Javier Calleja replaces Fran Escriba at Villarreal

by Colin Millar / 25 September 2017, 20:13

Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) takes a look at the latest managerial change over in La Liga.

It all unravelled in less than 18 hours for Fran Escriba, the 52-year-old coach who now finds himself out of work less than four months after guiding Villarreal into Europe.

His last half-time team talk would have been relatively tranquil. After all, his side were being held 0-0 at newly-promoted Getafe but were largely in control of the game and had enjoyed the better chances. Regardless of the exact deliverance of his instructions, they proved unsuccessful as his side suffered a second half collapse to lose 4-0 and the following morning, he was gone.

Escriba was instilled as boss of the Yellow Submarine on the eve of last season following the sudden and unexpected dismissal of Marcelino Garcia Toral, now in charge at neighbouring Valencia. Known as a pragmatic tactician who often prioritises team shape and discipline over flair, he exceeded expectations (which were low due to the improvised nature of his appointment) to guide the club to 5th place and the Europa League for the fourth successive season.

Only Atletico Madrid (27) conceded fewer La Liga goals than Villarreal (33) last year and Diego Simeone’s suffered a 3-0 defeat at El Madrigal. Escriba’s side forged a reputation of resilience and cohesion, highlighted further by a draw at the Bernabeu and at home to Barcelona, who required a last-minute equaliser to salvage point.

The manager’s eventual undoing was a combination of this perceived negativity - which shortened the patience from the club’s fanbase - alongside the heightened expectations, which only increased after an ambitious summer of spending. Spain international Pablo Fornals and Sporting CP defender Ruben Semedo both arrived alongside striking duo Enes Unal and Carlos Bacca from AC Milan.

Successive opening away defeats set the tone for a tough opening month - a late defeat at newly-promoted neighbours Levante before falling to a comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad only four days later.

Escriba was also beset by an early injury crisis; third choice goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa has deputised due to cruciate ligament ruptures to both Sergio Asenjo and Andres Fernandez. Defensive midfield lynchpin and captain Bruno Soriano has also been sidelined along with Roberto Soriano - who netted 10 La Liga goals last time out - while Denis Cherysev has only returned to fitness after a nine-month absence.

However, morale-boosting wins followed: 3-1 and 3-0 victories over Real Betis and Alaves with a Europa League opening triumph over Astana triumphed in-between, while a scoreless draw with a stubborn Espanyol side may have stopped that run was not grounds for any immediate panic.

Sunday’s loss at Getafe was deflating not just in terms of the four-goal loss but also the manner of the performance and an inexplicable collapse - shipping four goals in the space of 36 nightmarish minutes. Ironically, Escriba’s previous managerial job had been with Los Azulones but he was dismissed after a 2-0 defeat at Villarreal just 17 months previously.

Now Javier Calleja has been promoted to the hot seat having managed just six times in his managerial career - for Villarreal’s B team in Spain’s regionalised third tier. He’s unbeaten too, sitting third in his section behind only established giants Real Mallorca and Elche. It’s a risky move, hiring someone with no pedigree in the dugout but also one which could offer high reward. Calleja is well-liked at the club, having played there for seven consecutive seasons and forming a part of their finest hour - a Champions League semi-final in 2006.

On the surface though, this does appear to be an impulse decision by officials at the club, based more so on the individual loss at Getafe rather than a long-term trend. Calleja will now be tasked with getting more from a group of attacking players who possess plenty of talent yet under Escriba showed little cohesion.

With the high standards and heavy outlay the club has made in recent months, a lot rests on the inexperienced shoulders of the 39-year-old but, with key players returning from injury, it could be an exciting new chapter.


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