La Liga: Sacked Antonio Álvarez was Sevilla’s fall guy

By Simon Jalie
sevilla fc
(Photo: Max Kim)

sevilla fc

Antonio Álvarez turned out nearly 350 times for Sevilla as a player in the 1970s and 80s, making him something of a mythical figure in the eyes of the fans.

As manager, however, the problem with Álvarez was that he was never the first choice to take over from Manolo Jimenez back in March.

Jimenez’s sacking mid-way through the 2009-10 season was the culmination of a run of five La Liga matches without a win and a humiliating Champions League exit to CSKA Moscow. Sevilla’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League again were looking decidedly slim at that point but Álvarez made the transition from Director of Football smoothly and enjoyed some immediate success.

The Andalusian club eventually pipped Real Mallorca to fourth spot in the final minute of the final match of the season thanks to that famous Rodri goal and beat Atletico Madrid in the final of Copa del Rey to bring some much-coveted silverware to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

Why then, after five matches of the 2010-11 campaign and a far from irretrievable seventh position, has Álvarez already been shown the door?

The simple answer: Sevilla President Jose Maria Del Nido never really wanted him as manager and it was only the club’s failure to snare Luis Aragones that saw Álvarez installed in the first place.

That is the basic underlying motive but certain factors this season have made it easier for Del Nido -the outspoken Sevilla boss who insists on wearing a fedora hat so that he resembles a 21st century Al Capone -to give Álvarez the boot.

The two-legged Champions League play-off defeat to Sporting Braga in August is the main point of reference. Having worked so hard to claim 4th spot last year, it was galling to then see their place in the group stages of Europe’s premier competition usurped by a Portuguese debutant.

Their exit at that stage also has wider permutations for Spain, who enjoy the privilege of occupying four spots in the Champions League thanks to their UEFA coefficient ranking. Fortunately, the continued success of La Liga teams in Europe – which is rivalled only by the English Premier League’s representatives – means that they are unlikely to forfeit that privilege in the foreseeable future.

Álvarez’s man-management style also came under criticism in his final weeks at Sevilla and he felt the need to defend himself in a press conference convened after his dismissal, stating that he did not have any personal gripes with any of the players at the club.

There is no doubt, however, that perceived dressing-room unrest, which was reported in the press, unsettled the team. Speculation about a fall-out with Sevilla’s biggest star, Brazilian number 9 Luis Fabiano, also undermined Álvarez, and if there was no foundation to the rumours, it seems strange that the striker was left out of the team several times this month despite an apparent clean bill of health.

Presidential post-match interviews are a Spanish curiosity and a journalist’s dream. Those conducted at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan over the last few weeks have allowed us to see first-hand how Sevilla’s failure to win at home since the Super Cup first leg victory over Barcelona has infuriated Del Nido.

While performing effectively on the road -excluding the recent Hercules debacle -defeats to Sporting Braga and Paris Saint-Germain coupled with draws against Deportivo La Coruna and Racing Santander suggest that the home quandary is more psychological than anything.

If that is indeed the case, a managerial change was the obvious solution. And who better to bring in to fix the problem than former Real Mallorca manager Gregorio Manzano. After a trip to Germany to play Borussia Dortmund in the Europe League, Manzano’s first challenge at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan will be the visit of Atletico Madrid this weekend in a rematch of last season’s Copa del Rey final. A win in that game would send out a clear message of intent.

Balearic club Mallorca were impeccable on home turf at the Ono Estadi under Manzano. Last season their record in Palma was the best outside of the top two in the division, and that is a strength which Jose Maria Del Nido is hoping Manzano will carry into his new club.

Sevilla still have plenty of time to mount a serious assault on the top four this season. The benefit of an early change is that no irrevocable damage has yet been done. The new manager’s main task, besides forging a strong home base, is to reintroduce some harmony into the dressing room.

Players like Luis Fabiano, who is coveted by top clubs all over Europe, and Diego Capel, who has not seen nearly enough playing time over the last couple of seasons, will have to be placated. It would be a shame if they were forced to sell such stars, even though Sevilla’s world-famous scouting network and academy would almost certainly produce replacements.

The dream for most local fans is that Sevilla will evolve beyond their current status as a top-class football factory and shake off the justifiable moniker that it is essentially a selling club. Football finance is such, however, that all but a very select handful of European clubs are precisely that.

For those who are curious, here is what Sevilla might look like if they had refused big money offers in the last few years:

Sevilla as it might have been:

4-4-2: Andres Palop; Adriano, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Dani Alves; Seydou Keita, Christian Poulsen, Jose Antonio Reyes, Jesus Navas; Julio Baptista, Luis Fabiano.

Some of the players who have moved on have blossomed elsewhere, others have found it more difficult but, the fact of the matter is, all of them were top players when they were at Sevilla.

Judging by the players coming through, the future looks bright, as the Andalusian club continues to unearth formidable talent such as Diego Perotti, Jose Carlos and Rodri.

The hope now is that Gregorio Manzano can use these resources, combined with the current crop of stars, to construct a new team capable of loosening – alongside the likes of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal – the stranglehold with which Barcelona and Real Madrid’s currently grip La Liga.

Read more on Spanish football at Simon Jalie’s La Liga Blog

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