La Liga has experienced it’s first managerial casualties of the season, with Albert Ferrer replaced by Miroslav Djuckic at Córdoba, whilst Levante also made a swift change, sacking José Luis Mendilibar and bringing in Lucas Alcaraz. ISF’s Adam Matvya ponders whether that choice leads the club in a different footballing direction, or if little will change at the Ciutat de València.
Following an emergency board meeting on Monday, Levante dismissed José Luis Mendilibar after the club’s dreadful start to the La Liga season and appointed former Granada manager, Lucas Alcaraz.
Many saw Mendilibar’s sacking at Osasuna (just over one year ago) a bit premature, as it occurred a mere three games into the season. The Zaldibar-born manager was furthermore crippled by a lack of support from Osasuna’s board members, who failed to provide him with the necessary players to compete following the club’s 7th place finish in 2011-2012. But his failures at Levante are more cut-and-dried, as the Valencian club have only been able to muster one win in eight matches, with a league-worst goal differential of -16.
Replicating the success of former managers Juan Ignacio Martínez and Joaquín Caparrós was never going to be easy. Levante are in the midst of an historic five-year run in Spain’s top-flight. Los Granotes have spent all but 10 seasons of their existence in the various lower divisions of Spanish football, so it goes without saying what an accomplishment it’s been to have remained in the Primera División for as long as they have.
Most of this success can be credited to Quico Catalán who took over as club chairman in 2010, two years after Levante filed for bankruptcy to the Commercial Courts in Valencia. Catalán has since helped the club relinquish their debts through a policy of austerity. According to an address issued at a forum for the Spanish Association of Directors in May, Catalán revealed that the club have managed to repay €20 million in debts and refinance another €17 million, as well as having increased television revenue by €8 million.
These financial improvements don’t even take into consideration what Catalán has done for the club from a marketing perspective. From season-ticket initiatives, free transportation to away games, and sponsorships with Nike and East United (the latter of which is part of Catalán’s extensive marketing strategy to increase Levante’s presence in Asia), the small Valencian club have gone from potential liquidation to what Catalán calls a “model of success.”
These austere policies, however, have put the club in an awkward place. Despite the club’s attempt to increase it’s fan-base and be progressive in it’s administrative decisions, Levante have the oldest squad in La Liga (an average age of 28.8) and play some of the most anti-progressive, pragmatic football in the Primera. They are the proverbial “Stoke of Spain.” While this approach has come with great success in recent years, it’s beginning to become a hindrance, as the club is somewhat stuck in between wanting to evolve long-term while remaining loyal to the pragmatism and austerity that has gotten Levante where they are.
After Mendilibar’s dismissal, there was a window of opportunity for Catalán to appoint a manager with fresh, progressive tactics, such as Pepe Mel, but instead opted for Lucas Alcaraz. This is Alcaraz’ 11th club since his first spell at Granada in 1995 (when they were in Segunda División B). He is a self-proclaimed Granadino with impressive defensive tactics, but resigned as manager of his hometown club after what he perceived to be a year of under-achievement.
Alcaraz’ defensive proclivities are what likely landed him the Levante job. In previous years having established themselves as one of the most efficient defensive teams in the Primera, Levante have gotten off to a horrid start allowing a league-worst 20 goals, while managing to score a measly four (also a league-worst). Though there were rumors in the Valencia media that Catalán was considering a move for Mel, the team’s defensive performances have been too dire to make such a high-risk move. After all, Levante’s sole objective at this point is to secure permanence. Catalán, as much as he wants to move the club in a forward direction, likely did not see Mel as a relegation battler.
Rumors are now circulating that Lorenzo Juarros, Real Sociedad’s sporting director, has identified Mel as a possible replacement for Jagoba Arrasate, should La Real‘s manager be relieved of his duties. The Basque club are actually below Levante on the table in 19th place, and so if this move should come to fruition, it will be interesting to see how Mel fairs at what Catalán deemed too high-risk.
Whatever happens, Catalán’s achievements at Levante cannot be overstated. He has done more for the club than any president in Levante’s 105-year (pre-Gymnastic merger) existence. While many would like to see this administrative success translate into better football, the club’s present objective is to survive, not transform. If Alcaraz helps Levante achieve that , such discussions of transformation can go on. But for now, Los Granotes will be fighting for their lives, and so another seven months of classic, hard-headed Levante football it is. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
This article was originally published here.