Marcelino kindly took time out from his Christmas holidays to attend AS this week. The coach has somehow managed to completely turn Valencia's fortunes around - and in record time. It's easy to forget that this time last year, the team was hovering just one point above the relegation places and only started to make their ascent in the second half of the campaign to finish in 12th. Today, Marcelino's men sit third, three points aheads of last season's champions Real Madrid and two points behind Atlético. A lot has changed in 12 months...
Valencia, one year on...
This time last Christmas you were unemployed, claiming dole...
Yes, that's life. I remember hoping that we would eventually find employment. We knew that we had the possibility of finding work. And then Valencia called us. We met with them, the feeling was good right from the first minute and we're delighted to be here.
Have any of your players thanked you? I'm asking you because a year ago, the situation at Valencia was chaotic to put it mildly. And it was around Christmas time when [Cesare] Prandelli and García Pitarch resigned...
I am the one who has to thank the players - for being who they are and for the way they are playing. I know that they went through a hard time. But footballers are lucky in that they are to do a job which they have dreamed about since they were children and I'm very happy that, with the stability we have at the club, the good mood and the results we've been getting, they can enjoy living their dream and realizing their potential.
What about when you are out on the street? How have the public been with you?
Out on the street people do stop and thank me or shake my hand - quite often too. I feel very lucky that they do that, but I always say it's the players they should be thanking - they're the ones who make all of us enjoy ourselves.
Fans have played their part in Valencia's success
Do you and your coaching team have any merit in Valencia's turnaround?
Football is a game played by the players - for the fans. The players are the real protagonists of a show which is put on for the public. In Valencia's case, our fans have always got behind the team and they are also a part of the team's success.
Do you think you are changing people's perception of you?
What do you mean?
As the disciplinarian sergeant, with the priority on not conceding goals...
Well, I think sometimes, opinions are made on people without really knowing them. And a lot of the time, being demanding is confused with being a sergeant major-type figure. I talk to my players, I try to convince them of what they can do, I don't exert my authority over them. As for my teams being more or less defensive, that depends on the players, and where they feel most comfortable playing. Players have to feel as though they identify with the system we are developing. Coaches have to look for a collective idea then get players to perform to their best individually. But I have to say that in the majority of the teams I've coached, we played a very happy, dynamic style of football - not sitting back and playing long balls up for the forwards.
What do you feel most proud of during your short time at Mestalla?
The players - of the work they put in, their willingness and their capabilities. And of how they are as a group. I'm proud that every day we enjoy what we do. All of that, the human factor and the professionalism which the lads show, is reflected out on the field of play. We're on the right path and so far, everything's going well.
Structural changes were needed to change Valencia's fortunes
How can you explain Valencia's startling transformation?
I'd say that we've made changes and it turned out well. It's very difficult, extremely complicated to go from being in a negative dynamic to a positive one in such a swift manner.
Valencia finished 12th last season, now the team's third...
When a big club like Valencia finishes in the bottom half of the table for two years running, it's because something is not being done correctly. It doesn't happen just by chance. Changing a dynamic that the team has been stuck in for two years requires deep chances and that's what we've done. We thought long and hard about it, we analyzed everything that happened and made decisions. It's all worked out even better than we expected.
Was the key how players were selected? There was a clear-out with 20 players leaving - 21 if you include Orellana...
The selection process and planning the team is very important, it's vital. The most difficult part was the number of departures. It wasn't simple and a lot of was down to the good work Mateu Alemany did over the summer. However, I think it was fundamental to keep the backbone of the team which was already in place.
Maintaining the backbone of the team
Why do you say that base was so fundamental?
Because everything stems from that, from the players who were here before. They formed the base of the team and we got it right with the players we brought in - all of them settled into the football culture that we wanted to introduce at Valencia right from the first day.
And what is that culture you mention?
Ambition, commitment, humility, solidarity and of course, capacity. Those are the values that are needed to compete, and that's what we are doing
What surprised you more - going 14 games without defeat or losing the last two games?
I was more surprised that we went 14 games without losing. That is very difficult for any team to do. Defeats never surprise me because losing is part of football. The thing is that, I am never prepared for it because we always hope to win or at the very least make sure we don't lose. In all of those three games (Eibar, Villarreal and Barcelona), we were very close to getting a draw.
Not so long ago you said that qualifying for the Champions League would be a massive success; seeing where the team is, would it be a disaster not to?
For me it's never a disaster when you have reached your objectives. Our objectives consisted of improving as a team and being in the top half of the table - and that's where we are. But qualifying for the Champions League is very difficult. In Spain, we have two clubs who are at a superior level to the rest; and a third, Atlético, who are closer to those two than finishing fourth or fifth. There's Sevilla, who have been very successful in European competition, then three or four teams who have regularly played in Europe: Villarreal, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club as well as Celta who are having a comeback. Valencia meanwhile were 12th last season. That radical change we have experienced has allowed us to compete with all of those teams but it wouldn't be a fiasco is we didn't qualify for the Champions League this year. We are going to fight to finish as high up the table as possible, but we are only looking as far as our next game, that's a perspective which has served us well up until now.
Marcelino can't see Sandro joining Valencia on loan
What are your wishes for 2018?
Health, as it is every year, and that Valencia remain in the top part of the table which is what all valencianistas wish for.
So Valencia won't be signing anyone in January?
I can't say for certain. As it stands, we are not negotiating for anyone nor do we see a clear opportunity available in the market. Does that mean we won't sign anyone? We'll see. We have to be very prudent. What's the point in saying we need to sign so-and-so or strengthen this or that position when the reality is that it is very difficult to find players who would fit in at Valencia, and adapt to the dynamic the team is in.
What are the chances of landing Sandro on loan?
Very difficult I think. There are other clubs who are interested in him and we don't get the impression that Everton want to let him go.