Not yet midway through a disappointing season for Valencia, President Manuel Llorente has appointed experienced Coach Ernesto Valverde. The former Athletic Bilbao striker has enjoyed a near flawless record during his 10 years in management and possesses the perfect blend of qualities to stabilise Valencia’s stuttering season.
Valverde’s previous experience in La Liga was gained at Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol. In a competitive Primera, he led Athletic to fifth – their highest finish in the last 14 years – while he was a penalty shoot-out away from UEFA Cup success with Espanyol. Their route to the final was characterised by a concession of just six goals in 12 matches.
The 48-year-old arrives after an eye-catching spell at Olympiacos where he picked up the Greek Superleague title in each of his three seasons in charge. It is notable that Olympiacos dropped to second during the campaign that Valverde joined Villarreal.
His work in Greece was founded on a combination of aggressive high pressing and a watertight defence that conceded a mere 48 goals across three season. In many of the key matches against title rivals, Velverde adopted a cautious approach based around consolidation of midfield. That tactical model should align with Valencia’s range of ball-playing midfielders and their relative dearth of striking quality to complement Roberto Soldado. Meanwhile, with the fifth worst defensive record in the Primera Division, the rationale for appointing Valverde becomes clearer still.
Nevertheless, Valverde has been appointed on a short-term deal until the end of the season. President Llorente was reluctant to award him a longer contract in light of his disappointing spell across town at Villarreal, where he was unable to plug the holes in the Yellow Submarine. It remains a solitary black mark on an otherwise impressive record and one that can be contextualised by the problems suffered by the club well beyond his tenure at El Madrigal.
Valverde has the considerable task of replacing fans’ favourite Mauricio Pellegrino, who lasted less than six months in the job. Despite the loss of an array of international talent in recent years, expectations remain high at Mestalla. It will be challenging for Valverde to harness what quality remains, but he can build around some of the more established stars such as Soldado and Adil Rami.
Where supporters of Los Che should be encouraged by Valverde’s appointment is his track record in developing youngsters. At Athletic he spent six years cutting his teeth with the cantera and reserves that provided him with a strong grounding for his managerial career. He has since brought through the likes of Asier del Horno, Fernando Llorente and Pablo Zabaleta, and is well regarded in Greece for also building from within.
Given the ever-diminishing resources at Valencia, it may be the only approach available if Valverde is turn his temporary appointment into a permanent one.