa del Rey and finishing 3rd in the league and subsequently qualifying for the Champions’ League.
Chairman Juan Bautista Soler, who has never been afraid to dip into his wallet, went into the club’s coffers in order to arm Flores with a veritable transfer chest with which to make an assault on the league title in the 2006-7 season. However, amidst internal struggles (was Flores’ work being undermined by Carboni?), the club offered much and delivered little, dropping away from the title race towards the end of the season (despite having at one point, with 12 games or so to go, been in an excellent position) and being knocked out of the Champions’ League against Chelsea, in a tie which by all reckonings the club dominated.
Sánchez Flores has spent an immense amount of money during his tenure at the club, being able to bring in, amongst others, such players as JoaquÃn (for over 20 million euros), Fernando Morientes (another 10 million euros), Manuel Fernandes (16 million euros) and David Villa (14 million euros). Some of these transfers have been resounding successes (how Real Madrid must wish they had taken the chance on Villa!), whilst for some, the jury is still out (JoaquÃn has been quite consistent this season, for once, but last season his performances were marked by his customary inconsistency; if one thinks that Simao, for example, or Nani, could have been cheaper options, the JoaquÃn signing does not yet seem the best of decisions). Flores can also be criticised for having bought players unnecessarily at times; the expensive signing of giant Serb Nikola Zigic seemed to me one of desperation, having missed out on his major transfer target in the shape of Hamburg’s Rafael Van der Vaart, and indeed it is hard to see where Flores will fit Zigic into his team (although he may occupy the Peter Crouch bench role). I also wonder whether Caneira can be seen as an adequate replacement for Ayala. In short, Valencia’s lack of trophies (no leagues and no semi-final appearances under Flores) may be owing not only to Flores’ inability to get all of his stars to shine (has he got the best out of JoaquÃn?), but also because of unwise spending in the transfer market.
Valencia have started this season fairly well, although they have faced few high-quality teams in the league so far; the five consecutive victories came against AlmerÃa, Real Valladolid, Real betis – a result which is looking like more of a feat after Betis’ mini-revival, and bottom two Getafe and Recreativo. The matches against the two very good teams that Valencia have faced, both at the Mestalla, have resulted in debacles; the 3-0 reverse to Villareal in the first game of the season, and the recent 2-1 defeat to UEFA Cup runners-up Espanyol. Equally, whilst results have been okay, performances in general have been found wanting; indeed, the club have scored the joint lowest amount of goals out of the top 8 teams (10), and the narrow margin of their victories is demonstrated by the 9 goals they have in the “goals against” column.
Obviously I am not suggesting that Quique Flores should be sacked at this very moment (unless Mr Mourinho happens to be knocking on the door), but I do feel that the pressure under which the former Valencia and Real Madrid defender finds himself is entirely justified. With a win percentage of 53% in the league (44 wins and 28 losses in 83 matches), a respectable but not outstanding record which should guarantee Flores a little respite before the flowers of his name are brought to his managerial grave (Valencia won the league in 1998-9 with a worse record, but this was when other clubs were in crisis), but with reasonably poor cup form – Héctor Cúper reached two Champions’ League finals and BenÃtez won the trophy, something Flores has not looked near doing, although it is worth mentioning that neither of these two managers ever did much in the Copa del Rey, one of the few areas in which Flores has improved the club – coupled with questionable and expensive signings, we should not remove the question mark from Flores’ name.
I, for one, hope that Flores’ side excel this season, particularly as with seven players in the international squad (Angulo, people???), such improvement would bode well both for an exciting La Liga run-in and even more pertinently, for the Spanish international side.