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A salute to Javi Calleja

The former Villarreal manager is done wrong yet again.

Deportivo Alaves v Getafe CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Go back to February 2020 here on the site and you’ll find me as the most adamant person here wanting Javi Calleja gone from Villarreal. Around that time, the club apparently agreed, and were already negotiating with Unai Emery to take his place. Then, a few weeks later, the pandemic struck, football shut down for months, and at long last we were told that the plan was to essentially rush through a massive amount of matches in a very short period of time to get the season accomplished.

When football shut down Villarreal was in 8th place on 38 points with 11 wins, 11 losses, and 5 draws. When things came back an we played 11 matches in the span of less than two months, Javi Calleja’s side responded by getting seven wins and a draw to climb all the way into fifth place and into the Europa League with four points to spare. It was a brilliant run of form and I would have to check the numbers but I don’t know that we’ve had as good an eleven game stretch in the league since then. Unfortunately for Calleja, the deal for his replacement was already in place and the man who had helped coach at our club since 2012 was let go for what looked like it would be the last time.

It felt wrong. Though I could see the logic of it all given the timing of how events transpired, and even though I felt like the job done pre-break hadn’t been up to standard, a faithful club servant had rallied his men and given us exactly what we needed and there did not seem to be the right appreciation for that in his dismissal.

When Javi got the job at Alaves I was thrilled for him. He absolutely deserved another shot in La Liga. The trouble was that Alaves were dead last in the league at the time, so Calleja had another pressure packed situation on his hands. Once again, he responded, and from the time he took over Alaves had the 8th best points return in the league scoring nearly as many wins in the last 9 matches as they had the entire season previous. They finished safe with four points to spare.

At that point, what Calleja needed was backing in the market that would never come. The only money spent for a player Alaves hadn’t had the year before was less than 2m on Mamadou Sylla, a forward with a long history of loans and only a decent return in goals in the Segunda last season. He’s played a total of 375 minutes this year. The message to Calleja was clear: continue the miracle you performed last season and if you cannot, your job is forfeit.

The miracle did not continue. Alaves have moved on to Jose Mendilibar who, granted, knows a thing or two about surviving in La Liga on a shoestring budget, but once again Javi finds himself unemployed under circumstances he had less than a fair chance to prevent. Having watched every single side in La Liga at least a couple times this season I’m very comfortable in saying that Alaves have the least talented roster by far, and yet the only reason they aren’t currently in a safe position is due to tiebreaks. Calleja was pulling water from a stone. To make matters worse, Alaves leaked that he would be losing his job several days ago, but that they were waiting for time to elapse so it would be cheaper for them to do so. That, at least, has hopefully been avoided by the sacking happening before the new year.

I don’t know what happens next for Calleja, but I hope he does well. Spanish football has been cruel to him the last couple years, and though I think moving to Unai Emery was ultimately a good thing for our club, I am disappointed that such a quality individual as Javi had to take the fall for it to happen. He’ll always have my support wherever he goes in his career, and I wish him nothing but the best. Endavant, Javi.