Despite securing a Champions League spot for the second consecutive year and beating Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final last season, Marcelino is no longer the manager of Valencia. The club sacked him on Wednesday, on the eve of two massive fixtures against Barcelona in La Liga and Chelsea in the Champions League. There is quite simply no good reason to fire him for the club’s on-field results. But at a club like Valencia, owned by a man like Peter Lim, the results on the field only tell half the story.
Over the summer, Lim clashed with both Marcelino and director general Mateu Alemany over transfers both incoming and outgoing. For one, Marcelino wanted to bring in Barcelona’s Rafinha to bolster the midfield, but Lim blocked the move. On the other side, Lim wanted to sell Valencia’s best striker, Rodrigo Moreno, to Atlético Madrid, but Marcelino and Alemany pushed back to keep the man who tallied eight goals and six assists in La Liga last season. The acrimony over the direction of the club was so bad that at certain points this summer Marcelino and Alemany reportedly both threatened to quit.
You can’t talk about Valencia and Lim without talking about Jorge Mendes, the super-agent who is something of a shadow director of several big-time European clubs—Valencia among them. Lim and Mendes are considered close business associates, and Mendes helped Lim land the Valencia ownership in the first place after the Singaporean businessman failed to buy Atlético. For much of Lim’s time as owner, the club’s transfer strategy has consisted almost entirely of shuffling various Mendes clients into and out of the locker room, to very little success on the pitch.
The hope was that as Marcelino and Alemany proved their savvy in the form of top-four finishes and trophies, they would see their influence over how the club was run continue to grow as Lim’s and Mendes’s say in things waned. And yet after two Champions League qualifications and a Copa del Rey title, the club’s first trophy in 11 years, the meddlesome duo has forced Marcelino out and neutered Alemany.
What makes the current move especially confounding is how anonymous Albert Celades is as a replacement. The 44-year-old Catalan coach has never managed a club team before, and is primarily known for his time as an assistant of former Spain and Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui. Even for Lim, who for some reason loves to hire inexperienced managers, this is a head-scratcher. The only way this hiring even kind of makes sense is if you figure Mendes and/or Lim took note Celades via Lopetegui, who is naturally a Mendes client himself.
Now that Marcelino is gone, Celades will be tasked with rallying the players into something like a successful season. That might be tricky. According to the Guardian’s Sid Lowe, Valencia players are “understood to be shocked by the decision, but they knew that this was likely sooner or later.” That’s one way to describe it, as Argentina international and Valencia center back Ezequiel Garay made it quite clear on his Instagram that he does not support the move:
After many years with you (not just at Valencia), I know the perfection that you are, professionally and personally. You haven’t only shown that to me, but also to the whole world. Because you have traveled the path cleanly, transparently, and sanely. Now you go to the door, great mister. Whoever has taken this decision not only ran you over, but dragged a whole team and fan base. I say this loud and clear: THIS IS NOT FAIR.
Valencia captain Dani Parejo also chimed in with a statement that seemed to take a subtle swipe at Lim and Co. for interfering with Marcelino’s job:
Translated (emphasis mine):
Mister, I wish you the best. I’m sure that things will go well for you wherever you go, and that they will let you do your work. Thank you for making the club greater, and for making me a better soccer player.
Whether Celades brings the same level of success as Marcelino is almost irrelevant at this point, because success was never the goal. Lim and Marcelino (with Alemany as a co-combatant) fought a war this summer and, three games into the year, the man with the money won. Too bad for everyone who enjoyed seeing the club actually fulfill their potential in La Liga, but good news for those intrigued by the continued proliferation of Valencia’s chaotic incompetence under Peter Lim.