A loss in the Copa del Rey to Segunda B side Mirandés last night was the final straw for Villarreal’s President Fernando Roig, as he wielded the axe to remove Juan Carlos Garrido from the club after just 4 wins in 26 games this season.
It was a decision not taken lightly from Roig, as Garrido had been associated with the club for thirteen years, taking charge at various levels, each time progressing and moving up – only now, he suffers a knock back, one that results in the loss of his job. The two had a close relationship and Roig is notoriously lenient with coaches, firing just four in fifteen years – remarkable by Spanish terms. When the news was broke in the Villarreal dressing room there was a mixture of both sad and guilty faces. The staff close to Garrido, coach Raúl Garrido and fitness man Carlos Corberán, apparently broke down in tears. A group of players went and said a few personal words to him also, apologising for the situation that has occurred.
Roig also made his way to the dressing room, and issued a heartfelt speech to the players insisting that what he was doing went against everything he stood for – but the decision had to be made. Garrido had even worked out a special regime for the players returning from the festive period, such is the projection that exists at the club, and the faith he believed was in his talents. As well as being in a solemn mood, Roig also threw down the gauntlet to the players asking them step up and justify their salaries in testing times.
The scene was so a couple of years ago, as Garrido’s impressive progress at the club earned him the top job with the full team, Roig deciding that his inside knowledge of the club would be advantageous given the long-term project in place. The former journalist at a local paper was handed the job, taking over from the highly regarded but in many quarters disliked, Ernesto Valverde. The club had been missing an identity since the departure of Manuel Pellegrini who left for the bright lights of Real Madrid, and Valverde’s rigorous, defensive minded game had never sat well with a team so true to the styling’s of their previous Chilean coach.
Garrido was a breath of fresh air with the first team, brining back elements of Pellegrini’s game but also retaining a hint of Valverde’s defensive nous. Before he came in the side was riddled with inconsistency, and languished in mid-table – they had even spent the opening two months of the season in the relegation zone. Garrido motivated the team though, and made the talented group of players enjoy their football once more. He guided the club to a 7th place finish that season, before being able to effectively finish 6th and take part in the Europa League due to Real Mallorca’s financial irregularities.
In his first full season Garrido prospered ever more, finishing fourth in the league and qualifying for the Champions League. A battle with local rivals Valencia over the course of the season for the third spot saw him be the eventual loser, but none the less the season was regarded a success. Meanwhile in the Europa League, eventual winners Porto put them out of the competition as Garrido engaged in an entertaining tactical bout with André Villas-Boas. The squad had been moulded much to his liking, and although wafer thing he managed get them playing some of the most attractive football in Europe and for many they were becoming the “other team in Spain to watch“. A stunning performance against the #1 team to watch, Barcelona, at the Camp Nou, gained them even more plaudits. Despite the general feel of success at the club, Garrido did have some early detractors. There was a feeling he didn’t rotate enough with his squad, and integrate the more talented players from the ‘B’ team, thus explaining why they faded out at the traditional business end of the season.
The recent summer was a testing time for the club, as star man Santi Cazorla departed for the overtures of Málaga, with economic reasons prevalent. The club, simply put, needed to sell. President Roig confirmed on a subsequent radio interview they will need to do so regularly, as the impartial financial structure in Spain hit clubs like his Villarreal hardest. Cristian Zapata, Jonathan De Guzmán and Javier Camuñas were added, but it was to prove worthless as the team were to suffer a more devastating blow via injuries. Villarreal suffered like no other club in Spain, and at one time were down at least eight first team players – the majority starters too, rather than on the just fringes. Giuseppe Rossi’s lengthy lay off was the one that hit hardest, and he was joined by Nilmar, leaving Marco Ruben as the main man in attack – he was to fall foul of injury. Cani, a key creative outlet, again, got injured. A key creative component.
It was as if a curse had been put upon the club, and Garrido had the daunting task of searching for a cure. With the main strike pair sidelined the team looked a different vehicle, lacking the integral vibrancy and flair the Italian-Brazilian combination brought to the field. There was little width, and pressing the yellow shirts high up the field thwarted them easily. In the early days Cazorla’s absence was the excuse, and with reason too, as there was little link-up between the lines of midfield and attack. Garrido reacted slowly though, and failed to tackle the problem head on. De Guzmán was struggling with his lack of tactical affluence and as expected, more work was heaped upon the shoulders of Borja Valero.
Garrido saw this, and opted to play a more defensive style, using a direct approach to play with in attacking phases. It worked in some regards, but collectively all too often the defensive discipline was lacking to make sure the tactic was executed correctly, and a lack of composure in midfield led to needless giveaways and surrendering of the ascendancy often. In certain games Villarreal showed flashes of old, and in the game at La Roselada against Málaga they were in control throughout but lacked that cutting edge to compliment their possession. It was however, to be another loss. An appalling Champions League campaign saw them become the worst Spanish team ever to play in the competition – one former German player called them a disgrace to the competition.
Domestically, and at El Madrigal, Garrido was receiving the sort of abuse that was witnessed in Valverde’s final days. There was confusion over his tactical switches and formation juggling, as well as a tendency to play players away from their best positions when the injury crisis had eased slightly. Most of all though, Garrido failed to acknowledge the mistakes on his part, insisting on several occasions post-game that Villarreal deserved more, when frankly, they didn’t. It grew predictable and tiresome. The recent defeat to Osasuna summed things up perfectly and included all the aforementioned points which had irritated the fans for too long.
What Roig does next is essential from both a financial, and strictly football perspective. The most obvious answer would be to appoint someone who can steady, in this instance, the submarine, and patch up the holes that exist. Staying in the Primera División is a necessity, sinking is not an option, as it would undo all the incredible work done at the club over the last decade or so.