The other factor for Valencia’s early success is their underrated manager, Marcelino García Toral. The former Miguel Muñoz Trophy winner with Recreativo Huelva took on the unenviable task at the Mestalla after guiding Villarreal to the Champions League playoffs in the 2015/16 season. This just three seasons after the Yellow Submarine won promotion back to La Liga.
His Villarreal fairy-tale, which also included a semi-final run in the UEFA Europa League, went up in smoke due to his fiery temperament. Intense transfer-related conversations with the club’s hierarchy, his demanding ways when dealing with players, stripping now AC Milan defender Mateo Musacchio of the captaincy which caused tension in the locker room and a reported bust up that proved the final nail in his coffin. When he was presented as Valencia’s boss in May, he seemed unwilling to relax his hard-line approach to management.
“I like order, discipline and commitment. Without the necessary demands, humility, commitment, solidarity and ambition it is impossible to get results. The desire to win must bring us together and together we will be stronger.”
Implementing the 4-4-2 tactics he used at Villarreal, based on the order and discipline he alluded to on arrival which focuses on quick counters and defending from the front, he has completely transformed the team’s identity. Ranking second in goals scored, third in chances created, fourth in tackles won and just 10 goals conceded, the influence is obvious. Add that to the fact that Marcelino drastically changed the team’s diet in the off-season, including warning players of their carbohydrate intake, as well as implement his fierce training regiments, and you have a manager who is borderline obsessive about conditioning. Clearly a man who wants everything his way and so far, he’s getting just that.
Regardless of the circus going on around the club, Valencia’s new ringmaster has fans legitimately believing the club can make it back to the Champions League places. The team has a renewed focus and determination as a result, willing to fight for every ball and give every bit of energy throughout 90 minutes. There’s also a renewed trust, particularly in younger talents such as reported Manchester United target Carlos Soler and Santi Mina who have shown greater depth of their potential. While the oft-frustrating Rodrigo Moreno has already matched his best goal contribution tally (five goals and three assists) and has gotten back into the Spanish national team set up as a result.
Further tough examinations are needed to see whether it’s wise to invest stock in this side, examinations including Barcelona’s visit to the Mestalla at the end of November. But the early signs are encouraging. And with the hiring of new president, Anil Murthy, as well as a new director Mateu Alemany (instrumental in convincing Marcelino to come), it appears as if Lim’s friend and company shenanigans are dwindling.
The Bats aren’t out of hell just yet. But they’re getting there. For the first time since the days of Villa, Mata and Silva, there’s optimism at the Mestalla again. And for Spanish football, seeing the six-time La Liga winners and two-time Champions League finalists, it’s for the better.