Deportivo La Coruna sack Pep Mel after eight months

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 25 October 2017, 08:39

Pepe Mel became the fourth managerial casualty of La Liga on Tuesday as Deportivo La Coruna’s home loss to Girona proved to be the final straw for the Galician club.

The 54-year-old’s dismissal is no great surprise - he had won only six of his 24 matches in charge and only two of the club’s nine league matches this season, while the loss to the newly-promoted Catalans was their fifth of the campaign.

Mel is renowned as being a motivator and his last three appoints - West Bromwich Albion, Betis and Depor - were all made in mid-season. Perhaps more tellingly, his spell across the three clubs lasted merely 95 matches combined.

He has been dismissed three times in the space of four seasons but in reality, had his contract at the Baggies not been a short-term one in 2014, it is likely the official ‘mutual termination’ would have appeared less kindly on his CV.

The unhappy endings could be quite ironically contrasted to Mel’s career as a novelist outside of football, having had three fictional novels published.

His creativity, innovation and thoughtfulness was not always reflected in his coaching career and he has often been criticised for a lack of tactical nous and game preparation.

Of those 95 matches since the start of 2014, he has guided his side’s to only 30 wins and 16 of those were in Spain’s Segunda division for Betis, his hometown club. It was his second spell in the dugout at the Estadio Benito Villamarin and he inherited a beleaguered side who, despite being title favourites, lay in 7th position in December.

Mel turned around their fortunes and guided them to a comprehensive league title, but once again lost his way the next season and was sacked in January after four consecutive losses and the side on the edge of the relegation zone.

A season before at The Hawthorns he had been appointed in January to save the club from relegation and he did, but only just - the Baggies finishing 17th and only three points clear of the bottom three after just seven league victories all season.

At Depor he inherited a side on the brink of the bottom three with only four wins in 23 outings and none in the last seven, with four consecutive losses. Club owner Tino Fernandez insisted there was “no ultimatum, no questioning, no nothing, we need a reset.”

That reset was Mel, who had driven the near 1,000 km journey between Seville and A Coruna with his staff and his luggage in the hope his interview would be successful. He would not need the return journey for another eight months.

He inherited a squad who were low on confidence and quality - only four players had cost the club money to sign and none more than ¤4m. The club are still paying off substantial debts accumulated over previous years and wages are extremely modest.

Ryan Babel had left in December and the club had not replaced star striker Lucas Perez, who had joined Arsenal the previous summer. Their lowly position should have been expected and it was logical, but they needed to ensure it did not worsen.

Mel’s impact was immediate, galvanising his side to a four-game unbeaten run including holding Atletico Madrid and memorably, beating Barcelona. There was an even more crucial victory, at relegation rivals Sporting Gijon.

The problem was, the ‘new manager bounce’ was short and momentum quickly evaporated, only six more points were won in the following ten games but it was enough to avoid relegation.

Somewhat surprisingly, the manager’s short-term contract was extended and a number of smart, canny signings were made. Fede Valverde arrived from Real Madrid and Perez returned on loan. Costel Pantilimon, Fabian Schar and Zakaria Bakkali in an impressive summer while main goal threat Florin Andone was also retained.

However, despite narrow home wins over lowly Alaves and Getafe, Mel’s time was up with a Riazor loss to Girona - who had never previously won a top flight match away from home. Six of their nine matches have come against fellow lower half sides and the reality is they now face a testing fixture list which could see them slip lower than current 16th standing.

Under Mel, the same failings kept repeating themselves. The defence were disorganised, particularly from set pieces and the team lacked attacking coherence, with players shoehorned into a formation rather than fielding a side purpose-built for it.

Mel’s motivational factor had run out and now Depor have named Cristobal Parralo as their new coach, in the hope that he can relaunch their league campaign.


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Dean Smith
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