Real Betis Coach Pepe Mel will take charge of Real Betis for the 100th time for Thursday’s Copa del Rey encounter at Real Valladolid. Against the expectations of many, Betis are going well in their second season since returning to La Liga, currently occupying fifth place in the table after last weekend’s 1-0 win over Valencia.
A former Betis striker, the charismatic Mel hit 50 goals in 112 appearances during four years playing at the Benito Villamarin and his record as Coach with Los Verdiblancos has been equally impressive. Mel’s first game in the Betis hot seat was a 4-1 win against Granada in La Segunda in August 2010. By the end of his first season at the helm, Mel had won the Segunda title and steered Los Beticos back to La Primera after a two-year absence.
A 13th place finish in their first season back in La Liga was perhaps disappointing, but reflected the severity of the challenge facing all promoted sides. Beginning with four straight wins, a dip in form saw the next 10 matches yield just a solitary point, before a late rally saw them garner sufficient points to ensure survival.
This season began with a chaotic 5-3 win against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames and Betis suffered successive heavy defeats to Atletico Madrid and Malaga, 2-4 and 0-4 respectively. While they have yet to face either Barcelona or Real Madrid, Saturday’s win over Los Che saw Los Verdiblancos climb into the European qualifying positions.
With a talented squad blending youth and experience, Mel has continued to promote an attractive passing game that has also delivered results. Betis are unbeaten in their last three games and six points from their next two Primera fixtures, away at Getafe and at home against Granada, could see them consolidate their position in the upper reaches of the table and set up an enticing Sevilla derby at the Sanchez Pizjuan in mid-November.
Betis have won 49 games under Mel, drawing 17 and losing 33. One factor in their gradual improvement and consolidation under Mel has been a relatively settled squad. Benat Etxebarria, Ruben Castro, Jorge Molina and Salva Sevilla all wore the green and white for Mel’s debut and all remain key components.
Betis President Miguel Guillen believes the club’s willingness to keep faith with Mel – even during periods of drought, when other clubs might have pressed the eject button – has been equally important in building success. “For us it is very important that Betis has spent three seasons with the same Coach,” said Guillen recently. “It’s really important to understand that the leadership of Pepe Mel is vital to developing this team.”
For his own part, Mel is living a dream, leading the club he loves after success with them as a player, including a Pichichi in his debut season, but is refusing to get carried away by his side’s lofty position. “My dream is to lead Betis in Europe,” said Mel, acutely aware of the club’s potential, before adding a warning. “We are not going to talk about Europe in October. We are only going to talk about the next game against Getafe.”