- Birthplace: Madrid, Spain
- Previous Clubs: Merida, Murcia, Tenerife, Getafe, Alaves, Poli Ejido, Rayo Vallecano, Real Betis
- Honours: Segunda Division B: 2007–08; Segunda Division: 2010–11
2013/14 English Premier League Record
When Pepe Mel was appointed by West Brom as Steve Clarke’s successor in January 2014, the response was fairly predictable. “Who is he?” screamed Baggies fans on forums and phone-ins. His arrival was met with the same suspicion as that of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton 12 months earlier -- another coach coming from La Liga to replace a British boss.
However, a quick glance at Mel’s record should have put them at ease. With Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis -- two clubs with an unfashionable profile not dissimilar to West Brom -- Mel had inspired his sides to battle well above their station, working wonders on limited resources.
Mel’s playing career began with Real Madrid at the age of 11 and he progressed through Los Blancos’ C and B teams before leaving the club in 1987. Mel, a striker by trade, spent most of his time playing in the Spanish second tier, with his zenith coming as he top-scored for Real Betis as they were promoted in 1989-90 -- a respectable 14-goal return coming in his one and only La Liga campaign the following season. He retired at the age of 35 having also represented Osasuna, Castellon, Granada, Benidorm, Getafe, Ecija Balompie and French club Angers.
Turning his attention to coaching, Mel’s early career in the dugout was less than inspiring as he threatened to become something of a journeyman taking in short-lived spells outside La Liga with Coslada, Merida, Murcia, Getafe, Alaves and Poli Ejido in his first six years, with his only Primera Division position coming at Tenerife, where he was sacked halfway through the season with the club eventually suffering relegation.
Dropping down to the third tier with Rayo Vallecano in 2006, Mel began to build a more positive coaching reputation. Achieving promotion to the Segunda Division with Madrid’s lesser lights, he then took them to the brink of a return to La Liga. His efforts did not go unnoticed and in 2010, he returned to Betis -- where he had starred as a player -- joining the club at a difficult time on and off the pitch.
Mel transformed Betis into Segunda champions, achieving promotion in his first season after getting the best out of his players, who played with style and attacking freedom. Jose Canas and Benat Etxebarria were among those to flourish under his tutelage and in their promotion season, they beat Barcelona 3-1 in the second leg of their Copa del Rey tie (though the first leg had been lost 5-0) with a memorable performance, just a few months before the Catalans destroyed Manchester United in the Champions League final.
A first season in La Liga brought consolidation but it was in 2012-13 that Mel really proved his pedigree, taking unfancied Betis to a seventh-place finish and Europa League qualification. However, he quickly became a victim of his own success as clubs raided Betis for their best players. Benat, who broke into the Spain squad under Mel, moved to Athletic Bilbao, while Canas was poached by Swansea.
With his squad broken up and star striker Ruben Castro suffering injury problems, Mel was fighting a losing battle to keep Betis competitive and although he secured progress through the Europa League group stage, the need to fight on two fronts took its toll on his team. With Betis sitting bottom of La Liga heading into the 2013-14 winter break, Mel was sacked. The reaction of Betis fans, however, told its own story. As ESPN’s Sid Lowe commented: “Virtually every Real Betis fan wanted him to stay. On the day his departure was announced fans threw rocks at the press room windows: that’s how much he meant to the supporters.”
Mel was not out of work for long, though, with West Brom recognising his coaching abilities and appointing him in January 2014.
Strengths: Excellent tactical knowledge, he also has a strong ability to communicate with players and has proven adept at building a good group bond. Passion in abundance makes him an excellent man-motivator, while Mel’s loyalty also makes him stand out. When asked if he would bring any Betis players to West Brom, he said: “I’m not signing any Betis player. It’s sacred for me. If there’s anything that’s impossible to buy in football then it is people’s love.”
Weaknesses: Mel can get a little over-emotional and has a tendency to get stuck in ruts, while defensive organisation is not his strong point.
Career high: Taking Betis into the Europa League with a seventh-placed La Liga finish in 2012-13.
Career low: His first La Liga job with Tenerife was disastrous and while the man he replaced, Rafa Benitez, went on to bigger and better things with Valencia, Mel was left scraping around in the Spanish lower leagues.
Tactics: Mel previously favoured a 4-5-1 formation with a high defensive line, though in the 2012-13 season he evolved a very flexible 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, demonstrating his tactical flexibility. He prefers a possession heavy, attractive style and was particularly lauded in Spain for always taking the fight to Barcelona rather than parking the bus.
Quotes: “I'd rather my daughter was pregnant than Betis relegated” -- Mel wears his heart on his sleeve during Betis’ battle with the drop in 2012.
Trivia: Mel won the Segunda Division Pichichi in 1989-90 -- scoring 22 goals as Betis were promoted to La Liga as runners-up. He is also one of the few Premier League managers on Twitter - @pepe_mel.
West Bromwich Albion Squad