From the outset, it was a strange decision. The appointment of Gary Neville as Valencia Coach seemingly came from nowhere and it took everyone by surprise.
Not only did he lack real experience of coaching at the highest level, but Neville was not at all familiar with the Spanish game, having spent his entire playing career in the Premier League. After the latest setback, Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Real Betis, stranger still is that Neville is somehow holding onto his job, if only just.
Gaizka Mendieta doesn’t believe Neville will be sacked. A Valencia great, Mendieta knows more than most about his old club and is therefore a trustworthy source when it comes to Los Che. Yet, not only does he not think Neville will be shown the door, he believes he shouldn’t be and instead pointed the blame at the players and the club.
“It's not only the results, but it's the way the team are playing. It’s not only Gary who's to blame here, I think it’s the players as well,” Mendieta told Sky Sports.
He continued: “When you see the way they play, they look like a team who are not prepared to compete at the level that they should. It'’ more than just Gary here. There are a lot of things to look at for the club.”
Valencia’s problems at board level are well documented. Instability has ruled Valencian outfit for the best part of a decade and has seen them rack up a huge amount of debt, mainly due to the development of a new stadium that has been on and off due to financial constraints and the difficulty they have had to offload their current home, Mestalla.
However, off-field problems are one thing and on-field problems are another. While the two are not completely unrelated, judging purely from what we have witnessed since Neville’s arrival, there’s a strong, even very strong case, for the former Manchester United captain to be shown the door.
With a squad that includes the likes of Jose Luis Gaya, Joao Cancelo, Shkodran Mustafi, Dani Parejo, Guillerme Siquiera and Javi Fuego, Valencia’s squad is a strange mixture of promising starlets, journeymen, a few internationals and a number of experienced, though average, campaigners. Given this, expectations do have to be tempered.
Yet, it is fair to say that by even modest expectations, under Neville’s tutelage the team is falling well short. And, contrary to what Mendieta suggests, if players are not performing, there is principally one man responsible – the Coach.
Sunday’s defeat away to Real Betis was the third in a row in all competitions and two consecutively in La Liga where, after nine games, Neville is still chasing his first victory. This dismal run of form and results has seen Valencia freefall to within four points of the relegation zone, also marking a stark contrast in fortunes compared to when Nuno Santo, whom Neville replaced, was sacked.
Then, Valencia had their eyes firmly on a Champions League spot, with just four points between them and the top four. Now, they lag 19 points adrift and their hopes of returning to Europe’s elite competition have all but been extinguished. To add insult to injury, Valencia were humbled at home to Lyon on the final matchday of the Champions League group stage.
Based on current form, matters seem to be getting worse rather than better. Not only have Valencia lost their last three, but they have failed to score and have shipped nine goals in the process – seven coming in that emphatic and horrendous collapse at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey, the only competition that was still breathing life into an otherwise-disastrous campaign. Needless to say, they have slim-to-zero chance of overturning this scoreline when they entertain Barcelona in the return leg.
Unsurprisingly, names of Coaches who could take over from Neville are increasingly been touted in the Spanish media. Former Sevilla boss Juande Ramos has been likened as a possible replacement, as has Rafa Benitez, who enjoyed great success in the early 2000s with the club, winning two La Liga titles. Both trainers seem a good fit and would make sense. They have extensive experience in the top flight and have an intimate knowledge of the Spanish game. Not to mention, they speak Spanish, which surely makes things much easier.
It all begs the question as to why Neville was appointed in the first place when a Coach with at least one of the aforementioned attributes would have been a much safer bet. As mentioned earlier, it was a strange decision from the off and always likely to not end well. Speaking after the game, Neville said “the obituaries have already been written”, and while he still retains the support of owner Peter Lim, surely it’s time a decision is made before matters really do go from bad to worse.