Where does Sevilla’s Europa League triumph leave Mendilibar?
Mendilibar’s future at Sevilla was in doubt before last night’s Europa League final. But now that the team has qualified for next season’s Champions League, where does the Basque coach stand?
Last night’s Europa League final triumph was by far the pinnacle of José Luis Mendilibar’s managerial career. Before Ivan Rakitic and Jesús Navas shared the honours of lifting the trophy aloft in Budapest, the highlight of Mendilibar’s time in coaching was guiding Valladolid to the Second Division title in 2007. But that’s in no way to take anything away from what he has achieved in the game - within Spanish football, he is a highly-respected tactician. In fact Sevilla specifically turned to him to save a season which seemed headed for disaster back back in March.
Sevilla, who had finished in the top four in each of the three previous campaigns and generally qualify for Europe, found themselves in unfamiliar territory. They had been flitting in an out of the drop zone since October, plunging to new depths in Week 17 when defeat to Girona left them second from bottom. Off the field, it was chaotic, they’d gone through two coaches in eight months. Neither Julen Lopetegui nor Jorge Sampaoli seemed able to get the team into their stride.
Mendilibar was drafted in to take the team back to basics. His methods were simple and effective - a traditional 4-4-2 formation (occasionally reverting to 4-2-3-1) and straightforward tactics: keep each line compact, press high in the opponents’ area, a direct, attacking approach and do away with all of that risky business of playing the ball out from the back. Sevilla have been on a more-or-less upward trajectory since the Basque coach took over and with one league game left to play, the team is 11th with options of making it into the top half of the table.
In LaLiga, Sevilla live to fight another day. Mendilibar was hired until the end of the season and his contract is up at the end of the month. So far, there has been no mention of him being offered an extension, or any discussion as to whether he will continue at the club or not. And rumours have been doing the rounds that Andoni Iraola has a pre-agreement with Sevilla, following his decision to leave Rayo (and turn down an offer from Leeds).
Last night’s Europa League win changes everything - particularly when you consider the multitude of knock-on effects. It means that Sevilla have qualified for next season’s Champions League (one of the prime objectives at the start of the season), they have also another cup final to look forward to - the European Super Cup - in August against either Inter or City. In total, Sevilla will stand to bring in an additional $60 million that they hadn’t bargained for in prize money and projected earnings just for playing the Champions League group stage.
Many of the players have expressed their desire for Mendilibar to continue: “What José Luis has done has been fundamental. He’s brought out the best in us, and when you look at the teams we’ve knocked out, it’s something to be very proud of. He deserves to stay with us for a long time. His arrival has coincided with an incredible change in our season,” Navas told uefa. com in the days leading up to the final.
If the Iraola rumours are true, where would that leave Mendilibar? Would Sevilla be prepared to risk replacing a coach who has turned their season around with a promising one with zero experience of playing in Europe? That is perhaps the most pressing issue which Monchi must deal with in the coming days - along with sorting out summer transfer targets such as Argentine centre-back Federico Gattoni and winger Adrià Pedrosa.