The images of Vallecas on the final day of the season will live long in the memory, and they serve as a final reminder of Jose Ramon Sandoval’s spell in charge of Rayo Vallecano. The larger-than-life Coach Sandoval achieved two magnificent feats while at Rayo – first he guided them to promotion, and then he maintained their top-flight status. All the while, he was working upon a backdrop of insecurity and instability.
At the end of the season, it had become clear it was time for both parties to move along. Tensions grew ever more strained in the final months of the season as financial strife drove a wedge between management and tactician, which eventually culminated in Sandoval’s departure this summer. So, how have Rayo replaced the man who had essentially given his all for the club? Well, with style for one.
Paco Jemez was finally appointed this past week after an ongoing saga first with his contract at Cordoba, and also with the administrators still in place at Rayo. Jemez, a former player with Rayo, is an interesting case as he harbours some aspects of Sandoval’s character, while also being far removed. The focus on a group ethic and tenacity across the 90 minutes are apparent in the style of Jemez as they were at Rayo under Sandoval – high pressing, double teaming in defensive zones and an active defensive line. Similarities end there, though, as the new man at Vallecas prefers more of a pattern in the attacking forays.
The football offered at Cordoba’s El Nuevo Arcangel this past Segunda Division season has been a pleasure to watch for anyone willing to take the Andalucians in, and especially so in attack. Jemez delivered a fluid and attractive system that picked teams apart with wonderful precision. Cordoba played out from the back through their central defenders, far removed from Sandoval’s more direct approach. The two central-midfield pivots were another key feature of the Andalucians’ game, and it depended heavily on an organiser to distribute the ball and another to screen the defence. In attacking transitions they looked to overload in wide areas and pack many shirts around the penalty area.
Off the field, Jemez was a demanding character to the players, but that was transmitted in a positive manner, hence the final League position of fifth in 2011-12, well above the mid-table expectations. If there was any fault in the style, it was his lack of attention towards strategic areas of the game. Cordoba were poor with their set-pieces and suffered when up against them too, something that will need to be eradicated immediately.
The positives truly outweigh the negatives though, and most enthusing of all was the use of Cordoba’s vibrant cantera. The likes of Juan Fuentes, Javi Hervas and Fede Vico are all products. Hervas has secured a move to Sevilla such has been the impression he has made, while Vico should still be playing at Juvenil level but Jemez saw a talent that must be unleashed. Elsewhere, the squad is an assortment of young players and those in their mid-20s.
This will need to be replicated at Rayo if they are to maintain their status for another year in La Liga, and allow the club to keep on the straight and narrow when it comes to finances. Jemez spoke clearly at his Press conference, saying he recognises the cantera at Rayo and how it will be used calling it a fundamental part of his project.
Rayo were never short on spirit, but with a dash of style, Jemez will look to make this a special season at Vallecas.