A LOOK AT LA LIGA
At the turning point of the season a very strange thing happened in Valencia; they didn't sack their coach!
In a decade-long game of stick or twist the club had always opted for twist, and the cards they chose never improved their hand.
It appeared that Marcelino García Toral was about to head out of the same exit door as the previous 14 coaches since the club last won a trophy. Even Ronald Koeman was sacked days after winning the Copa del Rey.
Marcelino's case wasn't strong; his team had been knocked out of the Champions League and were just four points ahead of the relegation zone at the season's turning point. White handkerchief sales were on the up in Valencia.
Luckily the club's hierarchy had learned from experience. For me, the disruption began in November 2014 when Nuno Espirito Santo left the club. Given his achievements at Wolves, we now know that he is a most accomplished manager. Back then a fourth place finish and qualification for the Champions League wasn't considered an achievement.
Nuno departed on the whistle of a defeat against Sevilla. By the time we'd done our full-time wrap, his parting had been announced.
Nuno was eyed with suspicion by supporters because of his link to the super-agent Jorge Mendes and the influence he had over the owner Peter Lim. Next came Lim's business partner. Gary Neville is an excellent analyst of English football, but he didn't speak the footballing language of Spain and he was soon gone. The door to the manager's office was a revolving one. Four other men briefly tried their hand before Marcelino arrived.
In Marcelino there's a hint of Rafa Benítez. He's a man with a plan and realistic targets that are generally hit. At Villarreal he targeted promotion and then three top-six finishes. The bonus was reaching the Europa League semi-final. His aims at the Mestella had to be more imaginative.
At Valencia, he inherited the 12th best team in La Liga and took them to fourth and into the Champions League for the first time since 2015 in his first season.
The second campaign was always going to be a stretch. Balancing European and domestic football is tough for all but the super-rich clubs. Valencia didn't win in the opening six league games of the season and inspiring a squad of players, best described as 'just above average', was proving difficult. Too many games were drawn.
When the hierarchy decided to let him see out his project the players reacted. Thursday nights became an adventure and they made it to the semi-final of the Europa League.
In La Liga the draws became narrow victories and they eventually made the top four with only six days of the season remaining.
The bonus was the Copa del Rey. Barcelona's players were still mentally scarred by the Champions League defeat to Liverpool, Valencia's players were pumped with adrenalin after finishing the season with a sprint.
There are so many comparisons to the Benítez teams. Few of the players would be taken by a top three club if there was a fire sale. Marcelino has inspired footballers who looked lost elsewhere. Dani Parejo, who rebuilt his career at QPR, outshone the Barcelona midfield in the final. The Man of the Match was Francis Coquelin who left little impression on Arsenal supporters. Same with Gabriel Paulista. The scorers Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro have found their level at Valencia.
The club's success comes down to strong management, organisation and patience with a project. After delivering the first trophy in eleven years Marcelino should be safe - well for now.