When is it too early to fire a coach? And no, I’m not talking about “win-one-game-and-then-engage-in-scandal-that-gets-me-the-boot” early like Sam Allardyce’s recent England stint. That was, well, farce-like in its earliness. I’m rather talking about the situation where a candidate is given a small-sample-sized run to show their stuff and the results turn out to be so poor that it leaves the fans, pundits, and big-wigs alike questioning the validity of the hire in the first place. I’m talking, specifically, about two executive moves that adorned the Spanish papers this week: the Valencia sacking of Pako Ayestaran and Granada’s firing of Paco Jemez; both newbies seemingly evicted from their homes before they could even unpack their Samsonites. As the first two manager dismissals in La Liga this year, that same old question that we continually turn to with every passing year remains: How early is too early?
It must be said, obviously, that both Pac(k)o’s had begun their 2016/17 Primera campaigns in similarly catastrophic ways. Straight out of the gate, Ayestaran’s Valencia dropped their first five league matches, while Jemez’s Granada have still yet to win a single league game in six attempts. These appalling results leave Los Che in 15th Place on six points and El Grana in 19th Place on two points. Although Granada have yet to supply a replacement for Jemez, Valencia wasted no time in courting former Italian National Team boss, Cesare Prandelli, who has reportedly signed on a two-year deal.
To be fair, there can be little doubt that Ayestaran’s Valencia’s tenure didn’t feel destined to fail from the get-go. After taking over for Gary Neville after the Englishman made his much forgettable foray into football managing last season, Ayestaran, then as interim boss, led Los Che to a modest 12th Place finish, winning just three of their last eight matches. Therefore, if the Spaniard did improve Valencia post-Neville, it was microscopic.
So, enter Prandelli, who is a peculiar choice, to say the least. The ex-Azzurri gaffer comes to Mestalla without any eye-catching accolades on his CV. Apart from his Serie B title with Hellas Verona — which was 17 years ago — Prandelli has never coached a side to a league title and has zero top-flight honors. Additionally, his last post in Galatasaray was a full-fledged disaster, as he was heavily criticized by Turkish media, as well as his own players. He lasted less than five months.
Sure, Prandelli’s spell with Italy was respectable, most notably because of a runners-up medal in the 2012 European Championships. However, that Italian side will mostly be remembered for suckling at the teet of midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo rather than any real coaching prowess. So while it’s true that last year’s Neville fiasco shouldn’t deter Valencia from seeking help abroad, throwing the dart eastward and landing on the 59-year-old Italian seems like an odd fate.
The Granada situation appears even more bleak, however. Having barely evaded relegation last May under the interim guidance of Jose Gonzalez — who took over from Jose Ramon Sandoval in February — turning their wallets toward one of the country’s more cultish managerial figures in Jemez was really a no-brainer. Unfortunately, if there was any real magic leftover from the Spaniard’s Rayo Vallecano days, it was left behind at the Campo de Vallecas. During his Andalucian adventure, the 46-year-old’s all-or-nothing attacking philosophy resulted in zero victories and 15 goals-conceded (most in La Liga).
For a teetering club like Granada, the Jemez failure is a worst-case-scenario. For the first time in ages, the Nazaries had captured an extremely coveted football mind in Jemez and were looking up instead of down. He was meant to turn around the long-running tepid fortunes of the Primera bottom-dwellers. To explain what Granada’s Liga life has been like, consider this: since their Primera promotion in 2011/12, El Grana have yet to finish above 15th Place. What’s worse, in four of those five seasons, they finished within three points of the drop zone. That’s a relegation scrap basically every year they’ve been in Spain’s top-flight. A club — any club — can only circle the drain for so long before eventually going down it.
Unlike at Valencia, where the top-to-bottom squad depth, coupled with the sufficiently deep pockets of Peter Lim, should keep them from relegation even with a defective managerial appointment, no such luxury exists at Granada. It’s part of the reason the Jemez acquisition was such a coup for the Andalusians. He was not just a leader of high philosophy and integrity, but he also had displayed, on multiple occasions, a propensity for keeping a cash-strapped, yo-yo club punching above their weight. He made Rayo Vallecano more than a tough, aesthetically-pleasing awayday; he made — and kept — them a true La Liga side year-after-year.
Granada needed Jemez to do just that for them, to transform them into something fresh, exciting, and effective. And most of us thought he would. Unfortunately, he didn’t even come close. What the club thought was a get-out-in-front-of-the-pack hiring has now set them back multiple games, maybe too many to repair. It does feel as if both clubs had no choice but to cut their respective cords, but that’s just a feeling. The truth is, six matches isn’t adequate time for any single football manager not named Pep Guardiola to complete any significant work. These are nuanced, layered problems that these smart, qualified professionals are tasked with solving. A perfect world would allow both Ayestaran and Jemez to work out their kinks over the course of a season at least. But this world, today, is far from that. Regrettably, tripping over those first hurdles will always get you the boot from now on. That’s modern football for you, at Granada, Valencia, and everywhere else.