La Liga

La Liga: All’s fair in love and management…

The erstwhile season is over and now begins the football equivalent of dumping your partner and searching for a better model. And it is in Spain where this gauntlet has been taken up with fervent gusto.

Clubs have been figuratively marauding around the singles bar that is the managerial market and hooking up with their best friend’s ex. In a way, it’s reminiscent of them throwing their keys into a bowl and seeing how the night goes.

Little over a fortnight has passed since the final whistle of the season-ending Champions League final in Cardiff and already seven of the 20 clubs have a new squeeze and one club is “peacocking”.

So, to the first order of business.

As well documented Luis Enrique has departed Barcelona after following in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and cracking in the inferno that resides in the kiln that is the Barca hot seat. Enrique announced his departure in the fallout following Barcelona’s 4-0 defeat in Paris when his support was at an all-time low. He did recover the situation and direct the miracle turnaround in the return leg before finally crowning his departure with the Copa del Rey. Alas, the writing was on the wall. Early musings saw Enrique’s assistant Juan Carlos Unzue linked to the role but eventually, Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde won out. The one-time Barca player’s most pressing issue is the future of Andres Iniesta and potentially locating his successor. Rumoured candidates are PSG’s Marco Veratti and Man Utd’s Ander Herrera – both look costly options mind you. Tactically Valverde will have to address his team’s defensive solidity and consistency if he plans to make a bid for the title. It’s pretty safe to assume a period of adjustment won’t be afforded to him. Hit the ground running is his only option.

Athletic Bilbao, fresh from losing their darling to Barca, wasted little time in promoting Valverde’s former assistant – Jose Angel Ziganda – to the top job at the San Mames. Ziganda’s mandate will be the eternal problem in Bilbao – to keep hold of his best players. The European giant vultures, that pesky species, will no doubt be circling looking to pick off Inaki Williams and Aymeric Laporte. Manchester City were linked to a £50m deal for Laporte last summer but their interest seems to have cooled and Inaki Williams is no doubt destined for greater things but Bilbao will be hoping to resist overtures for at least one more season. If Williams is well-advised he should stay given the upcoming Russian World Cup in 2018 – a move could jeopardise his chances of meeting Vladimir Putin.

Chaos club Valencia are looking to usher in a “strong and stable” period after appointing Marcelino. They attempted to appoint him at the start of the 2016-17 season but were blocked by league rules preventing a manager taking control of two different teams in the same season. Marcelino left Villarreal before the season actually started last year but the Federation barred the appointment anyway. He has the credentials to set Los Che on the right path but it remains unclear whether he will have to work with his hands tied behind his back. Peter Lim’s ownership of the club hasn’t exactly been popular. Club hero Voro exits his caretaker manager role after ensuring the club’s top-flight status. With ease in the end, but at one point under his predecessor Cesare Prandelli they were flirting with the Segunda.

Jorge Sampaoli’s early season goings on at Sevilla attracted the coveting glances of his motherland and he followed Monchi out of the club when Argentina’s interest was made concrete. His was such a promising project when it kicked off in Andalucia but its success proved to be its downfall too. In truth, the relationship with the fans soured towards the end as they could see his inevitable departure on the horizon. Sampaoli’s escape was the perfect opportunity for Eduardo Berizzo. Fresh from guiding Celta Vigo to the Europa League semi-finals he was announced as Sevilla’s new man on June 1st. And his defection allowed the aforementioned Juan Carlos Unzue to further walk the path trodden by Luis Enrique and take the reins at Celta Vigo.

Mauricio Pelligrino decided to quit while he was ahead and resigned his position at Alaves following their Copa del Rey final defeat. Pelligrino has arguably just led the club to the best season in their history after also guiding them to a top half finish in La Liga. It’s rumoured he’s looking to ride his current wave of good fortune into the Premier League – Southampton has been mooted. Fellow Argentine Luis Zubeldia replaces Pelligrino.

And then we have Real Betis who have snatched Quique Setien from Las Palmas despite the islanders’ abysmal end to the campaign. Setien will be looking to mirror the start of his previous campaign and definitely not the end.

But spare your final thoughts for Las Palmas. All alone out there in the Atlantic, now jilted by their one-time sweetheart. They are the ones currently drowning their sorrows in the dying embers of the night. They as yet haven’t found their new flame and will have to drift rudderless through the unforgiving waves despite being promised that there were “plenty of fish in the sea…”

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