FEATURE | Examining José Bordalás’ start to life at Valencia

Valencia CF is often a complicated institution, a place where more is required in order to thrive than in many other places. Challenges are as normal as air and the landmines one has to constantly circumvent on the road to success are as prominent as the heat. The past few years have been no different, and Valencia’s drama is well-documented. One thing that has not been spoken about enough though is the managerial side of things. Of course, everyone knows about the absurd decision to fire former coach Marcelino. What most have not fully grasped is how much of a drop in quality they have consequently had to deal with in the dugout. Since the departure of Marcelino, Valencia have struggled with structure and an on-pitch identity. They have become a less daunting team to face for most sides, and the flaws in the coaching of the side have gradually multiplied. Admittedly, there has been a lot of instability created by those in charge that has directly affected the personnel that get to put on the club’s jersey every week, with exodus after exodus and insufficient efforts made to replace departed key players. That said, the club still has players talented enough to deliver reasonably well with the right coaching and guidance.

This summer, they hired Getafe manager and former rival, José Bordalás, the first truly tactically astute manager they have had since Marcelino. Albert Celades was a rookie with so many flaws despite some nice ideas — experience could see him become a fine manager someday — and Javi Gracia spent his entire time there trying to get fired. In Bordalás, Valencia have a manager with a lot to prove and the tactical astuteness that they have lacked for a while. He is one of those managers that comes with a lot of baggage, but they are usually the ones that are worth it. The perception of Bordalás is mixed; on the one hand, there are those who respect his results and discard his means. He did a ridiculously good job at Getafe with the resources he had, with respect to results, almost getting them into the CL at some point. On the other hand, his methods were ugly and his team often crossed the line between doing what was required to get a result and murdering sportsmanship. The Valencia fans who have reservations about him do so with good reason. For years, his Getafe team brawled with Valencia and constantly played dirty. There were a lot of fouls and red cards in clashes between the two sides, with a lot of bad blood and a brewing enmity between him and Marcelino at some point. There were certain things that were not particularly forgivable like Damian Suárez deliberately elbowing Santi Mina in the box and the same guy stamping hard on a 17-year old Kangin Lee. These were things that were normal for Bordalás’ side, too normal for it not to be a reflection of what he sent his side out to do. They were also the top fouling team in Europe every season, playing some of the fewest minutes with the ball in play. Valencia might be the home of grit and resilience, but that type of ugliness is not something the club’s fans appreciate. The big worry for some was whether Bordalás would reproduce that at the club and turn the players into thugs.

The skepticism got louder within a minute of the new season, ironically against Getafe, when Hugo Guillamón received a red card for a clumsy and dangerous challenge. It was the most Bordalás of starts to a season or game. Of course, Getafe themselves picked up a red card later as Valencia managed to win that game. Thankfully, it was merely a freak incident and was not indicative of what Bordalás was bringing to the club. At least, it has not looked so far. Since that game, Valencia have looked like the serious team they once were, a well-structured pressing team with a solid shape and the tactical discipline required. In a short time, Bordalás has gotten the team to become largely difficult to beat again, a daunting team that hardly anyone would be excited to face. One great thing that he has done so far is moving Hugo Guillamón into midfield, something that previous manager Javi Gracia should have done upon seeing his weaknesses and strengths. After trying it out in pre-season, Bordalás settled for it and it has paid off so far. No game quite encapsulates the genius of this move than Valencia’s recent draw with Athletic Club in which Guillamón was unplayable. He ran the show and embodied the role of a midfield organiser, even having the time to set up Guedes’s assist for new signing Marcos André’s late equaliser.

Valencia suddenly look difficult to score against – freak result against Sevilla aside. In the first four games of the season, they gave up just one big chance. In their fifth game of the season against high-flying Real Madrid, they gave up just one big chance, towards the end of the game. That was a game they dominated for over an hour and looked on course to win before Real Madrid’s late comeback. It was a performance that showed just what Bordalás’ team could be and the depth of his work with the side.

Despite all the positives, it is imperative for some cautiousness to go with all the optimism and excitement. Bordalás has so far shown very obvious flaws. His in-game management is a problem for now. He seems to make the wrong substitution far too often, something which seems to put his side into trouble rather than boost them. He does not seem to read the game well enough or know the right way to fix whatever issues he observes. Another issue is his talent identification. It looks rather suspect. There are certain players he seems to rate higher than others, which have been head-scratchers. Some of his signings – players he specially asked for – have been unremarkable choices that have gone on to show nothing so far, but one cannot yet pass judgment on that until months from now. It is important to point out that Omar Alderete, one player he requested, has been brilliant so far and looks to be the perfect Ezequiel Garay replacement.

One would have expected him to instantly fall in love with players such as Manu Vallejo and Uroš Račić, players who mix quality with the kind of tenacity Bordalás’ sides are known for. He also seems to like Jason Remeseiro and views Denis Cheryshev as a starter. In Jason’s time at Valencia, it is hard to remember a single good game he has had or any good qualities he even has as a player. Cheryshev, on his part, is a player who impacts the game better off the bench with his directness and willingness to put low crosses into the box. As a starter, he has always struggled at the club and looks generally less effective. He simply isn’t starter material for Valencia. Manu Vallejo is one player who has been on the verge of exploding for a while. Despite all he has shown, Gracia and now Bordalás have failed to give him minutes or continuity for him to show the bags of ability he has.

Bordalás also seems to have one questionable selection decision in every game. There is just something about his line-ups, some error that opens the door for the opponents to exploit certain flaws. If it is not starting Dimitri Foulquier at left-back against Real Madrid, with two natural left-backs on the bench, it is starting Jason in Seville when Yunus Musah was right there. Things like that take one or two substitutions to correct, by which time Valencia could easily be battling a deficit. The current system also seems to only be suited to the standard starting XI. The recent injuries to José Gayà, Carlos Soler and Thierry Correia have put Valencia in trouble, with Bordalás unable to adapt the team’s setup to the fit players in the squad. What those three contribute to the side in the current system is not replaceable within the rest of the squad. A smarter move would be to look at the qualities of the rest of the players and adapt things to their strengths, pending when those three return to the side.

All in all, though, Bordalás has done reasonably well so far. He has convincingly beaten the teams he is expected to beat, lost to the teams expected to beat him, and drawn against a team around the same level as his. If Valencia keep that up all season, then there is no reason why they should not be in European places by the time the season is over. That is a realistic target that they look on course for, barring any disasters. Valencia have looked exciting at times, with a clarity of ideas that the previous two managers could not achieve. The likes of Guedes and Soler have looked on fire in his system. If he can properly integrate talented youngsters like Koba Lein Koindredi and Yunus Musah, Valencia could be set for a truly memorable season. Bordalás could last longer than previous managers too if results on the pitch are good and he avoids clashing with the club’s management, who are demonstrably difficult to deal with and often at odds with their managers’ wishes.

Astorre S. Cerebronè

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