Sunday, 19 December 2010

The strange case of Míchel

The fickle nature of football and its supporters is well known, but no more comprehensible for that. After all, has Getafe coach Míchel really changed over the past five weeks? Was a man deemed by some of the national media to be incapable of arresting his team's decline really a hero-in-waiting all along? Or is it the case that Míchel has done what he's always done, and that instead his players have risen to the challenge?

It's impossible to tell, but there are some things we know about the coach who's gone from sack-race favourite to hot property in just one short month. Unfortunately, it's the case that the more we know, the less we understand.

Míchel is not a friendly man. He is gruff, even combative at times, and he has made it abundantly plain on a number of occasions that he is no badge-kisser. When Getafe released his son, Adrián, from playing duty during the summer, Míchel told the press that the president would not have done this if he was not Adrián's father. In numerous interviews he has described, perhaps even made light of, Getafe's status as a small club with a tiny band of quietly fuming fans. Other coaches may opt to make the underdog status of their team a mark of pride: for Míchel it is instead a point for frustration, maybe even contempt.

Yet at the same time the man who seldom leaves any critical thought unspoken has crafted a remarkable team spirit at the Coliseum. When Getafe pulled off that ostensibly job-saving 3-1 win at Sevilla, the players rushed as one to their coach to celebrate. Weeks later, with a fourth consecutive league win on the board at Almería, the same scenes repeated themselves. A coach who apparently has little time for anyone but himself has, paradoxically, won the hearts and minds of his playing staff in a way that perhaps no Getafe coach since the Segunda days has truly managed. (This isn't to downplay the contributions of the likes of Schuster or Laudrup a bit - rather to say that, despite their successes, they never quite managed the almost Spartan adulation we see between players and coach now.)

Míchel's contract is up in June. Five weeks ago, this short deal meant for cheap compensation upon termination, and thus the likelihood of Míchel's being out of work long before that. Now, of course, it means that those clubs in Spain and elsewhere eyeing a change of coach can add another name to their shortlist. Will he extend his contract? That's doubtful. He has made no secret of the fact that Getafe is a stepping stone. In true Míchel fashion, what he says is abundantly true, yet it is still strange to hear it from a coach: Getafe are a selling club who can only ever go so far, regardless of who is in charge. Míchel may well be the man to take Getafe to their glass ceiling this year, but one imagines that if a better offer comes his way he will not hesitate to up sticks rather than take another crack at Europe. Clubs as diverse as Atlético Madrid, Deportivo, maybe even Sevilla could have their eye on the coach: each offers a unique challenge and greater potential than the Coliseum has to offer.

The worry, then, is that if Míchel leaves, his stars will go with him. After a rocky start he's managed to compensate for the departures of both Roberto Soldado and Pedro León, but it's the lot of the selling club that they may have to rebuild all over again come summer. This time, though, it will most likely be a different man charged with coaching the new-look squad. The new boss may well smile at press conferences, pander to the fans and the president, and otherwise comport himself with the dignity and character befitting a modest team's coach. But will he manage 3-1 wins at Sevilla? Ten-man victories against Villarreal? Will he have eleven men surround him with embraces and cheers at full-time in a regular league match? We'll see. And as for Míchel, if he can build this kind of spirit in a squad larger and more star-studded than Getafe's, his is a seriously bright future in coaching.

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