So Gary Neville is staring down the barrel. Yet to register a league win since taking over as the Valencia coach last December, he was to endure, by his own account, ‘the most painful night’ in a Copa del Rey match against Barcelona.
Losing to the Catalan side, blessed with perhaps the most attacking South American trident any European club have had, is not a shocker by any means, but the scoreline, 0-7, and the nature of the defeat, with Valencia hardly threatening to score, would certainly be a bitter pill to swallow for the Valencia faithful. This was a club, not so long ago, were the hope of many in Spain to break the sustained duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
With just 25 points from the 22 games played in the league, Valencia are down 12th in the table, and only a fairytale finish, the likes of which even the script writers at Disney cannot conjure, could give them a Europa League spot. More irksome for the local fans would be the distance they are at with neighbours, Villarreal. The matches between the two sides, often termed ‘Battle of Brothers’, have long ceased to be a friendly affair.
There was a time when Valencia was the big brother of the region, showing everyone else how to do it at the highest stage. Those days, however, have long passed. Since the time Fransisco Roig forced out his brother, Fernando, from Valencia, apparently freezing his shares at the club, and latter taking out his frustration by attempting to transform Villarreal into an even bigger club, the rivalry between them has had many subplots.
Watching Villarreal sitting fourth, just three points behind Real Madrid, will certainly not be a comforting experience for Valencia, neither for the management nor the fans. The embarrassing loss to Barcelona on Wednesday would only have made things worse.
Gary is certainly a dead man walking at the Mestalla Stadium.
How did it all go so horribly wrong for Valencia? The reasons are many, the constant loss of their best players being the most significant. From David Villa to David Silva to Mata to many more, Valencia fans, by now, would have made peace with the reality that their best players are so only till they are someone else’s.
Then there is the matter of revolving door that leads the manager’s seat at the club. Gary Neville is the 14th Valencia manager in about 10 years. Managerial instability is a game not just for Roman Abramovich. Yet, despite taking all this into consideration, Valencia’s current struggles is caused by their most recent mistake. They liked what Phil Neville did, and then went on to hire his brother, Gary, as the head coach.
Phil, who made his name at Manchester United and Everton, more so at the latter, has been among the coaching staff even before Gary’s arrival in Spain. Phil, who in contrast to Gary has often been ridiculed for his ‘boring’ approach to TV punditry, joined Valencia in the summer of 2015 to assist then manager Nuno. He had played a similar role during David Moyes’ ill-fated tenure at Manchester United.
Phil, then went on to earn the respect of the players at the club, and when the axe fell on Nuno in the winter of 2015, he was expected to take over. Except, of course, for a minor hiccup, Phil did not have the requisite coaching badge. But Gary had. The Neville brothers, also were business partners of sorts of Valencia owner, Peter Lim, and the arrangement had presumably given enough time for Lim to impressed by Gary’s ideas, those which he very often shared during his stint as a TV pundit.
Ideas, however, could be great, but implementing, or even sharing those with players, takes a little effort. Gary, it seems, is not cut out for that, at least not yet.