The story behind Quique Setien's Real Betis exit

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 25 May 2019, 08:57

Real Betis were the only team to defeat both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season in La Liga.

Even more strikingly, they were the first side to win at both the Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu in the same league season since Real Mallorca in the 2002/03 campaign. There was also a famous Europa League victory at AC Milan back in November, while they defeated Atletico Madrid in February.

Yet within hours of their comfortable two-goal victory at outgoing European champions Madrid - their second successive victory in the stadium - the club confirmed that they had parted ways with boss Quique Setien. It was the first time the club had posted back-to-back top-half finishes in the top flight in over a decade, but such are the expectations at Betis that this was no longer sufficient.

There are a multitude of factors behind Setien’s departure, but the primary reason is a tangible sense of underachievement and regression. When finishing sixth and qualifying for the Europa League last season, the club overperformed.

 

They were helped by the below-par seasons of others - notably city rivals Sevilla, who finished one place below - but it was a triumph of Setien’s coaching. The club went from crazy entertainers in the first half of the season to a solid, functioning side from spring onwards - posting an Andalusian club record of six successive top-flight clean sheets.

That raised expectations and also the financial outlay on the team. A succession of stars arrived. Marc Bartra had joined from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018 and he was followed by a series of other players who just a year before Betis could only dream about. William Carvalho from Sporting CP. Giovani Lo Celso, the Argentine international and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder.

A resurgent Sergio Canales from Real Sociedad and Spain international goalkeeper Pau Lopez. The team was light in the wing-back areas and attack, but this was a club with a top six budget and one who should have emulated last season’s finish.

They were fifth at Christmas but their form fell away alarmingly thereafter - winning just five of their next 20 league matches and losing eleven. They only scraped a top half finish courtesy of their final day win at Madrid.

The same underlying problems repeated themselves throughout the season - Betis struggled against teams who sat deep and hit them on the counter-attack. In August, they posted 78% possession against Levante and lost 3-0 at home. Eight months later, they had 72% possession of the ball but this time lost by four goals. The data reflected the performances - Betis dominated the ball but had no control over the games.

Setien was often disparaging about the tactics he faced, claiming that the football was inferior yet he could not find the answers. From the north of Spain, his logic and thought-process did not fit with the wild passion of the Sevillanos and he soon found himself at odds with the club’s fans. Boycotts were organised by main ultra-grouping Gol Sur and their Benito Villlamarin home was over half-empty for late home games against Villarreal and Huesca.

Similar problems were identified at Betis with Setien’s time at Las Palmas - early promise tailed off with regression in both team and individual performances. When his sides were good they were excellent - routinely winning the biggest matches. Yet when they were bad, which became increasingly frequent in his final spell, they were awful.

The loss of the support from the club’s fans signalled the end for Setien but the parting was amicable - perhaps a realisation on all sides that the time was right for a departure.

There had been great progress at the club and with Setien in the two seasons, but relationships became strained and a freshness was needed. Few will forget his spell in Seville, where some wonderful memories were made, but both club and coach have big decisions over their next move.

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Grant McCann
Grant McCann
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