Wednesday December 12 2012
The Pepe Mel mysteries

They score many and concede even more yet Betis have risen to fifth place. Mina Rzouki analyses the man behind their success.

Celebrated for his pragmatic approach to football, Pepe Mel, paradoxically, loves nothing more than to revel in the complexities of life. Mystery intrigues him and beauty seduces him yet it is simplicity that has guided him to success both as a player and even more so as the Coach of Real Betis.

As Betis continue to climb the ladder of success domestically, valiant displays such as the one over the weekend against Barcelona in addition to the victory over Real Madrid have made Mel a local hero and a club legend. As journalists clamber at every opportunity to understand more about the man who long ago captured the fans hearts, Mel sits down and explains his philosophies.

The key to success? There are several keys but the one thing Mel preaches is the need to be close to the players. As long as his squad respect him and listen to him then victory is achieved. In turn, each player is allowed to feel special, to start at least one game and to feel integral to the cause. No one is overlooked or ignored.

The next vital factor is his flexibility. Each game is approached in a different manner with different tactics and at times, different men. This depends on two things, the players Mel has at his disposal and the opponent they are facing. He loves nothing more than to closely study the teams he is about to meet in order to identify their weaknesses and concoct a perfect game plan to achieve victory. Formations and tactics change and may even do so several times during a match. In the Coach’s eyes, adaptation is key to winning.

Then there is the training and the very thing that demonstrates the pragmatism of Mel. As he told, there are no fancy hikes to the mountain or special exercises done without the ball, everything in training is about dealing with real situations on the pitch.

“There has not been one day, not even in preseason,” he explained, “where we have trained without the ball.”

Players are asked to practice skills they will need to use in a match, such as how to mark their opponent, overpower the opposition and carry the ball to their forward line.

Transitions are the name of the game and Mel insists on ensuring the side know how to play when they are robbed of possession and forced to defend, and when they gain control of the ball and push forward to attack. They must be adept at shifting swiftly and be able to adapt to each situation with ease.

“Something has gone wrong, we’ve gone 20 minutes without discussing [Jose] Mourinho,” said Mel with a smile on his face as he won over yet another batch of journalists.

Inherently charming and aware of the media game, every response the former Rayo Vallecano tactician gives is delivered with a healthy dose of wit to delight onlookers. It is this quality combined with his courage that has made him a fan favourite.

Between September to December 2011, Betis went ten games without a win, managing nine defeats and one draw – against local rivals Sevilla.

At the end of each and every match, the fans chanted Mel’s name - such is their belief in their leader. The reason is his team’s insistence on maintaining their philosophy and values regardless of how mighty the opposition may be, never once seeking refuge in negative tactics.

Los Verdiblancos lie in fifth place, playing the sort of football Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque admits to appreciating. Led by a curious man who pens mystery novels in his spare time, the question once asked of the Coach was where he finds the time to write books and navigate a club like Betis?

“It helps me relax and between pages, I might think of a way to stop Cristiano Ronaldo!”

Another great line delivered in typical Pepe Mel fashion.

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