The President who was so utterly proud of having never fired a Coach was now watching over as his club, Sporting Gijon, dismissed Manuel Sanchez Murias with a heavy heart and welcomed Jose Ramon Sandoval – their fifth man in charge in under a year, or fourth if you discount interim tactician Inaki Tejada.
The big club that not even serial rescuer Javier Clemente could save at the end of last season, was relegated with the hope they would soon find their way back again. However, with only two wins registered from their opening nine games, results suggest it will take something special to catapult them back into the glory league.
That something special is Rayo Vallecano’s miracle man and Coach from last season, Sandoval. Big, proud and obsessed with football, this was the tactician who gave up working for the family business, spent all his savings and lived on loans in order to continue his dream of forming part of the footballing world. A Coach was what he wanted to be and a Maestro is what he has become.
Football is a sport to enjoy, a world to savour and a series of games to be won or at the very least, properly played. Neither he nor his squad of players could ever be intimidated, forced to feel inferior or made to defend like cowards. The only approach to football Sandoval approved of was one that saw players push forward, pin back opponents or at least die trying.
A believer in courageous football, Sandoval made the unrealistic seem possible. Despite a limited budget, a management that never paid up and players with either limited or no experience of top flight football, Rayo Vallecano avoided relegation and did so with the type of football that excited and delighted. A spectacle of a game was what the fans could always expect and what they always received as their team ran, pressed and attacked ferociously with defence being a mere afterthought.
His secret weapon lied in his humanity and the uncanny ability to bond with his players. “Last year, when the players weren’t getting paid, I would go down to the dressing room and listen to their problems,” explained Sandoval in an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo magazine. His men trusted him and felt indebted to him and whilst their club may have let them down, their Coach was always on their side, ready to ignite the passion for a sport that not even poverty could extinguish.
Boasting a wife and three daughters who stood by Sandoval regardless of decisions that often him saw him place football above everything else, the tactician realises the value of having people believe in you, the value of self-confidence. Anything can be achieved if you believe it to be possible.
A man who preached faith, Sandoval now finds himself taking over a club that relinquished their hope some time ago as they dwell in the bottom half of the Second Division. Once renowned for their colourful supporters who vociferously cheered regardless of the scoreline managed upon their return to the top flight in 2008, the relationship between fans and club is now a strenuous one. The team’s performance is that of a side that does not and will not even attempt to identify with the colours and the great history of a club that boasts the oldest ground in Spain.
Sporting Gijon has long been subjected to claims that it is a side with problems that ran too deep. At a time when a start from scratch was required to rid themselves of the men of power that delayed a brighter future, Manolo Preciado’s brilliant work saw him cover the cracks of despair brilliantly to guide the team back to La Primera with a healthy dose of enthusiasm.
A club with a disillusioned set of fans, a problematic management and a squad capable of so much more – Sandoval has walked into his dream set up. At Gijon, he can continue his tradition of uniting with his men to form a collective separate from their problems, their management and the criticism of the naysayers.