Written by Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial):
He sat there stoically, arms folded, with a straight ahead glare reminiscent of a lion sizing up his prey.
It was Cesare Prandelli’s very first taste of his new home they call the Mestalla, and his boys were facing an opponent many fancy to be one of the better teams in the world today. His new club, Valencia, would fight valiantly, pushing Atleti for the full 90 minutes equipt with a spirit that has been all but extinct for much of this early season. Whether it was real or manufactured, the players knew their new boss was vigilantly watching with starting spots and minutes all but up for grabs. But like so many before it, Valencia walked off with another defeat, further sinking them down the table to 18th and a date with relegation.
Prandelli will officially go to work this morning, becoming Valencia's ninth coach since 2012, and will be tasked with resurrecting a club that once was the Atletico Madrid you now see today. Valencia were the so-called “third club” in Spain, a hipster's dream that possessed the audacity to meddle with the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona, while also striking fear into the other big clubs of Europe in the process. Between 1999 and 2004, Los Che won two La Liga crowns, 1 Copa del Rey, 1 Supercopa de España and two runner-up finishes in the Champions League. Present day, the laundry list of things to be corrected is long and tedious, a product of years of inexperienced managers and even shoddier business. In the modern game of football, patience is exercised about as much as Donald Trump admitting to a mistake, but this is an operation that will need exactly that. Whether Valencia’s latest hire is the solution is another unknown altogether.
For many, Cesare Prandelli is name that most fans will instantly recognize. His resume boasts an overall record of W 142 D 77 L 85, with many considering his finest work to have occurred while at Fiorentina. Having endured a tough relegation battle the season before, Prandelli’s appointment immediately transformed the proud Tuscan side, guiding them to a 4th place finish in Serie A and a spot in the UEFA Champions League. Next season would see the league get rocked as a result of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, with Fiorentina being stripped of their Champions League spot while also starting the Serie A season with a 15-point deduction. Despite the points deduction, Prandelli was able to guide Fiorentina to a sixth-place finish in Serie A (with the same point tally as fifth placed Palermo), securing UEFA Cup qualification for the 2007–08 season. Prandelli’s vision had the Viola competing in Europa League semi-finals and then the Champions League, becoming regulars in the upper echelons of Serie A. His 5-year tenure was the longest of any manager in Fiorentina’s history, a time that Prandelli would like to replicate at his new club.
"I said yes to Valencia because having spoken to [sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch] Suso, there is a very interesting project that attracted me," Prandelli said in a news conference on Monday. "There is a fascinating aspect between the mentality in Valencia and the interesting project. It's similar to the mentality I found in Florence [with Fiorentina]. The support of the fans is imperative for us."
His highest profile job saw him lead the Italian national side from 2010-14, highlighted by their appearance in the 2012 Euro Cup Final loss to Spain. It was quite the achievement, considering the 2010 World Cup dumpster fire in which they finished bottom of a World Cup group containing New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia. Previous successes had left Italy with an ageing squad with its few young players neither tested nor ready. Prandelli immediately made it his mission to abandon Italy's stereotypical negative football, filling the midfield with players who demanded the ball, building his attack around Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi. Overnight, the Azzurri had become an offensive minded side, something about as foreign to Italians as a cappuccino after breakfast hours.
Unfortunately, the magic wouldn’t last.
Italy were again eliminated in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, with Prandelli resigning shortly after the final whistle. His defensive alignments were widely criticized by fans and pundits, with none more perplexing than the insertion of Giorgio Chiellini at left back. Despite the setback, he would soon land on his feet again, becoming the manager of Turkish side Galatasaray, taking over for fellow Italian Roberto Mancini. His tenure would last only 147 days, as the club sacked him following a disastrous campaign in the Champions League, which included two 4–1 losses to Arsenal, a 4–0 and a 4–1 loss to Borussia Dortmund, finishing the group with 1 point and −12 goal difference. Prandelli's tactics and player choices were heavily criticized in the media, as he featured different lineups in 16 games, often giving off the impression of an uncertain coach who lacked stability.
Now nearly two years unemployed, the Italian is back on the touchline eager to restore his once glowing reputation. His most difficult task will most certainly focus on restoring a defensive system that is broken and lacks any semblance of focus. This is, after all, the direct consequence of Sporting Director Suso Pitarch’s scatterbrained summer approach. Players he wanted to sell remained, while others he wanted to keep departed (Mustafi & Alcacer). Defensive reinforcements were brought in at or near the end of the window, allowing no time for training, essential to a squad especially on that side of the ball. New signing Eliaquim Mangala has been a disaster, while Ezequiel Garay is already battling fitness issues. Valencia’s over aggressive approach has already led to 5 penalties in 7 games, and if not for Diego Alves’ super man heroics, the results could've been far, far worse. Although Prandelli may be Italian by birth, he is most assuredly not Italian with tactics. His specialty rests on the attacking side of the ball, something Valencia’s players naturally do well, albeit not efficiently.
"My aim is to find a balance which is currently lacking," Prandelli said. "I want to transmit to the players the values of this club. For me it's an honour to be in such a glorious club and we want to take it back to [the top]."
If there is solace to be taken in anything, it’s that fans of Los Che have been here before.
Back in 1997, Valencia appointed another manager who had guided Fiorentina to success. Claudio Ranieri had only played and managed in Italy. He didn't speak Spanish, but through all the obstacles, his first stint was a success. It laid the groundwork for what would be Valencia’s most prosperous period and since he left, only Rafa Benitez and Valverde have achieved a higher win %. Whether history can again repeat itself remains to be seen, but for once, it appears Valencia have come to a pro-active decision that miraculously contains a semblance of foresight.
This in itself in a win for Valencia fans and hey, at least it's not Gary Neville.