Posts Tagged ‘deportivo de la coruña’

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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.