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Marcelino: An Appreciation

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Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it would be a shame if the form of Marcelino Garcia Toral’s departure defined his Villarreal career. There was a banner near the halfway line in El Madrigal that put it best: “Marcelino shows us the way”, it said, and for 3 and 1/2 seasons, he did.

Sr. Roig had approached Marcelino to take over in the summer of 2012, but the Asturian demurred—he wasn’t sure he had enough confidence “in the project”, he said. However, when Sr. Roig came calling again in January 2013, he said yes. His first match in charge was really a chance to see his new team in action, and the important thing was not the 5-0 loss to Real Madrid Castilla, it was how Marcelino, and his assistants Rubén Uria and Ismael Fernandez, set about changing the culture at Villarreal.

His first real game in charge was a 3-0 win over Sabadell, noteworthy for his inclusion of Mario Gaspar at RB and the introduction of Jaume Costa at LB in the second half (both had been little-used under the previous coach).

Villarreal won a whirlwind promotion (their only loss in the last months of the season coming to Fran Escriba’s Elche in El Madrigal in an unforgettable match), but rather than simply consolidating their Primera position, Marcelino led Villarreal to a sixth-place league placing, following that up with another sixth-place, a Copa del Rey semifinal appearance and a Europa League quarterfinal loss to Sevilla. 2015-16 saw a fourth place finish and our first qualification for the Champions League in five years, and an appearance in the Europa league semifinals—again, our first in five years. And, for the first time ever, Villarreal topped the Primera table for a couple of heady weeks in the autumn.

It would have been appropriate if Villarreal had progressed to the EL final and given Sr. Roig the trophy he’s deserved after all these years, but it wasn’t meant to be, and the season fizzled out with fourth place already achieved, though a victory over Valencia in the Mestalla certainly pleased the fanbase. Marcelino’s last match in charge was a desultory loss at Sporting Gijon, who needed the points to stay up.

We’ll probably never know everything that went on behind the scenes, but let’s not let the manner of his departure blind ourselves to the fact that Marcelino will be remembered as one of Villarreal’s most successful managers.

Marcelino worked wonders with defenders such as Victor Ruiz, Eric Bailly and Gabriel Paulista—the latter two being snapped up by EPL clubs. His pragmatic, counterattacking approach wasn’t liked by everyone, but it was effective, and first Jeremy Perbet (in the Segunda), then Gio dos Santos, Luciano Vietto, then Cedric Bakambu....all had breakout seasons under him.

FourFourTwo had him as number 14 on their list of 50 coaches a few weeks ago, it’s a little bittersweet to read the last sentence now.

Maybe Marcelino is too much of an old-school coach to succeed in today’s environment for more than a couple of years; certainly his 3 and 1/2 seasons at Villarreal represent the longest coaching stint in his career. He turns 51 this week, and we wish him well, whatever the future brings.