He was appointed as a desperation measure in a time of crisis with the sole aim of avoiding relegation. Yet in the space of just six weeks Jose Luis Mendilibar has got Sevilla dreaming of a very different objective – another Europa League trophy.
The 62-year-old, previously best known for keeping minnows Eibar in the top flight for six seasons on a shoestring budget, was selected to replace Jorge Sampaoli as Sevilla boss in mid-March.
They were desperate times. Sampaoli’s brief but hectic five-month reign had unravelled with a run of three bad losses in four games, leaving the team just two points clear of the relegation zone.
The energetic Sampaoli had been accused of confusing his players with endless tactical tinkering.
Most vividly, this was demonstrated during a home loss to Osasuna when midfielder Oliver Torres was handed a sheet of tactical instructions from the Argentine coach, prompting full-back Marcos Acuna to angrily grab the paper, scrunch it into a ball and disdainfully throw it on to the pitch.
The antidote to the fired Sampaoli’s excessive strategic demands was clear: the arrival of Mendilibar, renowned as Spanish football’s most ‘back to basics’ coach, who unapologetically wasted no time in stating exactly how he felt the team needed to change.
“The idea is to play more simply, full stop.” he said before his first game in charge at Cadiz. “If you play simply, it’s more difficult to make mistakes.”
The improvement was immediate. A solid performance saw Cadiz defeated 2-0, with one of the goals coming when defender Loic Bade launched a free-kick 60 yards downfield, Bryan Gil flicked it on and Youssef En-Nesyri ran through to score. Just like he said, simple.
The goal was heralded as “poetry” by local newspaper Diario de Sevilla, because it “perfectly summed up how it’s also possible to win with another type of football”.
If you believed Spanish football is all about ‘tiki-taka’ short passing, think again.
That old-school style has continued to reinvigorate Sevilla to an unexpected degree, with the previously under-performing players thriving under the clear and calmly delivered instructions of their new coach.
To push high up the field, to press the opposition, play the ball forward as quickly as possible and use plenty of width to deliver a steady stream of crosses into the penalty area.
With the team’s new-found direction and confidence, Mendilibar’s seven league games in charge have resulted in five wins, a draw and just one defeat, banishing relegation concerns and sparking hopes that European qualification might still be within reach.
But the real highlight came in the Europa League quarter-final against Manchester United, which had been more or less given up by many as a hopeless task.
Instead, it resulted in a rousing 5-2 aggregate victory as Mendi’s men used the second leg as an invitation to tear into the opposition from start to finish.
Heading into Thursday’s semi-final first leg trip to Juventus, that triumph has prompted many Sevilla fans to start believing their team will once again lift a trophy that has become ‘their own’ in recent years.
They have won a remarkable six Europa League titles between 2006 and 2020, including three in a row under Unai Emery from 2014 to 2016.
Bookmakers don’t agree. Sevilla are ranked outsiders for the competition behind fellow semi-finalists Juve, Bayer Leverkusen and Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
But Sevilla under Mendilibar are a totally different proposition to the confused mess they had become towards the end of Sampaoli’s reign. They now know exactly how they want to play and execute those plans with a determined sense of conviction.
They are also relatively fresh. The staging of Saturday’s Copa del Rey final, won by Real Madrid against Osasuna, meant there were no weekend games in La Liga, so Sevilla are heading to Turin without a game since last Thursday’s come-from-behind 3-2 home victory over Espanyol.
Regardless of how quickly he has transformed the team’s fortunes, however, Mendilibar’s future remains unclear.
The short-term stop-gap nature of his appointment was reflected in the fact he was only given a contract until the end of the season, and long-serving director of football Monchi has refused to be drawn on whether the Spaniard will stay or if a new coach will be appointed in the summer.
There will also be plenty of movement in the transfer market. Four of the current squad are loanees and Monchi has already admitted costs will need to be cut if the team doesn’t qualify for Europe.
Thanks to the remarkable improvement inspired by Mendilibar, playing in next season’s Champions League as a reward for winning ‘their’ Europa League – yet again – is within reach.
And if that happens, surely Sevilla’s new boss is here to stay.
DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policies of Homebase Television Ltd.
- President Commissions 36.5 Million Dollars Hospital In The Tain District
- You Will Not Go Free For Killing An Hard Working MP – Akufo-Addo To MP’s Killer
- I Will Lead You To Victory – Ato Forson Assures NDC Supporters