A merci, but no mercy for Montanier. Real Sociedad and Philippe Montanier’s parting, confirmed this week as the French club Rennes announced he’ll be coaching them next season, has taken many by surprise. Underneath the surface however, the separation is not all that shocking.
Real Sociedad’s board had been weighing up the decision for some time, and in that same period the derision had been detected by Montanier. When the offer finally came, it was only for a single year, even given the upturn in La Real’s form since as far back as November 2011. That’s 18 months of creating and improving upon a dynamic that has resulted in the San Sebastian-based club battling for Champions League places with Valencia. They’ve played 64 times in Primera since November 2011 and won 27 times – losing just the 17. That’s 101 points and with a win total of 42 per cent.
Those numbers are pretty impressive taken all things into account - the moulding of the squad in general, integration of youth - some would say La Real’s best ever generation – and Montanier’s own adaptation to the country from French football. The length of time it has taken Montanier to reach this level, the fact he’s never truly been in synch with the supporters, the puzzling changes and starting XIs are all contributors in somewhat forcing the hand of the club’s board into offering that single year deal. The deal itself, one year plus another that was based upon meeting targets, was in essence camouflaged as a deterrent for Montanier. Whoever thought it up, got their wish.
The board showed last time when not renewing the contract of Martin Lasarte, a man who was over with the support but had stagnated from a technical point of view with the team, they’re not willing to hang about for anyone. Even if results aren’t that bad as was the case with Lasarte, and even when they’re good, now with the Frenchman. The continuity begins and ends with the playing staff, keeping a familiar group together with a high percentage out of the Zubieta ranks, but the Coach is collateral when it comes to this.
It’s a case of deeming what is necessary for progress for the largely young group, and a new Coach with fresh ideas, input and general approach could indeed take La Real to another level. Yes, Montanier reached a level, but the thought was his level was not stable enough. The bizarre substitutions, uninspiring performances with a man advantage, all could return in an instant.
Despite the cloud hanging over his departure, there has been feeling restored between Montanier and the fans, who used to heckle him at one point. Anoeta, with its running track segregating the hardened supporters from the pitch, can often be a cold place in the best of times. Not due to lack of support, just the infrastructure, but it got too cold too often with Montanier there. Gregorio Manzano felt it in his spell at Real Mallorca before the current one - he got the results but never truly won over the support. It’s a strange situation on both counts, but Montanier didn’t inflame the relationship at any point. He spoke humbly, cautiously and intelligently always – even when he was facing stern criticism from local media and supporters, he refused to be drawn on such subjects. His work has always been the primary objective – those who are on the board deem that as theirs too, hence Montanier’s departure.
At least Montanier doesn’t leave on the sour note he might have done over last summer. Then, La Real even had to make an announcement that the Frenchman would be staying. Rather unheard of, especially when no contract was offered or upgraded. It was simply to silence the rumour mills. He instead leaves a year later with a sparkling record and one that ends up with European football for an ambitious club.
The hope will be that this amicable parting of the ways doesn’t end up with La Real looking back over their shoulder wondering what if.