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Javi Calleja’s press conference....and a difficult decision ahead for Villarreal

Seems a decision will be made early next week as to his future

Villarreal CF v Real Sociedad - La Liga Santander
Calleja with La Real coach Imanol (they were teammates at Villarreal for two years)
Photo by Jose Miguel Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Javi Calleja’s press conference, which normally doesn’t bring much in the way of anything too interesting, was a bit different today. It began as usual with him talking about the next opponent, Eibar, and focusing on the desire to finish fifth with a win, plus wanting to send off ‘players who won’t be wearing the Villarreal shirt again’ (he referenced Santi and Bruno) with a win. So far. so good.

Then he was asked about the rumors regarding his future. He took a deep breath and said basically it wasn’t up to him, he had done everything he could and his loyalty to the club was absolute, regardless. (Interestingly, the clip of the press conference on the club website doesn’t include this; part is here:)

What he says—that he is grateful for the opportunity to come back and coach Villarreal, that he’s aware of the rumors but doesn’t let them affect him, he’s focused on the last match of the season, etc etc—all that is fine, but the body language is revealing, I think. He also said in the course of the conference that he had already given his thoughts to the board about the squad and his plans for next season, and that it wasn’t up to him whether he continues or not.

Since this came out, José Luis Lizarraga has flushed this out a bit with a story in EPM. During the break, with Villarreal in a tailspin and out of the European positions, Villarreal made contact with Unai Emery and may have reached a pre-agreement to hire him (with a cost to pay if either side backs out, probably more than the club would have to pay Calleja if he is not retained). But, of course, the team went on a roll and has qualified for Europe again!

So Villarreal perhaps have two coaches available to coach next year. One, Unai Emery, would be a very high-profile hire and has had great success with Spanish teams; the other, Calleja, the faithful club servant who has led the club to Europe again.

The best analogy I have is to a team that has won promotion, but the team has to decide whether the coach who brought them up is going to be good enough for the Primera. Because the real issue for the board is do they think Calleja is a good enough coach to take this team to the next level—which really means competing effectively in more than one competition—or not?

Some history:

Sr. Roig has been very loyal to coaches who had good seasons, but not with good results. Juan Carlos Garrido took over in January 2010 from Ernesto Valverde and got the club into Europe (well, thanks to UEFA kicking out Mallorca). 2010-11 was great, we got to the EL semis and finished 4th in the league. But Garrido was gone in the middle of the next season.

Fran Escribá took over on very short notice after Marcelino was fired in the summer of 2016; he led the team to fifth place in La Liga (and an underwhelming performance in Europe, knocked out at the round of 32 stage by Roma), but was fired in September of the next year.

Javi Calleja replaced him, got the team to fifth place again (and, again, round of 32 elimination) but was fired in December. He came back 49 days later, kept the team up and got to the EL quarters. Which led to this year and fifth or sixth place, with no European competition.

When we talked on a podcast awhile back the feeling was even if Calleja didn’t get us into Europe, an argument could be made that the season was so strange it shouldn’t be held against him. Now the shoe is on the other foot—with the long break and the matches without fans taking place every 3 or 4 days to finish out, does our recent success have that much relevance for next year?

The board showed faith in Calleja in appointing him to replace Escribá, and in giving him a contract in the summer of 2018. That didn’t work. They showed faith in reappointing him in January 2019, and continuing with him this year. Did that work, or would it have worked in a normal season? That’s the question the board has to answer.

Whatever decision comes down will be made soon after the end of the season. If it’s to hire Emery, I think everyone will feel for Calleja personally and there will be some anger at how it has worked out. But if Calleja is extended, I think there will be some disappointment at going with a coach who is not likely to get the most out of your roster.