Posts Tagged ‘Depor’

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As the whistle echoed around Estadio de la Cerámica, Dépor were safe; safe with the lowest points tally (33) for a 17th placed team in the history of Spanish football. A 0-0 draw was enough. Ecstasy and elation – words so often appointed to surviving a relegation battle – were non-existent among a majority of players and, frankly, fans too.

Relief and frustration best described the finale to this torrid campaign. A season in which Lucas Perez departed, two managers arrived and plenty of in-fighting ensued. There’s a clear division in the squad, evidenced best by this video posted by Florin Andone on FaceBook.

Interestingly, bar a handful of players, the dressing room was largely muted. Club president Tino Fernandez’s only words in this video were “thank goodness.” This reinforced the fear of those in power at the club, as well as the powerlessness that Dépor had felt in the final stretch of games. The constant expectancy of others to drop points is, undeniably, the reason why the team managed to stay up this year. In fact, despite that impressive draw against Villarreal, it was Leganes’ point at Athletic Bilbao that cemented Dépor’s safety on a basis of goal difference and head-to-head.

In a year that was riddled with so much promise, built upon a seemingly stellar defensive-minded manager and Dépor’s best squad in years, it ended up being one of the most miserable in recent times. Dépor stayed up with performances akin to whimper after whimper. A mere 40 goals in 37 games, paired with just 7 wins, summed up the incandescent powerlessness of the squad.

A mixture of torrid luck between the start of the season and January completely rattled then-manager Gaizka Garitano, who seemed more interested in crying conspiracy in every press conference rather than address the issues at hand. While there were some glaring officiating errors in Dépor games, overturning those failings wouldn’t have changed much.

This idea of a witch hunt spread throughout the squad, with Raul Albentosa the most vocal of the team. It could be argued that this is where Dépor’s season collapsed and a division in the squad ensued.

It felt like a bulk of the players knew that their underperforming could always be defended and overshadowed by poor officiating. The others were simply playing harder than their teammates which contributed to a lopsided presentation of dedication and erratic performance levels.  Naturally, fans became enraged by the mixed signals given by the team. By extension, Garitano began tinkering far too often. First it was a flat starting eleven, then a more possession-based formation ensued, followed by a defensive-minded five defenders. The regularity in structural shifts added to the inconsistencies of the side and meant that players finding their feet within a system was nigh-on impossible.

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Garitano’s black attire perfectly encapsulates a diabolical season

Tino could have relieved Garitano of his duties by December and nobody would have bat an eyelid but, after somewhat controversially sacking Víctor Sanchez in the summer, he knew that he’d be left with egg on his face if the man he vouched to be better than Víctor lasted just a few months. This singular decision, a moment of inefficiency from the president, is likely the biggest contributor to one of the worst seasons the club has encountered in a while.

Eventually, after a full two months without winning a game, Garitano was shown the door. A 4-0 loss to relegation rivals Leganes shattered any hopes of Garitano turning things around. As his time came to an end, he had only won 5 league games – one of which came via Lucas Perez’s injury time penalty before the forward joined Arsenal. Amidst those wins came heaps of losses and toothless draws. Enough was enough. In came Pepe Mel.

February 28th, Depor sit above the drop zone by two slim points. Mel, renowned as one of Spain’s most notorious managerial stop-gaps, arrives promising safety for the club. He delivers. Just about.

The thing with Mel is that he’s an old school coach. His tactics are outdated and built solely upon balance and solidity. In Spanish football, that type of restrictive structure is far too rigid to compete against the majority of teams. What Mel does offer with his old school approach is terrific man-management. He can talk you into walking off a cliff, happily, with a smile on your face.

In his first four games, he talked and inspired the team to an unbeaten run. Enough of a confidence boost, one would imagine. Sandwiched in this run was a 2-1 victory over Barcelona (in which two Gallegos scored) and a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid on his debut.

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The team celebrates Joselu’s equaliser against Barcelona

The team looked like a well-oiled engine; attacking together, defending together. Remember, though, Mel is old school. The issue with old school is a lack of freshness, a lack of motivation beyond your usual spiel. In every single pre-game changing room talk, Mel would repeat the same phrases: “play harder than them, stay in the game. Remain focused.” When you hear the same words after a while, regardless of how well (or poorly) you played just a few days prior, one can assume it’s fairly reminiscent to CD player constantly looping the same lyric over and over again. CD players are an apt mirror to Mel, too. Once fancy, now totally outdated. If you pick one up today, they’re cool for a short while before you revert back to a streaming service. In Depor’s case, the streaming service ought to be a fresher coach – kind of like the one they unjustly sacked in the summer of 2016. Just a thought.

After that invigorating Barcelona win: a loss against eternal-rivals Celta Vigo. A loss against Valencia. Depor would win just one game in the final 11. This included a humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid, a draw against a downed Granada and another draw to an already relegated Osasuna. The team was shot. Yet, before every game, “play harder than them, stay in the game. Remain focused.” Are these apt words for a team in a slump, fighting for their lives? The same tactics, the same players frozen out?

Until the last 2-3 games of the season, Mel had Andone and Emre Çolak on the bench – inarguably the two most influential players in the squad. He wanted them to be impactful substitutes, yet they would enter games when the games themselves were already lost. Way to frustrate your two biggest keys to safety.

In the end, Mel’s opening four games were just about enough to keep us up. The following 11 were also enough to see us drop a division if not for the sheer ineptitude of Sporting Gijon and Granada. Somehow, three clubs managed to be worse across 38 games.

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Mel in training

This is the vicious cycle that Depor have found themselves in. Three years of uninterrupted top flight football is a success story for a club who, when they dropped to the Segunda in 2013, were facing potential liquidation. Upon closer inspection, though, this is also a side that, for the last three years, has been kept up due to outside factors i.e underperforming rivals. These long periods of winless games have become contagious, rendering the team utterly complacent and wholly expectant of other results to go their way. It is a dangerous ideology to follow, purely because next season could be the one where teams are more competitive and less torrid. Depor could be one of the three horrendous teams that drops, purely because they’ve grown accustomed to becoming bystanders in their own destiny and future.

Relegation for the club right now would almost certainly spell liquidation. Safety was not something to celebrate in the grand scheme of things; it was a necessity. The club needed to stay up, not to save face or protect an identity, but to save the club from disappearing.

It’s clear that the squad right now is one that breeds complacency and distrust in one another. While this is the first time in years that a Depor squad has been comprised of permanent players more than loanees/one-year contracts, it is a sad truth that the squad needs to be disbanded. Bar a core of players along the lines of Andone, Çolak, Lux, Bergantiños and Sidnei – a mixed quintuple of talent and experience – Tino should be looking to offload a majority of the squad. It wouldn’t be reactionary, rather necessary. There’s too much in-fighting and distrust for this team to play outside of its comfort zone. Another year of it would likely sink the ship.

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Tino holds the key, but can he be trusted with it?

Sadly, though, Tino has confirmed Mel’s tenure at Depor will extend beyond the summer. This spineless act of pause is one that has marred Tino’s presidency and likely means he will keep the squad as it is bar the replacements of departing loanees.

Depor need an overhaul now more than ever. And they can sustain it, too. A fresh team and coach may take a while to gel, but it would more than likely inspire a renewed interest from the fans that extends beyond negativity and pessimism. A pipe dream for many, perhaps; it is for this writer. Depor’s future lies permanently in the slippery hands of Tino Fernandez. He holds the key to an overhaul, or negative stagnation. The diehard players of this team deserve better, the fans deserve more.

Safety was the goal this year and it was achieved. Just. 33 points is not enough to keep a team up in any other season. A repeat of this figure would spell doom for the club next year. Improvements are needed and big decisions have to be made. For now, it’s enough. Another year of LaLiga is upon us; another year where we can breathe.

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Many will be familiar with the name Víctor Sánchez. After all, he was part of that golden generation of Deportivo players that won the Copa del Rey in 2002 at the Bernabeu. He may not be remembered for the flair of Djalminha or creativity of Juan Carlos Valerón, but he was the guy who would bust a lung to dominate the wings and always sustained a high level of productivity. Today, at the age of 39, he is the manager of the club in question: Dépor.

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Víctor lifting the Copa del Rey in 2002

Víctor returned to A Coruña on the 9th of April with the club in the relegation zone, having just sacked the underachieving Victor Fernandez. Dépor were in a rut, struggling to get points and failing to operate as a cohesive unit. Individualism was valued over unity and it was a major component of the club’s unsuccessful return to La Liga.

Víctor’s job was tough: keep Dépor in the top flight with only eight games to go. In those eight games, there were three prestigious opponents: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. His only loss in those three games came against Atléti, with two draws in the others to keep Dépor in La Liga. The final game, in fact, was away at Barcelona. Los Blanquiazules were 2-0 down at half-time… 2-0 down with 23 minutes to go. Fast-forward to the final whistle and Dépor were celebrating on the Camp Nou pitch. Lucas Pérez and Salomão scored in the final 20 minutes to turn the game on its head and keep Los Blanquiazules in the Spanish Primera. It was a game of pure ecstasy, but Víctor was the puppeteer.

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Lucas and Víctor embrace at the full-time whistle

The 39-year-old’s arrival filled everyone with hope – from the fans, right down to the players. It was his first job as a manager and his hunger was clear to see. He immediately instilled a sense of belief in the changing rooms and the turnaround in performance levels was staggering. Take Salomão, the scorer of the goal that kept Dépor in the top flight, for example: he had barely featured all season, with the previous manager discarding him from the squad due to personal disagreements. He had no reason to play with such heart, desire and tenacity, but Víctor awoke those traits from within him and exploited them to turn the club’s fortunes around. It is those minute details that help define a coach, and that is precisely why he is being heralded as the brightest young manager in the country. To undergo your first job with heaps of pressure and come out of the other end unscathed and adored is undeniably impressive.

In the summer, Víctor worked closely with club president Tino Fernandez. The idea was to avoid making the same mistakes as in previous years: purchasing washed up journeymen and exhausting a partnership with super agent Jorge Mendes. The club wanted a fresh recruitment policy and the 39-year-old delivered just that. He went out of his way to bring Lucas Pérez back to A Coruña after a flawless loan spell – the striker needed little persuading, having grown up in the city as a supporter of the club. He made the decision to pick up some of the better, discarded players in Spain rather than going abroad for relative unknowns on the cheap. Thus Fernando Navarro, Fayçal Fajr, Pedro Mosquera, Alejandro Arribas, Cani, Fede Cartabia and Luis Alberto. These were players available on a free or happy to move on loan – their one thing in common? They all play in Spain. Víctor wisely opted for the more secure choices that would instill stability and immediate results to a Dépor devoid of that. His final signings: Borges, Riera, Sidnei and Juanfran were all returning to the club after loan spells the season prior. Jonathan Rodriguez and Jonas Gutierrez were the black sheep, arriving from Portugal and England respectively. The entire squad, bar Lucas, was assembled for zilch – with this crop of players, Víctor has taken the Galician club to unfathomable heights.

This season, Víctor has proceeded to amplify the quality of every single player in the side; he squeezes 15% more out of each individual. Moroccan midfielder Fajr was a fairly good – bordering on mediocre – player reaching his late 20s at Elche. Under the Spanish coach, he is now #9 in the list for chances created in La Liga. Furthermore, he has been capped by the Moroccan national team for the first time due to his outstanding club performances.

If our focus shifts to Mosquera, the same has occurred. He was a good defensive-midfielder at Elche, having failed to make an impact at Real Madrid, but now he is widely regarded as one of the best defensive-midfielders in Spain. He is constantly battling for possession, providing cover for his defence while also mixing it up with his passing to create chances. He has become integral to the way Dépor operate as a unit.

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Mosquera on presentation day

Lastly, and while there are other examples, none shines brightest than the Lucas one. Lucas was great in the 14/15 season, scoring some important goals amidst battling with recurring injuries. He scored six all season. As of now, he has 11 league goals in 15 games; his name is being widespread and campaigned in favour of a Spain cap & a trip to France for the 2016 European Championships.

All three of the aforementioned players are 27 years of age and were largely unknown on a grand scale up until this season. Víctor has catapulted them to humble stardom where they now transcend the opinions of their fan base and are widely accepted to be fantastic footballers.

It isn’t just his man-management or astute transfer policy that has helped him succeed. No, it is also down to his tactical flexibility. Víctor toys with different formations and player roles to exploit an opponent’s weakness pre-game and even during it. He started the 2015/16 season with an explosive attacking side that was scoring regularly and playing with no fear away from home. Yet in those extremely tough fixtures, the Spaniard shakes things up and plays with four full-backs to nullify the opposition’s overload on the flanks. It forces teams to move to the centre – where Dépor defend at their best with Mosquera, Sidnei and Arribas gobbling up possession regularly.

Víctor’s most impressive trait is the manner in which he meticulously analyses the opposition. Not only in-game, where he regularly adapts to the rival’s moves, but pre-game too. In fact, that is where he shines brightest. For the goalkeepers, he makes them watch the previous game of the upcoming opponent to see how they were shooting and from where. By doing this, it increases the goalkeeper’s awareness and gives him an edge over the rival players. It was successful most recently when Dépor triumphed in the Galician derby, with Germán Lux stopping Nolito’s penalty and his trademark technique of cutting inside and curling shots.

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Lux celebrates stopping Nolito’s penalty

With the strikers, he trains them all together and has them playing in different combinations to exploit an opposition’s weakness. Lucas is always the mainstay, boasting the ability to drop deep and carry the ball forward with blistering pace and technique. His partner differs from the towering Riera to the rapid and diminutive Jonathan. If he expects the opposition to deploy a high-line, he assembles Lucas and Jonathan together. If he is expecting a more combative game, then Riera joins Lucas to impose his physicality over the opposition’s defence.

Some managers attempt combinations, but fail to analyse the opposition’s recent games in-depth to truly determine how they will operate. Víctor’s attention to detail intertwines with a willingness to succeed and that is the key component to Dépor’s revival this season.

As of now, Víctor has undergone 26 games at Dépor losing a mere four times. He has won eight and drawn 14 – some of which have been against the more bigger clubs in the country: Atlético, Barcelona (twice), Valencia, Sevilla and Athletic (twice). When he returned to A Coruña he said, “This is a club that has suffered a lot. I want to bring hope back to Dépor.” He has done just that, and then some. Not only has he upped the belief and faith of everyone at the club, but he has allowed the entire city to dream of bigger and better things. For once, the dark cloud that has surrounded the club for the last seven years is beginning to disperse into sunlight.

Expect to hear the name ‘Víctor Sánchez’ roll off the tongue of many in the coming years from all corners of the footballing world. His ceiling is impossible to predict and he boasts the greatest of tools to succeed in the game. An adaptable, tactically savvy man-manager that can mastermind positive results with his impressive attention to detail, the sky really is the limit for the young Spaniard.

 

 

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

Image via (EPA/EMILIO NARANJO)

When speaking about Isaac Cuenca, Pep Guardiola once said: “girls may not like him, physically, but on the pitch he does amazing things.” Unfortunately for Cuenca, it may now be managers and clubs who do not like him because he no longer does “amazing things”.

When Cuenca joined Deportivo la Coruña in the summer of 2014, many perceived this to be a coup of enormous proportions for the newly promoted Galician club. It was a chance for the forward to reinvent himself by reaching a high level of fitness, subsequently through game time, and build his way back up to the level some had touted him to accomplish before chronic injuries entered his career. Still, at 23-years of age, his career was far from conclusion. The move excited neutrals and fans alike, but Cuenca’s performances have been rather distasteful and disappointing as we near the season end.

The injury record was a fear initially, but the scariest prospect for Depor was that Cuenca only signed a one-year contract. Surprisingly enough, though, there is only a little percentage now that would like to see him at the club beyond the summer. In fact, even the board seem somewhat reluctant to dish out an extension – summed up by the lack of contractual talks in comparison to goalkeeper Fabricio and soon-to-be out of contract Juan Dominguez.

Perhaps the most concerning element of Cuenca’s game has been his greediness. The aimless shooting, ball hogging and reluctance to release passes has both frustrated his teammates and ruined the infrequent attacks that Depor struggle to create. In fact, Cuenca’s created chances count is only 16 in 27 games – a concerning stat when one considers that January signing, Oriol Riera, has created more. In addition, defensive and combative midfielder Álex Bergantiños has trumped those figures, too. For a player that lingers high up field and boasts a tremendous amount of flair, his lack of activity and contribution has been staggering at the very least.

There was a particular moment in January which, in the grand scheme of things, could end up condemning Depor to the Segunda (second division). Away to Levante – a relegation rival up until mid-April – Cuenca had a golden chance to secure a vital three points and head-to-head victory. Running from deep inside his own half, Cuenca broke through Levante’s defensive lines and found himself ten yards away from the opposition box. Now surrounded by five Levante players, Cuenca’s only sane option was to play a (simple) pass into the direction of an unmarked Jose Rodriguez, who had a clear path to enter a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. Cuenca, though, decided it would be a good idea to blast a long-range shot miles over the bar and squander a chance to put Depor in a healthier league position. This sequence, though, was not a one-off. That was Cuenca’s season condensed into a 15 second moment.

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Jose Rodriguez is in acres of space

Cuenca’s issues transcend poor decision-making on the pitch. In his press conferences, there have been countless rambling mentions of Barcelona and his past. This is a clear mental block that he is suffering from and it, evidently, affects his game. He appears to be struggling to come to terms with not succeeding there and agreeing to a termination of his contract one year short. But this lamenting of the past can only be put behind him if he proves his worth and quality; yet the hunger is not there. Barcelona have a lengthy track record of re-signing players who were once theirs in recent years (Pique, Alba, Fabregas etc.) and this should motivate Cuenca to grasp his chance at reinvention. Alas, it has not been the case whatsoever, disappointingly enough.

Cuenca’s attitude is another branch in his tree of poor mentality. There are moments where he plays as though he is above others – it is clear to see by his body language and languid movement that he believes himself to be playing a few notches below his talent level. Not only is this a complete lack of disrespect toward a club that offered him the chance to reignite his career, it creates a division between the player and fan base. Yet his confidence doesn’t seem to run low when he is outright criticised and lambasted by fans and the media. It contributes to this idea that he simply does not care about the delicate situation surrounding the club, nor the progression of his own career.

Injuries have lessened considerably since his arrival at Depor – an argument can no longer be concocted about his stagnation deriving from the lack of game time. He has played 27 league games, spanning under the tutelage of two managers, at a ridiculously low level. Chances aplenty have come his way to fix poor form yet he fails to grasp them firmly with both hands, rather aimlessly flailing one at them. The prospect of what could be is why Cuenca continues to get minutes ahead of the explosive Diogo Salomão – a player more deserving of opportunities with similar past situations to Cuenca’s.

The Catalonian is, without a doubt, the most talented and technically gifted player in the Depor squad. But technical qualities rarely ever outweigh the severe lack of mentality. And in Cuenca’s case, he has the poorest in the squad.

Let’s face it, the newly turned 24-year-old is the type of player who should be dragging Depor by the scruff of the neck and over the relegation zone line – especially when various other teammates are pulling their own weight. Cuenca cowers away from challenges and expectation which is concerning for a player who was destined to reach colossal heights when at Barcelona. The competitive mentality that he acquired there is bereft from his game now, and his performance levels drop drastically when he receives the ball irregularly or is asked to perform in defensive duties. For a club like Barcelona, which stylistically tends to mould their academy products into team players, it is borderline barbaric that Cuenca is anything but.

Cuenca’s saving grace for the rest of his career will likely be his name and the prestige attached to it from a young age. It is no surprise that bigger (currently) clubs like Benfica and Valencia are looking to acquire his services once he becomes a free agent in the summer. In the former’s case, it is clear desire to attempt to develop him and sell on for a healthy profit. But the latter is mind-boggling, especially with newly found heaps of income. They could do much better by spending a few million elsewhere. That is the harsh reality that now surrounds Cuenca’s career.

It wasn’t just injuries holding him back, but his attitude too. The move to Depor was supposed to humble and provide him with a platform to quickly rise up again and prove his quality. But he has thrown it back into the faces of everyone who has ever believed in him. From Pep Guardiola, to a club taking him in despite injury concerns. Cuenca may never reach the heights once expected of him but whereas that may be sad for some, it is through his own failings that he has reached this point.

If you are looking for answers regarding Fernando Vazquez’s managerial credentials, you might as well close this article because none of that will be provided. I am attempting to make sense of Fernando Vazquez as a manager, including his sometimes head-scratching tactics. Sometimes things aren’t always rosy when you are sitting at the top of the league table by five clear points.

Vazquez smiles, some fans frown.

Vazquez smiles, some fans frown

When listening to Vazquez every week, and then watching his side execute the plans set out for them, it is clear to see that there is no real brand of football at the Riazor. Whilst this is all fine and dandy when you are playing in the second tier of Spanish football, it is sometimes scary for the fans who have seen their side go from masterminding one of the greatest Champions League nights of all-time – beating Ancelotti’s AC Milan 4-0 – to now scrapping with clubs such as Real Jaen, Barcelona B and so on.

Over the summer, due to reasons beyond his power, Vazquez saw many of his players leave due to financial restrictions and the end of loan moves. This meant that Vazquez had to operate with an extremely thin squad, devoid of quality and with a need to dip into the youth system. Vazquez promised a breath of fresh air with the Cantera (academy) players getting a lot of first-team football. Of the five players Vazquez mentioned, only one has really broken into the first-team and, at that, is arguably the most consistent player in the side – Pablo Insua. This was the beginning of the strange case of Fernando Vazquez and, since then, we have seen him toy with ideas and fail to execute them. It is almost as if he poses himself some challenges and questions, yet aborts them to play on the safer side. Whilst some, myself included, have berated him this season for performances lacking identity and clarity, it is hard to malign a manager who has his side sitting top of the second division by five clear points when, at the start of the season, many would have settle for a mid-table or play-off push (for the ambitious).

The brightest gem from the cantera, Bicho, who receives orders from Vazquez

The brightest gem from the cantera, Bicho, who receives orders from Vazquez

After talking to many Deportivo fans regarding Fernando Vazquez, it seems as though everyone agrees on the same thing: he needs to stop making negative substitutions. Deportivo will be controlling the game by one goal with 30 minutes to go and Vazquez will remove an attacker for a heavily defensive-minded player, usually switching the formation to a five-man defence. What this usually does is swing the pendulum in the opposition’s favour as they begin to hit Deportivo with a flurry of attacks. If the game is being controlled and the side look like being able to kill it off, there is no need to opt for a defensive style of play. Whilst some, looking from the outside, may see this as Vazquez being cautious and defending the lead, it often puts Deportivo in a precarious position. Against Tenerife, a couple of games ago, Deportivo were controlling the game after finding themselves a goal up for a good 60 minutes. Despite getting closer to scoring, Vazquez removed Juan Carlos, an attacking midfielder who had been creating chances, and replaced him with central defender Carlos Marchena. The side reverted to a five man defence and, a minute later, Marchena’s first contribution to the game would be to give a penalty away. Ricardo Leon scored and the game ended 1-1, despite Deportivo having the chance to capitalise on a poor performance from the opposition. Defensive changes don’t always solidify the defence; in fact, defensive changes like Vazquez’s usually mean that attacking players scamper around not knowing what their role and duty in the side is. It is almost as though Vazquez switches from an 11 player game to 5, sometimes 6.

One extremely strange thing about Vazquez is that he is a fantastic manager for the level he is managing in but the problem is that he rarely takes risks when they present themselves. To compare him to another manager in Spain, he is almost like Emery. Emery is a wonderful manager but his main flaw, and it is a huge one, is his inability to take risks in order to kill off sides that his team should be beating. He is happy to defend any lead. Vazquez’s problem is similar, yet he sometimes seems happy to defend what he starts off with when the whistle blows for the first time in a game. When Vazquez does take risks, Deportivo play some exciting football and this was highlighted in yesterday’s 2-0 over Recreativo de Huelva. This was the best I had seen Deportivo play all season as Vazquez opted to start the game with no defensive cover in midfield – something which delighted many who were basking under the sun in the beautiful stadium of Riazor. Vazquez played with Juan Dominguez as the sole holding midfielder, yet his role was still one where he operates from deep to link the midfield to the attack rather than sweeping up loose balls or battling to win back possession. Back-heels from loanee Rabello, a few step-overs from Luis Fernandez and some outrageous bits of skill from Sissoko really showed how dangerous this Deportivo side can be without the shackles being cast on their creativity and freedom on the pitch.

The players celebrate after the best performance of the season

The players celebrate after the best performance of the season

If he knows how capable his side are of playing an exciting brand of football and wiping the floor with most teams in the league, why is it that Vazquez has only realised, with seven games to go, that this style of football suits the side better than any of the previous styles? Vazquez plays the “defence” card whenever he is asked why his side never go for the kill and opt for this negative brand of football. Vazquez wins these battles with the journalists because Deportivo are the side who have conceded the least amount of goals in the league, yet Deportivo’s best performances in the league this season have seen them keep two clean-sheets whilst playing some exciting attacking football (0-3 Sabadell, 2-0 Recreativo). The defence play better when the plan is not to focus on them to do the dirty work and hope for a lucky attacking break. Insua himself said that he feels more comfortable pushing the defensive line forward than forcing it closer to his own goalkeeper.

Now, I do not want this article to seem as though I dislike Vazquez because I think he is a very good manager. My qualms with him have already been stated but I would also like to defend some of his decisions and why he does not take risks. When Vazquez arrived at Deportivo last season, with the side rooted to the bottom of the table, the first thing he did was bring Valeron back into the first-team and allow the side to play with freedom and creativity; Deportivo almost achieved the great escape from relegation due to this brand of football but the damage had already prevailed prior to Vazquez’s arrival. This shows that Vazquez is able to take risks and play for the win rather than being comfortable with a draw, ecstatic with a win and seemingly o.k with a loss. But one can understand why Vazquez has taken this approach in the Segunda (second division) this season: he knows that Deportivo do not have the best players in the final third (more applicable before January but point still stands) so focuses on building the core of the side around the defence which is seemingly strong. By doing this, Deportivo are able to slowly climb up the table, getting some points here and there on the road back to stabilising themselves as a club and reaching the first division. Vazquez has always spoken highly of the fans – they have kept the club ashore for the past few seasons despite the sometimes unbearable rocky moments – so it could be said that he does not want to disappoint the fans with poor, yet brave results. The kind of results that annoy you because you were good but conceded a fairly dodgy goal. Vazquez plays it safe and, by doing so, he has put Deportivo in a great position with seven games to go. That cannot be argued against.

I guess the overall point of this is to explain Vazquez’s tactics, give my opinion on them, but also to defend the man who sometimes comes under obscene amounts of scrutiny due to his negative approach to games. Whatever happens this season, I just hope that Vazquez continues to drag the team along to La Liga. From there-on out, if Vazquez continues at the club, he will have to rethink his strategies because the first division can be diabolical if you go into it negatively like Valladolid, Betis and Osasuna have, at some points, this season. Taking risks may come with a few thrashings but it can lead to continuously proving doubters wrong like Paco Jemez’s wonderful Rayo Vallecano side. Whatever Vazquez’s approach may be next season, he has his work cut out: extremely tight budget, the squad will become even thinner as loanees depart and some key players may even opt to jump ship.

culio-roja

 

With Deportivo La Coruña crowned ‘winter champions’ – a title thrown around for whoever is top of the league when the winter break commences – January loomed on the club as Lendoiro announced that there will be ins and outs in the transfer window. Many pondered on the departure of some fringe players with the addition of others better than them, but not many predicted the departure of Culio. The Argentine midfielder joined Depor in the summer of 2013 and made an impact straight away. He became a fan favourite almost immediately as he combined talent with a strong work ethic; he became the club’s most important and consistent player. The heartbeat of the side. Whether it was Depor putting the ball into the net, or coming close, you’d better believe that Culio was the man pulling the strings and creating those chances.

Don’t mistake Culio for just a playmaker; he can tackle with efficiency, and recklessness at times, too. Culio can play anywhere in midfield, bar the deepest role, as well as on either flank. In modern football, versatility is key and gives you a stronger chance of being a mainstay in the squad. Culio rolled versatility and ability into one enormous ball which, coincidentally, led to many ranking him as the best attacking midfielder in the Segunda. 

But why would Culio leave Depor? A club with a genuine chance at promotion, more-so than they had prior to him. A club where he was the first name on the team-sheet. One can only imagine that Culio’s departure was for two reasons, be it one or the other, or both. The first reason would be money. His new club, Al-Wasl, represent Qatar and are outrageously wealthy in comparison to Depor; therefore, wages offered would be higher than anything Depor could provide him with. The other reason would be club stability. Depor are susceptible to liquidation at any moment with a click of the administrators’ and judge’s fingers. Culio, most likely, wanted to surround himself in a calmer and more delightful atmosphere than the one casting a large cloud over Depor’s future as a football club. But there are also reasons why he should have stayed: a shot at La Liga. Depor have a chance of gaining promotion this season, having been top of the league for a good six weeks (as of writing this), and a couple additions to the squad would have pushed them even further to the ‘promised land’ of La Liga. Surely the chance of playing in the most elite league in Spain is far more exciting and challenging than the Qatari league?

Moving on, where does this now leave Depor? Despite being top of the league, it’s quite worrying to look at the future without Culio. He was by far the most efficient and consistent player as well as the most influential in the final third. In the three games Depor have played without Culio, they have scored a whopping zero goals. Even with Culio, chances were often created sporadically as he had to carry the burden of creativity. Fernando Vazquez and Lendoiro have promised signings, but the manager seems more intent on signing someone to put chances away instead of someone who creates them. This side needs a creator more than a goalscorer. Baston and Luis are, perhaps, too young to lead a forward line alone but have done fairly good jobs in spurts, especially considering a lack of chances put on a plate for them.

There are some internal replacements that Vazquez could look at, despite being in dear need of someone from the outside to replace Culio. The first option for Vazquez would be to push Juan Dominguez from the pivot up to an attacking-midfield position. Dominguez was always seen as the heir to Valeron, but tailored his game to a deeper position until the club legend departed in June, 2013. Dominguez has the nous to operate further up the field but doubts have to be cast over his creativity. His quick turns and innovative tricks with those nimble feet of his suit a role further up the pitch  but he has never been a consistent creator; he’s someone who dictates play and creates, sporadically, from a much deeper position. Moving him to attacking-midfield would mean a pivot of Wilk & Alex which, on paper, sounds quite good. Wilk likes to cast a net over the defence and cover a lot of ground in defensive areas whilst Alex, who is very good defensively, seems to be deployed as the deep-lying playmaker – a role which doesn’t suit him because he loses possession quite frequently. The pivot could be quite solid in defensive terms but Depor would lose someone who can recycle possession and carry the ball forward in Juan Dominguez.

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor's creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor’s creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

The second and third options can really be tied in together because both players are quite similar. The players in question are Juan Carlos & Bicho. Juan Carlos has sporadically featured this season on the right-hand side, a position which doesn’t suit his game at all. Juan Carlos is a traditional playmaker and nothing more than that. The only real problem with his game is that he can go missing for an unimaginable amount of time; he’ll create one chance and do just that. This is a huge problem because someone like Culio would at least get involved in an interchanging game with his wingers and drop deep to win possession back or collect the ball. Although Juan Carlos is being judged on his performances in a position which he is not accustomed to, he would really have to step up his game to assure Vazquez and the fans that he can fill the Culio-shaped hole.The third option is Bicho. Bicho is only 17-years of age, but his vision and footballing brain is incredibly advanced for his age. Bicho has been tracked by clubs like Manchester City recently which speaks volumes of his talent. Bicho frequently stands out as the creator in the youth echelons of Depor and Spain. He made his professional debut in Depor’s first game of the season against Las Palmas and, since then, has rarely featured in the league. In the two Copa del Rey games, Bicho struggled to shine as he, quite evident to the average viewer, was trying too hard to impress. This is a big problem for Vazquez as deploying Bicho as a regular attacking-midfielder would lead to the youngster feeling obscene amounts of pressure to replicate the performances set by Culio and Valeron before him.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Although the three options are cost-effective for the club, they have more cons than pros. Vazquez can either choose Juan Dominguez and play a fairly unbalanced pivot, losing Juan Dominguez’s influence from deep or he can opt for the invisibility of Juan Carlos and the inexperience of Bicho. This isn’t to knock any of the players either as I, personally, feel as though it could work for any of them if there wasn’t the risk of weakening another position or ruining their future potential due to pressure.

Vazquez could be looking at players from outside the club as potential Culio replacements. Whereas many names have been touted and thrown around, one of them Vazquez has commented on: Ariel Ibagaza (Olympiacos). Ibagaza is an attacking-midfielder who shares an insane amount of similarities with Culio. Both are outstanding set-piece takers, both give 100% in every game and both are frequent tacklers despite lingering high up the pitch most of the time. Ibagaza would be the perfect replacement but the only problem, and it’s a huge one, is his age. At 37, one has to imagine that Ibagaza is nearing the end of his career and a move to Depor would be one where he could enjoy his football in a less-demanding league than the Greek one. He would probably expect 2+ years in his contract because, at that age, players want stability more than hopping from club to club. Unfortunately, stability and Depor don’t go hand-in-hand. He would be given a one-year contract, one would presume, which would leave the club in a precarious position should the rise to La Liga occur.

Whatever happens regarding a Culio replacement, I hope that it isn’t an internal one. The club need to take promotion seriously, especially as it leads to a little cash injection which could be used to clear a bit of the debt. An investment now, using the Culio money (circa 300,000) would mean that the club are looking up, rather than down. An internal replacement would be a very coy move and one that could cost the club a sensational bounce-back to La Liga.