Twice he saved them, twice he led them to promotion, twice he built a sense of sweeping optimism for them, twice they sacked him. Pepe Mel has been dismissed as Coach of Real Betis two years and two months after he was sacked first time round, one year and one month since steadying the ship at Benito Villamarin and seven months since guiding them to a convincing Segunda title.
Mel is a lifelong Betico; embodying the club and enjoying unparalleled popularity amongst the club's legions of followers. Between management spells he was one of them – holding a season ticket at the Villamarin, only missing matches when commanded to do so by his duties as West Bromwich Albion boss.
His love affair with the club started in 1989-90, when he joined the Andalusians as a striker and fired them to the top flight with 22 goals, and he first became the club's Coach in 2010. It was a turbulent time for Los Verdiblancos, finding themselves mired in Spain's Segunda only five years after lifting the Copa Del Rey and playing in the Champions League. The club were so haphazardly mismanaged that they were taken into administration, all playing assets cashed in upon and bucket collections passed round the Villamarin before home matches.
Betis are a club with seemingly-endless power struggles, constantly being torn apart from within. They have gone through six Presidents in six years and 21 Coaches [Mel is one of three who've had more than one stint] in 21 years. The highs of playing Champions League football and lifting only their second ever Copa Del Rey have been offset by spending eight seasons outside the top flight since 1989.
Yet Mel has more than once been the knight in shining armour. Despite the mess he inherited in his first stint six seasons ago, he built his side on youth and took the club back into the top flight as champions. Surviving comfortably the following season, Mel led Betis to seventh and back into Europe in 2013. Three-and-a-half months weeks into the following campaign, he was sacked.
An emotional press conference at the stadium saw Mel fight back the tears, against the backdrop of ultra groups outside the stadium chanting that he should be going nowhere. He was immensely popular, perhaps too popular for those at boardroom level, who repeatedly treated him with suspicion. The club lay bottom of La Liga and he was their scapegoat.
One year and 17 days later, Mel was back and the fans were pacified. After that first sacking, Mel was the fifth appointment at the club. Four others had been and gone. Only Juan Merino, the last of the quartet, left with his head held high – the interim boss and long-time Betis servant won all four of his games in charge, and was rewarded with the fans and players chanting his name and giving him the bumps after his final match.
But Betis were sixth in the Segunda – the position many believe they should be occupying in the top flight, such is their size and stature. Mel transformed the side's fortunes. Of his 22 League matches, he won 15 and lost only one. They romped to the title. Betis home crowds outnumbered that of rivals Sevilla, quite incredible when Los Rojiblancos were riding high in La Liga and on their way to retaining the Europa League, while Betis weren't even in the top flight.
Rafael Van Der Vaart and the returning hero Joaquin were signed in the summer, amongst 11 new faces. Young superstar Dani Ceballos committed his long-term future to the club. Ruben Castro kept scoring. Away from home, Betis were flying. 14 points from their first seven games on the road – no side in La Liga had a better away record. Yet at home their only victory to date came against David Moyes' Real Sociedad.
Betis are now winless in eight games across all competitions, losing their last four. They haven't found the back of the net in five. Mel had dared the board to sack him. He'd seemingly lost interest. The internal power struggles of the club once more have proved his downfall. He blamed the recruitment policy for a disconnected squad, and there was no way back.
Not even the fans were in his corner now, literally putting the writing on the wall at the stadium – graffiti called for his resignation and for some of the 'mercenaries' within the squad to follow suit. A 0-2 Copa Del Rey home loss at home to Sevilla surely sealed Mel's fate, a derby defeat in his penultimate game in charge once again mirroring his first stint at the helm. On Sunday night, he was sacked, a day after they had lost 1-0 at Getafe.
Betis lie 15th, five points off the relegation zone and three points away from the top half. For a promoted side, this is acceptable yet the direction they are going in recent weeks has been alarming.
The early favourite to replace Mel is Juande Ramos, former Coach of cross-town rivals Sevilla who has also managed Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. He is available and would meet all the desirable criteria, yet it would appear that he is out of the Betis' price range. Merino once again will take temporary charge, but it is unlikely that he will keep the job permanently.
Betis now must aim for stability with a new Coach, and to retain their place within the top flight. The first task of life after Pepe Mel is to overturn a 0-2 deficit across town at Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan in the Copa Del Rey.