On the phone of all club chairmen of top flight clubs that operate on a limited budget, there is button that says “dial in case of emergencies”. In England this puts you through to the agent of Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce, depending on who is between jobs at the time. The Spanish equivalent is Pepe Mel. He even got the call to the UK when Big Sam and Pulis couldn’t be reached!
He is the football saint of almost lost causes and the ‘go-to’ man when all else has failed. The latest club to engage his recovery services is Deportivo La Coruña. He drove through the night from Andalucía to Galicia to answer the SOS when their position became desperate. You half expect him to arrive in a tow truck as he delves under the bonnet of the broken footballing vehicle.
In fact he’s the opposite of the man in greasy overalls who has a van load of replacement parts. Mel dons an immaculate suit and starts to fix the broken parts.
This is his 12th job in football, twice he rescued Real Betis from the second division and of course West Brom dialled “M for Mel” when relegation was threatening in 2014. He doesn’t tend to stay long, he does the job he was asked to do and departs for a spell penning novels (he’s written three) until the next emergency calls comes in.
Deportivo hired him at a time of desperation, they hadn’t won in 2017 and suffered four successive defeats in February, with a daunting March ahead.
Mel’s initiation was to be four games in eleven days, and not just any four games. It was Atlético, relegation rivals Sporting Gijón, Mel’s old club Real Betis and then the free-scoring Barcelona.
He knuckled the team down for a draw with last year’s Champions League finalists, inspired them to beat Sporting in the 93rd minute, found the energy for a midweek draw with Betis and then saved his best until last.
Barcelona arrived in town as global headliners after arguably the greatest comeback of all time against PSG. Messi and co had scored seventeen goals in three games. Any opposition was just seen as stooges, like when the Harlem Globetrotters strut their stuff.
Incredibly Mel masterminded one of the biggest shocks of the season. The first goal was scored by Joselu, a striker who’d seen little playing time since signing on loan from Stoke City. The manager unleashed him and he ran around like a frenzied Spanish bull.
The masterstroke was giving local lad Álex Bergantiños his first start of the season. I say lad, he’s been at the club fifteen years, like a part of the furniture but this season an unused bit of the furniture.
It was Galician Hollywood, as he emerged from the chorus line to score the winning goal to save his home-town club a relegation scrap.
The Pepe Mel influence had worked in less than two weeks. So you know the answer when your favourite La Liga team appears doomed, “Who you gonna call…?”