History repeating itself at Valencia as Gattuso departs

Mestalla Stadium

Another year, another coaching departure and another temporary stint for Voro. If it feels like we’ve been here before with Valencia, that’s probably because we have.

This is the eighth time that Voro has been employed in a caretaker or interim capacity with six of those spells coming since Peter Lim’s takeover of the club in 2014. The 59 year old is set to take charge of Los Che as they travel to Real Madrid on Thursday, following on from the departure of Gennaro Gattuso who failed to even make it to the midway point in his first LaLiga campaign.

Gattuso Departs

Gattuso’s reign started, as they often do at Mestalla, with a cautious wave of enthusiasm as a largely disgruntled fanbase attempted to get behind the latest coach appointed by their unpopular owners. While hampered by the summer departures of the likes of Carlos Soler, Goncalo Guedes and Maxi Gomez, there was still plenty to like about Gattuso’s Valencia early on.

The squad suddenly had a youthful but talented feel with the likes of Andre Almeida, Justin Kluivert, Ilaix Moriba, Nico Gonzalez and Samuel Lino arriving in one of their most intriguing summer transfer windows in recent years. All of those players are 23 or under and with Gattuso adopting a slightly more eye-catching style of football than we’ve seen from Los Che in recent years, at the very least there was something for the Mestalla faithful to get behind.

That they did with dominant early season home wins over Getafe (5-1) and Celta Vigo (3-0) giving the club something of a feelgood factor again after the 2021/22 season ended with fresh anger and fan protests

To some extent, it was surprising just how quickly Valencia started to perform under Gattuso given the fairly radical tactical tweaks that saw them go from being one of the most direct teams in the division last season under Pepe Bordalas, to much more of a passing style. Indeed only Barcelona have higher average possession figures in LaLiga this season than Valencia whereas only three teams had less of the ball last term.

However there is always the suspicion that things are never too far away from falling apart at this club. Evenso, the speed of Gattuso’s demise has been faster than could have been anticipated with four winless league games following the World Cup and a Copa del Rey Quarter-Final defeat against Athletic enough to turn the tide against the Italian who left by “mutual agreement” on Monday.

He leaves with Valencia just one point above the relegation zone and at risk of dropping down to the second tier for the first time in 37 years. Relegation odds of 16/1 with the current best betting offers suggest they should still be fine, but already it seems a mid-table finish is the best they can hope for at Mestalla this term.

An Endless Cycle

Football Supporters in Spain
Protests on the final day of last season against Celta Vigo as most Valencia fans boycotted the game.

Champions of Spain twice in the 2000’s under Rafa Benitez, Valencia now appear to be a club stuck in a deep rut with no end in sight unless the current owners finally give in to fan pressure and leave the club. There is little sign of that happening.

The cycle is repetitive and the ending for many of their most recent coaches has been remarkably similar. It usually involves broken relationships, the suggestion of broken promises and a perceived reluctance on the board’s part to fully back their coaches in the transfer market. 

The timing of Gattuso’s departure, the day before deadline day in a transfer window which hasn’t seen Valencia complete a single deal does not feel like a coincidence. 

Reports last week suggested Gattuso was keen on a loan deal for Atletico Madrid’s out of favour midfielder Saul Níguez. However his high wages were always going to be a likely stumbling block and the unwillingness to strengthen this month may have been as big a factor in Gattuso’s departure as recent results.

Unlike with some of his predecessors, most notably Marcelino, any falling out between dugout and boardroom has at least not played out in public this time. However there is still a very familiar feel to events at Valencia over the past few days which will be compounded by the sight of perennial caretaker Voro once again in the dugout later this week.

Too good for a Relegation Battle?

While you suspect the long term picture may very well see the whole cycle play out once more, the short-term objective has to be steering clear of trouble as quickly as possible. On paper, Valencia should be too strong for a relegation battle, but there are various ways this season could play out from this point and the doomsday scenario of slipping into the second tier cannot be completely ruled out.

A much more positive outlook would see a change in coach spark a bit of life into this team again. Aside from some of the most promising young players in Spain, this squad includes the likes of Jose Gaya, Gabriel Paulista and Edinson Cavani. As they showed at various points under Gattuso, there is the basis of a competitive side here and they should be capable of putting a few wins on the board and edging towards a position of mid-table comfort.

However that may be easier said than done when you look at their upcoming fixtures. They face all of the current top four within their next eight games. Valencia’s other matches during that period see them travel to Girona and Getafe while hosting two more top half teams in the shape of Athletic Club and Osasuna.

Given that run of fixtures, it’s certainly not implausible that Valencia will still be in a position of some peril with ten games to go and that’s the point when you would start to worry for this young squad, particularly if the protests and bad blood continues and matchdays at Mestalla turn increasingly toxic.

While they may have become a more attractive team to watch this season, it does at times feel like this Valencia side has a soft spine and that’d be a worry if they did end up in a relegation scrap with more limited yet battle-hardened teams like Cadiz perhaps better equipped to survive in such a scenario.

For now, that’s a matter for another day. The bottom half of LaLiga is incredibly congested with just 3 points separating 11th and 18th at the time of writing meaning it doesn’t take much to move from the relegation zone into mid-table or vice-versa. 

Voro is not lacking in experience when it comes to putting out fires and steadying this bumpiest of ships and he has won more games than he has lost across his various stints in charge of the first team. If he can repeat that feat this time around, Valencia will have nothing to worry about this season but that would only scratch the surface when it comes to fixing this club’s problems.

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About Mark Sochon 2053 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has been writing about Spanish football since 2014 and regularly attends and covers matches across Spain. His work has also been published by various newspapers and websites including These Football Times, World Soccer and Guardian Sport. Available for freelance work: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk