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Thursday November 8 2012
Mercy for Mendilibar

Sometimes the fall guy can be the wrong guy. David Cartlidge looks at Jose Luis Mendilibar’s potential exit from Osasuna.

COPE radio station in Pamplona ran a story on Wednesday evening that if Osasuna were to lose on Saturday against fellow strugglers Espanyol, then Jose Luis Mendilibar would be removed from his role as Coach. That this story has even been drummed up, though, is remarkable. What's more so, there seems to be genuine truth about it.

Look deeper under the surface of events at El Reyno de Navarra, and the reasons become strikingly clear.

Osasuna have taken just five points from their opening 10 games this season - admittedly a miserable statistic but not a defining one. The last two teams to start in this manner, for instance, both avoided relegation. One of those games they lost, was a mean performance against Barcelona which invoked all the characteristics of the Pamplona side down the years - limited in a footballing aspect, but able to utilise their strength, aerial ability and energy. It was a devastating loss and one that optimised the start to the season. Osasuna haven't played badly, neither have they played well, but five points is by no means a clear representation of the start.

Blaming Mendilibar though, is the most severe error in all this. Last season Osasuna finished in seventh position, much above their expectation at the beginning of the campaign - some entertained the idea of a relegation battle. Mendilibar's work was admirable, as he harnessed a limited workforce and made them into streetwise opposition. They played the percentages, focusing on their obvious strengths like set plays, but also on the counter attack with the likes of Alvaro Cejudo and Roland Lamah.

The star was undoubtedly Raul Garcia - in their midst Osasuna had a definition point, on loan from Atletico Madrid. Mendilibar's reward in February was a new one-year contract, which by Saturday evening could be worth less than the paper it was inked on. Then President Patxi Isco remarked at the time how Mendilibar had ‘adapted to the economic situation of the club’. Intriguing, given that will now probably be the most significant factor in any sacking.

Often the case, finances and usually television money are cited when a club outside of the big two in Spain fails to produce. Although the argument has weight, the necessity to use it as an excuse is becoming ever more frequent. More too, obtuse. How is it that the likes Levante and Real Valladolid seemingly prosper despite being in a considerably less stable financial position? Much is due to the directive from the higher echelons. Osasuna's plan from a sporting point of view has been deeply flawed for some time. There has been an outright failure to engage the market correctly and integrate with the cantera at the club and much of this falls into the lap of sporting director Alberto Gonzalez.

It can be suggested that Gonzalez should perhaps be the one moving on this Saturday night. His lack of action during the summer has rendered Mendilibar's efforts last season basically null, as he's had to make do with a weaker squad both in terms of quality and number.

This was the season in which Osasuna was meant to build as a club - Mendilibar apparently asked for a No 9 and a creative midfielder, to equate for the loss of Raul Garcia. Neither arrived as the club consistently lodged derisory bids in for Rayo Vallecano's Javi Fuego, a defensive midfielder.

Economic reasons were cited once again, yet at Real Valladolid and Levante, free transfers managed to pop up that have since proved to be revelations. Patrick Ebert didn't cost a euro beyond his modest wages and was offered to several teams by his representatives. Michel meanwhile, was one of the best attacking midfielders in Segunda last season. These are hardly signings that are the breaking of bank balances.

It's Mendilibar who must suffer for the ineptitude of others, though, and why he's having to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of an ageing Joseba Llorente and play Emilio Armenteros, an average at best winger, in attack.

It's a sad state of affairs to find one of the revelations of the last season in such a desperate situation. Mendilibar scratched the backs of sporting director Gonzalez, President Isco and Osasuna in general. All he's set to get in return, is a knife in his.

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