Celades emerges from predecessor’s shadow at Valencia
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With Valencia back in the Champions League last 16 for the first time in seven seasons, coach Albert Celades has made the players and supporters forget about his inauspicious arrival.
In September, Celades was tasked with the difficult job of replacing the successful and extremely popular Marcelino García Toral, who fell out with Singapore owner Peter Lim.
Marcelino led Valencia to the Copa del Rey title — beating Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in the final — and a fourth-place league finish last season. That didn’t stop Lim from firing him three matches into this season after disagreeing over their plans for reinforcing the squad.
Lim picked the inexperienced Celades to take over amid a fan revolt that was fueled by players who publicly expressed their disapproval of the change. Fans protested at Mestalla Stadium and the squad refused to talk to the media as a message that they had nothing positive to say about Lim’s decision.
But, after a rocky start, Celades has Valencia on a winning streak that culminated with a victory at Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday. The 1-0 win thanks to a goal by Spain striker Rodrigo Moreno eliminated last season’s finalist and put Valencia into the round-of-16 for the first time since the 2012-13 season.
“This was like a final that we had to win,” Celades said in Amsterdam. “I’m thrilled.
“The relationship I have with my players is very good, we work well together on a daily basis. The quality of the people we have on the squad, the courage of the entire group, make this possible.”
On Sunday, Valencia will host Real Madrid in the Spanish league. A win would put Valencia near the top of the standings. Valencia has lost just once in its last nine games across all competitions.
The coaching experience of the 44-year-old Celades, a former midfielder for Barcelona and Real Madrid, was limited to Spain’s youth selections and as an assistant to Julen Lopetegui during this stints with Spain and Real Madrid.
That made many in Spain doubt whether he could handle the top job for a demanding club that still remembers when it won la Liga in 2002 and 2004 and reached the final of the Champions League in 2000 and 2001, only to lose.
Celades’ coaching style differs from the outspoken Marcelino, in that he has a relaxed, respectful tone toward his players and the media.
He has surpassed Marcelino in Europe’s elite competition. Under Marcelino, Valencia failed to get out of the Champions League’s group phase last season.
After losing at Barcelona 5-2 in his debut, Celades’ team surprisingly won at Chelsea 1-0 thanks to Moreno. That set the tone for in the continental tournament in which Valencia lost once in six games to advance as the winner of a tough group.
“Many thought it would be practically impossible. We always believed in ourselves,” Celades said. “I am fortunate that I have a good daily routine at the club. They let me do my job and I have an incredible group of players.”
Lim clashed with Marcelino because the owner wanted the coach to give more chances to the club’s younger talents. Celades has done so and discovered 19-year-old attacking midfielder Ferrán Torres, who has four goals and set up Moreno’s winner in Amsterdam.
The heart of Valencia remains the same, however, with the speedy Moreno still its reference in attack and Dani Parejo directing its midfield with his passing and exquisite sense of tempo.
For Parejo, the team’s ability to regroup after the turmoil at the season’s start has been key to its recovery.
“We base everything on the group, on unity,” Parejo said. “We are a family in the changing room and that is our great strength.”