09 January 2013

Spanish Inquest: Paciȇncia to prove a virtue?

My Eircom SportsHub column

Domingos joins the Portuguese colony in A Coruña

Patience is not a quality generally associated with football club, even less so in Spain. Itchy trigger fingers abound to the extent that José Mourinho’s two and a half years at the Bernabéu makes him the longest serving incumbent.

It’s been a little bit different this season, however. Call it an outbreak of common sense, or call it an adjustment to the dire financial realities of the league’s clubs, but to date only three managers have left their posts. The last was Deportivo La Coruña’s José Luis Oltra over the Christmas break, with the side bottom of the table with just two wins to their name.

Surprisingly, it marked the first sacking at Depor since John Toshack’s in 1997. “We felt the change was necessary” said the president Augusto Lendoiro. “The situation was irreversible”. Oltra had led the club back to the top flight as champions of the Segunda last term. “I’m surprised to be honest”, he told the press after his removal. “It’s not really normal at this club”.

In his place Deportivo made an intriguing appointment in the former FC Porto forward Domingos Paci?ncia. 18 months ago, his star was burning bright. In his two years in charge of unfashionable Sporting Braga, not only did he edge Porto out of Champions League qualification — achieving their highest ever league finish — but his reign culminated in an unlikely Europa League final appearance against the northern giants in Dublin’s Aviva.

They lost on the night to a solitary Radamel Falcao strike, and what ensued proved one of thoseSliding Doors moments. Had André Villas-Boas stayed on, the Colombian might well have stayed too to have a crack at the Champions League. Had the Tottenham boss departed immediately rather than dragging his heels, then it’s almost certain that Domingos — who’d already signalled his intention to quit — would have been his replacement.

Instead, Domingos moved to Sporting Lisbon with the Porto boss embarking on an ill-starred reign at Chelsea. There’s a remarkable parallel between the two coaches’ fates. Both were criticised for their failure to adapt tactically, and both were removed early; some might say, even prematurely.

Certainly, that’s a prevailing sentiment amongst a large section of the Sporting support. Whereas Villas-Boas’ reputation was built around thrilling high octane football, Domingos’ Braga were by necessity a more pragmatic outfit built around an obdurate defence. This was somewhat at odds with Sporting’s association with slick, passing play.

Like Villas-Boas, the initial signs were promising. Throughout the Autumn, Sporting played some incredible stuff, with results to match. But by November, both had vanished and Sporting reverted to the Braga template of playing on the break. The final straw came when a full strength XI failed to dispatch a largely reserve-based second division Moreirense selection in the League Cup.

At the same time, Villas-Boas’ successor Vítor Pereira was under immense pressure. Indeed, part of Sporting’s stated rationale in sacking Domingos was that he was flirting with his former club. Aided in no small part by Benfica’s collapse Pereira’s side retained the title, giving the incumbent a reprieve while leaving Domingos out in the cold.

So now, rather than a return to Portugal’s second city, Domingos has rolled in at A Coruña, 300km to the north. And it’s not just for the two regions historic links that he’ll be feeling at home.

Deportivo’s squad is stuffed with Portuguese, from stalwarts like the centre half Zé Castro to a raft of summer loanees brokered by the super agent Jorge Mendes. Within this colony resides the promising young trio of Bruno Gama, Pizzi and Nélson Oliveíra, whose performances were sporadic under Oltra.

At the weekend, Depor marked the occasion with their first win in what feels like an eternity against Málaga. The performance was a nod the Braga old school: a gritty 1-0, eked out of minimal possession. But despite their inability to dominate the game, they finished with more — and better — chances the Andalusian side.

“I think we can can play much better than this”, conceded Domingos. “Four training sessions is nothing. We can improve. Everyone has their own style, and while the players understood some concepts, we can do more. But when you win, everything looks sweeter. We knew it would be a tough game because Málaga are a top side.

“This win gives us confidence, but now we have to think of the next one, then the next, then the next”.

Original article here on Eircom SportsHub

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