Gary Neville described his side’s 1-0 home defeat against Sporting Gijon on Sunday as the ‘best performance’ of his reign but had little choice but to also brand it as ‘the most disappointing result of the season.’
It ended Valencia’s 14 month unbeaten run at the Mestalla in La Liga but more worryingly extended their winless run in the league to 11 matches, 8 of which have been under Neville’s rule. It leaves Valencia a staggering 19 points off the top four, where they finished last season, and just 5 points above the relegation zone.
So is Gary Neville’s first managerial venture already in danger of being brought to a premature end?
The Englishman rejected such suggestions with predictable defiance and a touch of anger following the defeat to Sporting. In the very short-term at least he is probably right and his strong relationship with owner Peter Lim should ensure he is afforded more time than an inexperienced boss struggling for results at a big club would otherwise get. The Singaporean businessman if anything was too patient with former boss Nuno, only firing the Portuguese coach long after he had lost the fans and dressing room.
Neville retains the support of both for now it would seem but unlike Nuno he does not have the luxury of results to hide behind. There were positives to take from Sunday’s game in which Valencia for the most part dominated and created more than enough chances to win. However Alvaro Negredo, a player rescued from the wilderness and promoted to captain by Neville, squandered three golden opportunities and for all their improvements in terms of creativity, Valencia couldn’t find a break-through.
With the club making good progress in the Copa del Rey, the games are coming thick and fast for Los Che and they face the daunting task of a trip to the Camp Nou for the 1st Leg of their Semi-Final on Wednesday. A shock victory over Barcelona over the next fortnight would be a massive platform from which to build from but it could just as easily go the other way. An on-song Barcelona can demolish even the best of sides and Neville wouldn’t be human if the possibility of a heavy morale-sapping defeat wasn’t at the back of his mind going into the game.
In any case cup wins alone will pale into insignificance should Valencia be dragged into an almost unthinkable relegation battle. With the teams at the bottom starting to pick up a few wins that prospect is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility and will become stark reality if Valencia’s 3 month winless run in La Liga doesn’t end soon.
The club has only spent one season outside of the top flight in the past 85 years and hasn’t even finished in the bottom half of La Liga since the 1987-88 season. They also spent more money last summer than in any previous year in their history with over € 130million invested on new players.
Gary Neville’s job may be safe for now but with every passing match without a league win the gaping void between those facts and the team’s league position will become even more startling. Of course the former TV pundit turned manager cannot be held responsible for some poor signings but there is still far too much quality in the squad to be in the position they find themselves in.
The next 2 league games against Real Betis and Espanyol see Valencia take on two sides who are also hopelessly out of form and winless in 2016. Both golden opportunities to chalk up 3 points perhaps but the same was said about home games with the likes of Rayo Vallecano and Sporting Gijon.
The possibility of Gary Neville not seeing out the season would become very real were Valencia to fail to win either match. A whole generation of Valencia fans, who aren’t known for their patience, have been born since the last time the club experienced anything like a relegation battle. While they have got behind their new boss so far, there will inevitably come a tipping point and there was more than the odd murmuring of discontent as Full-Time approached on Sunday although admittedly little of the anger was directed at the Englishman.
In truth the results of Valencia’s cup games against Barcelona and Rapid Vienna this month aren’t likely to be decisive in terms of determining Neville’s immediate future. If Valencia’s winless league run continues deep into February however, Los Che would unquestionably be in the relegation shake-up with all the top sides to play in the latter months of the season.
That would leave the board with a genuine decision to make and the risk of a relegation that could have dire consequences for the club could leave them no choice but to replace Neville with an experienced coach who knows the league not to mention the language. Certainly it is hard to see how he could expect to keep his job were Valencia to fail to win a league game in February, which would leave one of Spain’s football giants without a win in 15 matches and 4 months in La Liga.
Neville is a naturally positive man so it is unlikely he will be thinking that way and 4 points or better from these next 2 fixtures will certainly do wonders in terms of easing the pressure on his shoulders. That said he will still be faced with a mammoth task of convincing the Valencia public that he is the right man to lead them beyond this season and that is where the cups do become significant.
A Copa del Rey or Europa League trophy is already looking like Valencia’s only route into Europe for next term. Valencia have only failed to qualify for a continental competition in 1 of the last 18 campaigns and European qualification would have surely been laid down as the bare minimum requirement when Neville took the job on a contract until the end of the season.
He stated from the off that his intention was to extend that stay but is not helped by the fact that club legend Rafa Benitez, a man who twice brought the Primera Division title to the Mestalla, is now out of work. Right now a mid-table league finish and either a Copa del Rey or Europa League trophy is looking like the absolute maximum that Neville can achieve and would most likely be enough to land him the job beyond the summer. However delivering a trophy with a young misfiring squad is not going to be easy and despite the confusing political situation behind the scenes at Valencia CF, failure to do so would surely leave Neville out of a job and reflecting on almost certainly the most disappointing period of his life in football.