Monday, October 26, 2009
Resino's fall from grace
Last Friday, Atlético de Madrid's supremo, Enrique Cerezo, decided to fire the rojiblanco coach, Abel Resino. Just like all things Atlético, Abel's tenure was an emotional rollercoaster full of expectations, disappointments and a significant amount of comedy.
During these intense eight months, any sharp observer would distinguish four very different phases. Let's take a closer look at them.
Phase 1 (2/Feb/09 - 30/Jun/09): "Abel, Atletico's Guardiola"
After the demise of Javier Aguirre, the Madrid media, never one to lose a chance for an outrageous comparison, greeted Abel as "Atlético's Guardiola". This headline would only make sense if you didn't know a single thing about Abel, Guardiola, Atlético or Barcelona.
Indeed the new boss was a man who, as a former player, knew his new club well and had little experience as a manager, both characteristics he shared with Pep when the latter took charge of Barcelona.
However, Abel's time as an iconic goalie for Atlético was hardly comparable to that of Guardiola at Barcelona, especially in the trophy department. Abel only managed to win a meagre two Copa del Rey titles in eight years, while Pep, instrumental in a very successful Barcelona side, won six Liga titles, two Copas and even one Champions League title.
But the differences between the two go further than their winning habits (or lack of thereof). Their approach to playing football and the environment they found at their respective clubs were also factors that ended up generating opposite results.
Abel had a difficult start at Atlético's helm, and needed a couple of months to partially address the defensive issues the team had suffered during the Javier Aguirre era. His own line-ups were somewhat erratic, like the Champions League away match at Porto, when he benched his in-form striker Diego Forlán when Atlético needed to score to make it to the next stage.
A comeback home win against Barcelona finally put the team on the right path, and they ended the 2008-09 season with a run of six consecutive victories to claim a Champions League spot. Abel had delivered, and faced the new season with the promise of bigger and better things to come.
Phase 2 (1/Jul/09 - 24/Aug/09): Conflicting visions
The issues began to appear in the offseason. Sensibly enough, Abel requested defensive reinforcements, although Jesús García Pitarch, Atlético's general manager, didn't seem to agree with him. In July, Abel openly stated that "We (Jesús and I) get along well, but don't share the same football philosophy", which would seem a basic ingredient for a manager - coach relationship to work out.
Eventually, Atlético's transfer activity during the summer only brought one defender, Spanish international centre back Juanito from relegated Betis (a shrewd move, one would argue), plus the promising goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo from Valladolid. The rest of the signings hardly helped to solve Atlético's defensive woes.
However, García Pitarch decided to let two experienced goalkeepers go (Argentinean Leo Franco and Frenchman Gregory Coupet) and sold Dutch right-back Johnny Heitinga to Everton the day before the end of the transfer window. The latter was a shocking decision given the lack of alternatives for that position.
Just a couple of weeks earlier left-back Mariano Pernía had suffered a car accident, which would leave him out of the side for four months. If Abel wasn't satisfied with his starting full-backs, he would now have to make do with their substitutes.
In summary, Jesús did not really help Abel during the summer (I'll avoid an easy biblical joke here). Atlético fans started the new season thanking the economic crisis for being able to retain their two fantastic strikers (Sergio Agüero and Forlán), but knowing that their defensive issues would not go away.
Phase 3 (25/Aug//09 - 21/09/09): Full-blown denial
Despite the scarce reinforcements, Abel sounded surprisingly upbeat. After defeating Panathinaikos for a spot in the Champions League group stage, he stated that the loss of Heitinga would not be felt: "Our defence is our best assorted line this season" (looking at the squad, not even the fiercest Atlético fan would buy that).
Not even their disappointing start of the season, a 3-0 away defeat to Málaga and a 1-1 home draw against 10-man Racing, had an impact on his morale: "Our pre-season was excellent; a couple of bad matches is not going to change that".
And then, the tricky trip to Barcelona, to play against the treble winners. During the pre-match press conference, the boss, probably remembering his famous win just four months earlier, oozed confidence: "Atlético know how to make Barcelona feel threatened".
Well, if Barcelona felt threatened, they hid it pretty well. Atlético trailed 4-0 after 45 minutes and eventually lost 5-2. After the match, Abel explained that he was not concerned, given that "we are still the same team we were last year". Only they didn't look like that at all...
Phase 4 (22/9/09 - 23/10/09): Time to go
At this point, Resino undoubtedly started to fear for his job. In preparation for another home draw against Almería, he said that: "I will keep working until the very last second of the very last second". And yes, you read that right. Abel had just invented a new measure of time, the second within the second, to show his indelible commitment to the rojiblanco cause.
Despite this revolutionary addition to modern science, Abel didn't have the same positive attitude anymore. "Our dressing room lacks character", he said about that very same group of players hailed as almighty only three matches earlier.
This harsh, uncharacteristic comment from the colchonero boss immediately generated an online poll on Marca's website. The result? 89% of voters agreed with Abel.
Even though the vast majority of voters were very likely Real Madrid fans trying to add fuel to the fire, the controversy was huge and most Atlético players showed their disagreement in public. The divorce between manager and dressing room had become obvious.
The consequence: more below par performances and finally, a shameful defeat against Osasuna last Sunday. The whole team didn't show up to play, and trailed 3-0 after only 30 minutes.
President Enrique Cerezo said that "our defence is now the worst of the league, and that is obviously a reason for concern". At this point names of candidates to manage the team started to leak to the press: Bernd Schuster, Michael Laudrup, Fatih Terim...
The 4-0 midweek rout at the hands of Chelsea hardly surprised anyone, but reflected well how the season had gone for Atlético. An almost Maradona-style team selection, several chances wasted by the strikers while the match was there for the taking, awful defending both in both set pieces and open play, and finally the whole team giving up as soon as their opposition scores.
That was the end for Mr Resino. Quique Flores, former Valencia and Real Madrid player, is Atlético's new choice to try to steer the red and white ship. On Sunday he had a chance to witness the size of his challenge: under caretaker manager Santi Denia, Atlético drew a home match against Mallorca, who played with nine men for a full 45 minutes.
Quique, a classy full-back as a player, has a reputation for being demanding to the extreme. We'll see whether or not he has the recipe for Atlético's success this season. One thing is guaranteed: it will be an entertaining ride to follow.