Club struggling to adjust to life in the post-Monchi era
Joseph Sexton @josephsbcn
If Barcelona securing a 25th La Liga title in A Coruña ranked as the weekend’s least surprising news, then events a day before and 1,000 kilometres to the south must have run it a close second. Following Friday’s limp 2-1 defeat at 17th-placed Levante, Sevilla parted company with Vincenzo Montella.
The former Milan and Fiorentina boss had been in the job for less than four months. Yet despite taking them to a first Champions League quarter-final in 60 years — at the expense of Manchester United, no less — the question remains as to why he was ever appointed in the first place.
To say this season has been a rollercoaster ride for the club would be an understatement, but with no wins in their last nine matches, the simple fact is that Montella took a side who were in fifth position — two points behind Real Madrid in fourth — on his arrival to eighth, and outside the European places.
Remarkably, they have shipped five goals on six occasions already this season — most recently in last week’s Copa del Rey final against Barcelona — with their goals against column in La Liga a whopping 54; three more than bottom-placed Málaga.
|Vincenzo Montella struggled and was shown the door by Sevilla at the weekend|
“If Sevilla outran Barça like Montella said,” local daily Estadio Deportivo's editor Joaquin Adorna wrote witheringly last week, “Then it must have been some pretty brainless and pointless running.”
All of this off the back of their highest-ever single season playing budget, their record transfer total outlay, and their most expensive individual signing.
To analyse how we got here, one needs to look back to a couple of key departures last summer.
First of all, rockstar sporting director Monchi — the man who unearthed the likes Dani Alves, Júlio Baptista, Seydou Keita, and José Antonio Reyes, as well as bringing in the likes of Ivan Rakitic for peanuts — left the club after 17 stellar years in his post.
The current Roma recruiter set up a network of over 700 scouts worldwide, and netted the club an incredible €200 million net transfer profit during his tenure. It also represented the most successful period in the club’s history, with nine trophies; including five Europa Leagues.
Secondly, manager Jorge Sampaoli left to take charge of the Argentina national team. That left the club scrambling to find a like-for-like replacement for the Marcelo Bielsa disciple, and the obvious choice was Bielsa’s former assistant Eduardo Berizzo following his excellent three year run as head honcho at Celta Vigo.
The performances didn’t always convince under Berizzo, but the results were for the most part sound. However, having fallen out with the midfield lynchpin Steven N’Zonzi and been left fuming at the recruitment work of Monchi’s successor Óscar Arias, there was palpable tension in the air.
Arias in turn paid with his job last Thursday. In another piece entitled ‘Arias’s mortal deadly sins’, Estadio Deportivo laid a litany of failures firmly on his doorstep.
With their record defensive signing Simon Kjaer enduring an injury-wracked campaign, they had only two fit centre backs for most of the season, and he was castigated for failing to secure the likes of Michy Batshuayi or Daniel Sturridge on loan in the winter, opting instead for Everton flop Sandro Ramírez.
Above all, the piece concluded, “he failed to recognise or learn from his mistakes.”
Into the breach steps their former manager Joaquín Caparrós, thirteen years down the road. Having spoken — but given little away — on the radio over the weekend, he was a little more generous at his official presentation on Monday.
“I’ve looked at the players,” he began. “And they’re in good physical shape, not as tired as they look from the outside.
“Now we need to work on the mental side, and break this cycle of poor results. I know the talent and quality of these players, now let’s see if we can achieve what we need to.”
What they need do is to overhaul seventh-placed Getafe to make it back into Europe. What will hurt more than anything is to see crosstown rivals Real Betis staring down at them from the lofty heights of fifth.
When Berizzo was sacked, somewhat heartlessly, a week after a successful operation on a cancerous tumour on December 22nd, Betis were languishing in 14th.
The time between then and now has seen a stunning 16 point swing in favour of the side who won for the first time in over a decade by 5-3 at Sevilla in Montella’s first league game in charge.
They will contest the return fixture on Saturday 12 May in Caparrós’s second game in charge, the penultimate round of the season. But he refused to be drawn on the derby on Monday.
“We’re not going to think too far ahead. A few fine details will change, but nothing more. We need to take it step by step and not think beyond next Friday’s game [against Real Sociedad]. We have to be ready.”