Pako Ayestaran's future unclear following Las Palmas sacking

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 02 December 2017, 09:21

It was a close working relationship which lasted eleven years and spanned five clubs and two nations, winning trophies including two La Liga titles and a Champions League crown along the way. Rafael Benitez started his coaching career at Real Madrid youth teams in a spell which culminated in promotion to assistant first team manager to Vicente Del Bosque, before going on to coach the Castilla side at the club.

Benitez’s move into coaching had followed an unspectacular playing career and his transition was not without its difficulties. In search of first management roles, the Madrid-born coach was given a chance by top flight side Real Valladolid but with only two wins in 23 games and with his side rooted to the bottom of the table, he was relieved of his duties.

Not giving up hope, Benitez dropped down to the Segunda to take charge of Pamplona-based Osasuna but again struggled for results and with just one win in nine, he was sacked with a managerial career which appeared to be in tatters before it even got going. This stint was to prove the turning point in his fortunes as it was at El Sadar he met the fitness trainer Pako Ayestaran, whom he promptly made his assistant to act as a mediator between him and players.

The two stuck together during another break, this time at Extremadura and this time paying off, with the club promoted to the top flight. Despite relegation via a playoff the following campaign, Valencia approached Benitez and the duo moved to the Mestalla when their qualities were finally transmitted to a wider audience.

The duo’s success was instant, winning the club’s first La Liga title in 31 years in their debut campaign and regaining the trophy two years later. After a falling out at board level, they moved to Liverpool and helped the Merseyside club to their famous European Cup in their first season in charge, before winning the FA Cup the following campaign.

Strained relations between Benitez and the English side’s new owners were well-documented but behind the scenes his close friendship with Ayestaran was also disintegrating and in 2007, his number two left the club claiming the manager had ‘forgotten his principles’. Retorting, Benitez fumed of Ayestaran’s ‘betrayal’ of listening to offers from other clubs. Liverpool didn’t win another trophy under Benitez whose stock - while not plummeting - has certainly stagnated since despite sporadic successes.

The division appeared to hit Ayestaran harder however, with his new-found position of sporting director at Real Sociedad lasting a matter of weeks due to a fallout with the club’s president Jokin Aperribay. He returned to his roots with appointments as a fitness coach at Benfica and then Valencia but neither lasted, before he was named assistant to Quique Sanchez Flores at Al-Ahli Dubai but left the following year.

Ayestaran’s first break in management came in 2013 at Mexican side Estudiantes Tecos followed by a move to Israeli giants Maccabi Tel Aviv to replace his compatriot Oscar Garcia. Despite guiding the club to their first ever domestic treble, he resigned to return to Mexico in an ill-fated spell with Santos Lugana which lasted only three months.

Perhaps surprisingly, his route back into football came under Gary Neville - who had represented Manchester United in their rivalry against Liverpool - as he joined the former full-back’s backroom staff following his shock appointment at Valencia. The Englishman’s spell was disastrous and despite his insistence he would not seek to manage the club, Ayestaran was appointed as interim manager in March.

Despite a run of three victories which included the scalps of Sevilla and Barcelona, he was soon to embark on a losing streak of league matches which was to span three separate campaigns and break an unwanted La Liga record. Los Che lost their final three league games of that campaign and having failed to collect a point in any of their opening four games the following season, Ayestaran was dismissed.

In September this year, the 54-year-old was the surprise appointment to replace the outgoing Manolo Marquez at Las Palmas - precisely a year after his sacking at the Mestalla. The opening six matches all ended in defeat - with the most damning a 5-2 collapse at home to Celta Vigo, whose goalkeeper was dismissed just after half-time - ensuring Ayestaran set a La Liga record of 13 consecutive defeats as manager.

There was not to be a 14th, as his side rescued a 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad on Sunday but a midweek Copa Del Rey defeat to Deportivo La Coruna (although Las Palmas advanced on aggregate) was enough to condemn Ayestaran to yet another sacking.

With 26 goals conceded across his nine matches in charge, his side’s defensive vulnerabilities were at the heart of his lack of success. He was unable to set his team up to defend either set pieces nor counter attacks and proved once again his absence of key tactical thinking and in-game management. His coaching reputation was built on improving player’s fitness levels and conveying instructions from his manager, but in the position himself he proved to be inadequate.

Barring his one season of success in Israel, management has proven to be a tough gig for Pako, with five spells across four different clubs indicating he is unable to swiftly obtain results or motivate his sides to respond to his messages.

Las Palmas are now one place off the foot of La Liga and managerless, with Spain international Vitolo’s loan spell effectively over after sustaining an injury in Wednesday night’s defeat. The future for both the club and the former manager Ayestaran is unclear, and it may prove too late for him to finally settle on his own long-term career path.

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