Thursday 19 April 2018

Valencia fans will give Neville little time to settle in

England coach Gary Neville has quit his role as Sky Sports pundit
England coach Gary Neville has quit his role as Sky Sports pundit

Pete Jenson in Madrid

Gary Neville will be given a warmer welcome at Valencia than his predecessor. Outgoing coach Nuno Espirito Santo was whistled when he was presented to supporters at the start of the season.

No wonder he felt that after eight defeats in 19 games, and with just five points picked up in the Champions League with one game left to play, he had to walk away - the 14th coach to leave the club in the last 15 years.

Valencia is a tough place to manage. Premier League coaches Quique Sanchez Flores, Ronald Koeman and Claudio Ranieri will all vouch for that, as will Rafa Benitez, the last manager to give them a league title, not that they every really warmed to him despite his achievement of winning La Liga in 2002 and '04.

Hopes were high at the start of the season. The club had got back into the Champions League and with Singapore billionaire Peter Lim's fortune and Jorge Mendes' working of the transfer market behind them what could go wrong?

They were not counting on a civil war of sorts breaking out when the club's president, Amadeo Salvo, was replaced by Lim's trusted associate Lay Hoon Chan, a corporate investment expert, also from Singapore.

The sporting director Francisco Rufete (a former player) also left the club, as did chief scout Roberto Ayala - a Valencia legend. Supporters begrudged what they saw as the breaking of ties with the old Valencia.

An exciting summer in the transfer market would have changed the mood but it was not forthcoming. Manchester City bought Nicolas Otamendi from them in August and although Eliaquim Mangala was at first promised in his place, the 24-year-old French defender declined the chance to move from the Etihad.

The defence was further weakened by long-term injuries to keeper Diego Alves and centre-back Shkodran Mustafi. And up front the club were obliged to sign Alvaro Negredo, who had failed to impress on loan from City the previous season.

Nineteen-year-old Santi Mina - a Mendes player full of potential but not much use in the here and now - also arrived from Celta Vigo and has played only a minor part to date.

In the long-term, and if results are not good, then Neville will suffer the same fate as Nuno and be seen as another of the outsiders who is at the club because he is a friend of the owner and not on merit.

Yesterday he was being lauded for those 85 England caps and 20 domestic trophies won. Images of him overseeing England's 100pc record in the European Championship qualifying campaign alongside Roy Hodgson were also being played on a loop during every sports bulletin.

He has dodged his first bullet by deciding not to take charge of Saturday's home game against Barcelona. On current form Valencia will struggle against the threat of Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Four days later he will take the hot-seat for the visit of Lyons in the Champions League, a game Valenica must win - and then hope Zenit St Petersburg beat Ghent - to reach the knockout stages.

Nuno had given up the ghost already. Phil Neville, the assistant already in place, knew on Sunday night following Valenica's 1-0 defeat to Sevilla that it was likely to be the Portuguese's last game in charge. He also knew that without his Uefa coaching badges he would not be able to replace him.

Now he is joined by his brother as they try to restore confidence in a squad that had grown tired of Nuno's distant management style and failure to offer his players the tactical solutions they need in a fiercely competitive league.


Last season, Scottish coach Ian Cathro played a huge role on the training ground before leaving to join Steve McClaren at Newcastle. The players have missed that proactive approach.

There is young talent to work with - 22-year-old Paco Alcacer broke into the Spain team recently and 20-year-old left-back Jose Gaya is wanted by Real Madrid. Once Negredo returns from a recent operation on his appendix he will be welcomed back into the fold and the Nevilles may even pair him with Alcacer - something Nuno rarely did.

Elsewhere, the sooner Mustafi and Alves get back to full fitness and the January transfer window opens the better.

Finishing in the top four in La Liga will almost certainly mean the brothers are offered the job full-time.

If Gary Neville succeeds in his first managerial position it will be a significant achievement. It has been a long time since England produced a great coach. Neville has long been tipped as someone who might buck the trend.

Bobby Robson and Terry Venables were perhaps the last leading English managers to earn the respect of European football. Both ventured into La Liga but only after considerable domestic success. Neville is diving headfirst into the unknown. They will be unforgiving in Valencia if he does not succeed.

(© Independent News Service)

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