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The manager's job at Valencia has a couple of very simple objectives: finish third and try to have a decent run in the cup or in Europe. Unai Emery achieved all those aims three years in a row at the Mestalla but fell foul of the eternal reality at this most complex of clubs; whilst the mission may be basic, its execution is always a desperately miserable process.
Emery left the club last summer with the coach's contract not being renewed. Although he fulfilled all reasonable expectations of his role despite having David Silva, David Villa and Juan Mata sold off, Valencia's notoriously fickle fans had grown bored of the manager. It was probably a mutual feeling.
Those same supporters who chased Emery out of town with almost constant barracking must now be feeling that those were the good old days with Valencia facing the new month in 12th, 11 points from their usual third-placed berth. They have also picked up just two points away from the Mestalla in the league and are now without a coach, with Emery's replacement, Mauricio Pellegrino, having been sacked in an apparent fit of pique after Saturday's calamitous 2-5 home defeat to Real Sociedad.
It's easy to understand the average Valencia supporter's ennui. The side will never have the team nor resources to break the duopoly at the top and anything less than third place is deemed a disaster. The 'New Mestalla' is still a hulking shell of a stadium that the club can't afford to complete. Any player with talent is moved on to continue to clear the debt accrued by the previous regime - a group of buffoons that thought it would be a good idea to pay seven figures for Javier Arizmendi.
The fans were waving their white handkerchiefs of disgust on Saturday as they watched their team being pulverised by the normally less-than-scary Real Sociedad. The five conceded followed the four let in in another feeble display last week at Málaga. But rather than calling for the sacking of former player, Pellegrino, the Valencia massive wanted the head of club president, Manuel Llorente, on a spike. That's normally extremely bad news for the manager, with the tradition in Spain for big bosses to admit some culpability when things go awry, but let everyone else take the fall.
The Argentinean was a long way from being Valencia's first choice to be Emery's replacement at one of the toughest gigs in La Primera. Indeed, the manager, who was taking on his first role as number one after spells as assistant at Liverpool and Inter, was probably fifth or sixth down the pecking order with André Villas-Boas being the prime target. "If we have to convince a player or coach to come to Valencia, then we get off to a bad start," admitted the club's Sporting Director, Braulio Vasquez, after a failed attempt to coax the Spurs boss to Mestalla.
Pellegrino was given the poisoned chalice and faced the challenge that previous managers at the Mestalla have struggled with - how to motivate a group of players that know a good season for Valencia will still be an average one. Only one player at the club appears to be committed to the cause, Sofiane Feghouli, but probably because the better the midfielder plays, the sooner the Algerian can leave. The previous two league games saw Valencia shipping in nine goals, with the midfield barely moving and the back line more shop window display than active defence.
Scenes on Saturday night both inside the stadium and outside - where riot police were called to calm down an angry mob - weren't pretty ones. A flare was thrown into the Mestalla VIP entrance, and players were told to stay indoors whilst furious fans screaming 'mercenaries' were cleared. In the Mestalla itself, Pellegrino went before the press and claimed that he felt safe in his job despite the result. Unfortunately for the Argentinean, the club president also paid a visit to the media to announce his coach's sacking, immediately denying suggestions that this was a panic decision motivated purely by self-preservation. "This isn't a heat of the moment move," claimed Llorente looking more than a little rattled.
The drama continued the following morning with Pellegrino arriving at the training ground to pack his bags and respond to his Saturday night sacking in the strongest of terms. "I think the decision is unfair and was made on the spur of the moment, but that's football. As a player I've lived through four of five supporter protests with Benitez and Cúper and it all ended ok," announced the former defender, who had a six-year spell at the club.
The players have followed the normal tradition in such circumstances and blamed themselves for the firing with self-flagellation for having let down the boss. Although they probably don't believe it, deep down, they have found the right target.
Another manager, ideally armed with a big stick and knife-proof armour strapped to his back, will be moving into the Mestalla soon enough. It's likely to be Ernesto Valverde, who has had spells in La Liga managing Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol, and Villarreal, as well as achieving success in Greece with Olympiacos.
All is not totally lost for Valencia though. They are through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, as well as the next stage of the Copa del Rey, and are only seven points from the top four. Pellegrino feels that he deserved a chance to turn things around at the club and improve this situation. A panicked president on Saturday night strongly disagreed.
Round 14 Results
Osasuna 1-0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Madrid 2-0 Atlético Madrid
Barcelona 5-1 Athletic Bilbao
Getafe 1-0 Málaga
Valencia 2-5 Real Sociedad
Granada 0-0 Espanyol
Deportivo 2-3 Betis
Celta Vigo 1-1 Levante
Mallorca 1-1 Zaragoza
Sevilla v Valladolid (Monday)