Osasuna get La Liga's first sacking in the bag
Three games... just three games! That's all it took for La Liga’s first sacking as José Luis Mendilibar lost his job at Osasuna after three consecutive defeats to kick off the new season.
Although Spain has a reputation for trigger-happy club presidents, the League has been fairly grown up and patient of late. Last season's first firing didn't happen until the end of November, when Mauricio Pochettino left Espanyol. Osasuna, however, have taken advantage of the international break to part company with a manager the club's president was not entirely sure he wanted to keep in the first place.
The decision for Mendilibar to stay on was only taken at the very end of last season, but the now-unemployed coach probably realises he was on borrowed time anyway. Top scorer Kike Sola was sold to Athletic Bilbao over the summer and only some of the funds raised were spent on reinforcing the squad. Sporting Director Ángel Martín González was also fired last week, leaving Mendilibar next on the hitlist of doom.
His future was sealed with last weekend's 3-0 home defeat to Villarreal, and left club president Miguel Archanco in the worst funk imaginable. "I’ve been in the presidential box for 12 years now and it was the first time that I’ve felt ashamed," ranted the Osasuna big cheese, who must have a high tolerance level for terrible performances.
Mendilibar didn't take the news of his firing well. "We had a bad game (against Villarreal) but not because we wanted to," he fumed. "I think there was a great amount of effort. I don’t understand why I’m the ideal coach in June, but not after three rounds in La Liga."
The club have moved swiftly to find a replacement by appointing the coach who guided Almería up from the second division (but then decided to leave soon after). Javi Gracia has the big advantage of being a local lad coming home after a long time away. "I’ve been away from Pamplona since I was 17," he beamed. "I’m proud of being the coach of my hometown team."
The blueprint Gracia intends to follow seems to be the same one that Osasuna have been built on for years - the new prince of Pamplona wants a "brave side that is aggressive in attack and in defence". It's what makes them such a fun, but frequently violent team.
Gracia's first match in charge is a trip to Getafe's Coliseum next week, as Osasuna take on another side to have made an awful start to the season. However, club president Angel Torres has promised there will be no change of boss in the meantime. “Luis García will be here until 30th June and there is quality in the team to take things forward,” claimed the Getafe head honcho.
Away from La Liga, Spain were in action and slogged out an inconspicuously professional win over Finland in Helsinki. According to the local press, that result combined with ever-faltering France's goalless draw against Georgia, puts Spain one-foot-and-a-half into the World Cup. Vicente Del Bosque’s side now have a three-point lead over their northern neighbours with two home games left against Belarus and Georgia.
However, as ever the big talking point in Spain was not over the football itself, but the stories around it - namely the manager's decision to plonk Iker Casillas in goal ahead of Víctor Valdés. “For some it will seem fair but for others it won’t,” mused Del Bosque after sticking with his international captain, who can't get a match for Real Madrid at the moment.