The waving of white hankerchiefs at the Mestalla is a familiar sight and one that doesn’t always indicate that the manager is in immediate danger of losing his job. Los Che’s fickle following also turned against Hector Cuper and Rafa Benitez at times in seasons where they delivered a Champions League final and a league title respectively.
However, a first home defeat of the season, and a big one at that - 5-2 to Real Sociedad, signalled the end for Mauricio Pellegrino after just six months in the job. Cynics are wise to point out that Manolo Llorente fired a manager for the first time in his presidency exactly at the point when the fans were also calling for him to go, but there were valid reasons why the Argentine was sacked just six months after the club he served with such distinction as a player handed him his first big break in management. Pellegrino’s problem was that his side were beyond inconsistent to the point of being bipolar.
Until last weekend, in their 10 games at home this season Valencia had won eight and drawn the other two, one of which was against Bayern Munich and achieved despite playing with 10 men for over an hour.
Away from home, however, it has been the total reverse, with 10 games in which their only victories came against BATE Borisov in the Champions League and lowly Llagostera in the Copa del Rey. Their seven road trips in the league have returned a measly two points courtesy of their only two goals.
Depending on how you frame it you could say Pellegrino has been unfortunate. Champions League success was seen as the priority this season and he achieved progress to the last-16 with relative ease, and making it through the group stages was even more crucial when considering the club’s finances given that they are still €330m in debt.
The fear was that Champions League qualification - something that has been taken for granted in recent seasons – would start to slip away.
Valencia have been the third force in Spanish football for the past three seasons. At a club that is never satisfied, Unai Emery was driven out in spite of winning the only championship he could realistically do so back-to-back and despite selling his best player every season. Now they are 12th, and although a return to the Champions League next season remains a realistic possibility it will be via the wide open battle for fourth, with Atletico Madrid having taken Valencia’s crown as the best of the rest by shooting into a commanding 16-point lead over Los Che.
Perhaps most fittingly of all though; the single moment that sealed Pellgrino’s fate was a moment of madness from Jonas. The Brazilian was arguably Valencia’s player of the season last year with 19 goals, 9 assists and the second highest WhoScored rating in the squad behind top-scorer Roberto Soldado.
However, after a bright start to the campaign with a goal and two assists in the opening two games, he had fallen out of favour with Pellegrino and was dropped for big Champions League games away to BATE and home to Bayern. That frustration boiled over into an elbow on David Zurutuza in the Sociedad game with Valencia leading 1-0 at the time. Following five goals in a 50-minute spell thereafter, Pellegrino was also off.
And so the baton has been handed to Ernesto Valverde to turn Pellegrino’s Valencia into a better imitation of Emery’s vintage. Mind you, it’s not as if he can expect any thanks for it if he does.