|Photo courtesy of Ignacio Platero.|
Sacking a coach only three games into the season would usually be condemned as the behaviour of a fickle board making a snap decision following a few bad results, but sometimes it’s possible for it to be the most sensible course of action even so early on in the campaign. Osasuna’s home defeat to Villarreal on 31st August was so witless it left their crowd stunned. By the time the visitors’ third goal went in, the fans in Pamplona didn’t know whether to stay and whistle or call it a night and leave early. Osasuna would go into the international break bottom of the table following three successive defeats, the only team left in La Liga without a point.
Within 48 hours, Jose Luis Mendilibar had paid for the result with his job as Osasuna decided to dismiss him after two-and-a-half years in charge. The 52-year-old had replaced former Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho at the club in February 2011 with the side sitting in the relegation zone, overseeing a recovery that ended in an impressive ninth-place finish by the end of the season. He bettered this the following year as Osasuna came seventh, but the next campaign saw Los Rojillos battling to avoid the drop and they eventually stumbled to sixteenth. Mendilibar called it “a year of suffering” but, despite the club standing by him over the summer, results at the start of this season seemed to suggest that the ordeal was set only to continue. The departure of sporting director Ángel Martín González only a week earlier had already been a sign that the club’s current regime had run its course.
Osasuna are enjoying their fourteenth consecutive season in La Liga, which is their longest stint in the top division by some distance, but even after just three matches they seemed to be heading in only one direction under their former coach. Osasuna never scored many under Mendilibar – just 44 and 33 in his two full seasons in charge – but they made up for it by generally being hard to beat and giving little away at the other end, particularly at home. Conceding seven goals in their opening three games this time was as out of character as failing to pick up any points in their first two home fixtures. With creativity just as lacking as normal, the sudden absence of any kind of organisation in midfield – particularly against newly-promoted Villarreal – acted like a warning siren for Osasuna’s prospects this season.
Few neutrals will be sad to see Mendilibar go. His Osasuna team consistently played the most dour, unadventurous football in La Liga and could often be soul-sapping to watch. What players they had that were capable of raising the pulse tended to leave – such as Roland Lamah and Kike Sola – while promising youngsters such as midfielder Raoul Loe saw their progress hampered by the coach’s rotation policy and willingness to drop players for just one poor performance. It is little surprise in such a defensive team that the squad’s most valuable assets are goalkeeper Andres Fernandez and centre back Alejandro Arribas.
The new man in charge is Javi Gracia, who hails from Pamplona and oversaw Almería’s promotion from the Segunda via the play-offs before leaving over the summer for contractual reasons. Almería scored 72 goals last season under Gracia while shipping 50 at the back, providing one obvious contrast with the ethos of Mendilibar’s Osasuna. His first test in his new job will be a trip to Getafe on Sunday.
This article was written for Espcore.