As the Mestalla madhouse claims another casualty, Tim Stannard wonders who's next in the hottest of seats...
La Liga Loca’s eyebrow arched most wryly every time Valencia president Amadeo Salvo promised that Miroslav Djukic would remain as the coach of his club until the end of the season, come what may. Indeed, it happened so often that the heightened eyebrow rarely came back to earth. After all, a manager staying on at Mestalla is not a promise that anyone is ever going to be able to keep.
What the admirable Salvo was trying to do was inject some form of stability into the bone marrow of Valencia, a club about to hire its fourth manager in just over 12 months. However, the 3-0 defeat to Atlético Madrid on Sunday night left the side in ninth, 10 points from the Champions League places.
Clearly Valencia needed a diversion before the next Mestalla games, against Nastic in the Copa del Rey and next weekend against Real Madrid. “Perhaps I shouldn't have have been so strong in my declarations and I accept responsibility,” admitted Salvo, after the announcement of Djukic’s dismissal.
“I can't agree with the decision but I have to respect it,” said the departing manager, who had joined the club from Valladolid over the summer. Djukic also dutifully took the blame for Valencia’s failings this season, claiming that “at no point did I feel that the players did not want to run or play well” – which translates as “my players hated me.”
Djukic is just another coach who tried and failed to impose order on a near-unmanageable club. Unai Emery was moved on in 2012 – despite three third-place finishes – due to fan boredom more than anything else. Mauricio Pellegrino, who took over last summer, was the victim of player politics and poor results. Ernesto Valverde nearly dragged the club into the Champions League places in a half-season spell, but felt that running Athletic Bilbao was a more attractive option. Indeed, running a 7-11 in the worst neighbourhood of Mogadishu would be a more diverting way to spend the working day than taking the helm at Valencia.
Djukic, whose playing career included six seasons at Mestalla, was seen as tough enough to deal with the demanding fans and a fractious dressing room filled with players who did not want to be there. As he admitted recently: “You have to have balls to manage or play here.” The implication that many were not in possession of these requirements was left hanging in the air.
The sacking completed a particularly bad week for Valencia, even by their own lowly standards. The financial institution holding their €300m debt, Bankia, declared that the best resolution would be to sell the club, an idea that caused a storm not just at Mestalla but in local politics.
Still, matters might get even worse if Spanish press reports are true that one of those being lined up to take over is Andre Villas-Boas, a freshly fired manager who turned down the chance to move to Mestalla before last summer’s change. However, the current favourite is Juan Antonio Pizzi, whose playing career included Valencia and Barcelona among others.
Argentine by birth despite his 22 caps for Spain, Pizzi has just coached San Lorenzo to the league title in his home country, making him rather hot property. However, life will become even toastier for the coach should he return to the madhouse of Mestalla.