The Madridileño was doing so well, both in his job and his final meeting with the press.
Pepe Mel was managing to keep his cool on Monday evening as he said goodbye to Real Betis after nearly three-and-a-half years in charge. But the noise of the supporters gathered outside of the stadium to chant the name of the freshly-fired coach was enough for him lose composure. His voice breaking with emotion after a sacking which still feels out of the blue, Mel said he wanted “to thank the fans from the bottom of my heart.”
With Betis bottom of the table having picked up just two points from the last 24 available, the club’s bosses had decided that the Madrid-born man was not the trainer to take them out of the trouble. It was a cruel, gut-wrenching (and gutless) reaction to the longest-serving Primera boss, who had taken Betis from oblivion and into the Europa League. Talking later the same evening to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, Mel admitted: “Last summer, when we looked back at all we had achieved, I did not expect it to all be over three months later. But that’s football.”
Mel took over the then-second division outfit in the summer of 2010. Writing in AS, Juan Jiménez recalled that the former Rayo boss found a group of players that “began training as if it was a stag party in Miami”. However, Mel still managed to take them back to the Primera in his first season, stabilising them before a seventh-placed finish and qualification to the Europa League last year.
The Europa League has been a rare source of pleasure for Betis
But the club still in administration lost a string of key players over the summer, including central midfield pair Beñat and José Cañas (the latter to Swansea), as well as the scoring services of Rubén Castro through injury, who knocked in 18 goals last season. The forward was just one name on a lengthy list of players sidelined at one point or another this season, another key reason why Betis have been struggling so badly.
Despite propping up the table and recently being beaten 4-0 by Sevilla, Mel remained a popular figure in the Benito Villamarín, especially among the Ultras, who raised merry hell on the evening of his departure with graffiti and property damage.
Such acts forced club president Miguel Guillén, a figure who had been slowly falling out with his now-departed manager, to say: “I can admit that fans may have differences but there is no justification for the violence from people who do not represent Beticism.”
Mel was convinced he could have soon moved the team back up the table, but Betis have instead turned to former Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido to lead the way - a no-nonsense type, if ever there was one. On Tuesday, Garrido said he did not require any January reinforcements, claiming that he wanted to “get the best out of the players I have”.
The new man has a soft start to his spell in Seville, with a Copa del Rey clash against third-tier Lleida Esportiu followed by a Europa League dead rubber against Rijeka - Betis have already qualified from the group stages. League encounters with Almería and Valladolid then follow - two very good reasons why the Betis bigwigs were far too hasty in sacking the figure that brought top-flight and European football back to the club.