• Tuesday, 20 January 2009

    As FC Barcelona coast...

    Spare a thought for fans of their lesser-known cousins, the Torino to Pep Guardiola's Juventus. RCD Espanyol are constantly living in the shadow of their monolithic neighbour and none more so than this campaign, where club president Daniel Sanchez Libre has fired his second coach of the season, Mané. The 58-year-old former Alaves, Athletic Bilbao and Real Mallorca manager was unable to shake Los Pericos out of the terrible run of form they've suffered since October, and has paid the price with his job having only been appointed in November following the sacking of his predecessor, Bartoleme Marquez.

    The blue-and-whites sit 18th in the table, 5 points adrift of Numancia above them. It is a shame to see a team such as Espanyol hit hard times, especially since it was not all that long ago they seemed on the up.This time last year, Ernesto Valverde had led them into the Champions League places after a stellar first half of the 07/08 season. The likes of Luis Garcia, Raul Tamudo and Albert Riera all impressed, while Carlos Kameni continued to improve between the sticks and Dani Jarque spent much of January being linked with the new Juande Ramos regime at Spurs. However, they badly faded in the second half of last season and it was enough for Valverde, one of a crop of talented 'young' Spainish coaches, to resign, jumping ship to Greek giants Olympiakos - who he has since guided to a 9-point lead in the Greek league, ahead of bitter rivals Panathanaikos, coached by former Chelsea and Barcelona assistant coach Henk Ten Cate.

    Riera and right-back Pablo Zabaleta, lynchpins of the side, headed for the Premiership and were not adequately replaced. Ivan De La Pena, so long a creative force of the side, has once again been stricken by injuries (the same goes for Raul Tamudo) and the team looks unsettled, inexperienced and woefully lacking in confidence. Marquee signings like an ageing Steve Finnan have misfired totally and the result is not unlike the situation facing Mallorca, albeit without the financial chaos. The big players in the side have been sold, and a vacuum has been created a change of coach will not solve. Espanyol are in the process of building a new, long-overdue, stadium in El Prat de Llobregat but it appears highly likely that it will be Segunda football their long-suffering fans will welcome there.

    The new coach is Mauricio Pochettino, a 36-year-old former Argentine international defender who is a crowd favourite in Catalunya having played 276 matches for Espanyol in two spells at the club. This is the former Paris Saint-Germain man's first coaching position and it is certainly a baptism of fire trying to turn around a team bereft of confidence and stability. I'll admit that, despite admiring the football their big-city rivals play, I'll always have a soft spot for Espanyol as I watched my first live La Liga game at the Montjuic earlier this year. It is a team that, like Real Zaragoza and Real Sociedad before them, have perhaps been deemed 'too good to go down' but anyone with any sense knows that that maxim is a misnomer. Hopefully they'll turn it around and it will be Villarreal rather than Rayo Vallecano welcomed to that new 40,000 seater stadium.

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