Can King's Cup stop Koeman K.O.?
Valencia coach's 'Liga' record since November has gone from bad to worse.
30 January 2008
MADRID - Valencia coach Ronald Koeman admits to being disappointed with the team's Liga results - 10 losses and just one win - since he took over less than three months ago. But when asked if he is scared by rumours that his job at the club is hanging by a thread, the Dutch coach couldn't answer. "I'm worried about the team, about the fans, and about the president," he said.
But while Valencia has plummeted through the Liga rankings and out of the Champions League since Koeman took charge in early November, the team is still alive and kicking in the King's Cup, where it has enjoyed five consecutive wins and has reached the quarterfinals. What is not yet clear is whether the team's performance in that competition is going to make or break the coach's future with the team.
Tonight Valencia will face Atlético de Madrid in the second leg of the Cup quarterfinals with a one-goal advantage, a strong position to defend. At its Mestalla Stadium last week, Valencia prevented Atlético from scoring a crucial away goal, meaning that if it nets one tonight at Vicente Calderón, Atlético would have to counter with three.
But goal scoring under Koeman has not been Valencia's strong suit. In the 10 league games Koeman has coached, Valencia has only scored five times, which is half the number put away by last-placed Levante during those same weeks. It is also five goals less than Athletic de Bilbao and Recreativo, both lingering on the cusp of relegation.
What's more, those five goals were scored in only two games, meaning that in the other eight, the team was shut out completely.
And now, besides - or perhaps due to - his on-field woes, Koeman is facing a new wave of criticism regarding the way he has been handling the team from both inside and outside of the establishment; criticism that had fallen elsewhere until lately.
Valencia president Juan Soler is the number-one shareholder at the club, and has counted on Koeman to do his dirty work, such as benching veterans David Albelda, Santiago Cañizares and Miguel Ángel Angulo for over a month with no clear explanation.
With Soler currently incommunicado due to a reported case of anxiety, Koeman has snubbed sporting director Miguel Ángel Ruiz's combined EUR 36-million choices to pick up the benched stars' pieces, Manuel Fernandes and Nikola Zigic: the first was ceded to Everton, and the latter has been steadily riding the bench.
During Valencia's 1-0 league loss last weekend against Almería, Koeman also benched new recruit Éver Banega, for whom the team had doled out another EUR 18 million in the winter market, opting for defensively inclined midfielders Marchena and Maduro - another controversial decision.
Furthermore, the fact that Koeman was seen entering senior official Rafa Salom's hotel room Monday and that the team's second-largest shareholder, Vicente Soriano, said on Monday that he is looking to sell his shares, sent rumours swirling that the boss could be in trouble.
When Koeman took over at Valencia, charged with introducing a more exciting style of play, the club was in fourth place, four points behind Liga leader Real Madrid. Two-and-a-half months later, it has dropped to 11th place and is 26 points behind Real.
Valencia's only area of success - the King's Cup, where the side has surprisingly pulled out five wins, and scored 10 goals in the process - is turning out to be a potential season-saver.
Yesterday, before bemoaning the unfairness of being criticised for his choice in substituting injured players at half-time against Almería, Koeman said: "I know if a team has a long winless spell, the coach is at fault and I accept these criticisms..."
It still remains to be seen if a long spell of King's Cup winning will serve to abate them.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO / Cándido Romaguera 2008]
Subject: Spanish news