What a difference a couple of weeks in modern day football can make. Within the space of only a matter of days, Jorge Sampaoli, perhaps the most exciting manager to grace European football for many a year has gone from being everybody’s favourite to take over from a departing Luis Enrique as FC Barcelona manager next season to soon having his last few league games and resultant league as well as his mixed fortunes in this seasons UEFA Champions League being looked at in fine detail under a microscope. For a manager that could do no wrong with Sevilla in the first half of the La Liga campaign, in a similar vein to their most recent league performances Sevilla’s first half defiance this season to keep up the pace with the likes of FC Barcelona and both Real and Atlético Madrid has quickly deteriorated after Spain’s winter break leaving Sampaoli’s side in many ways looking like a shadow of their former self with several leagues outstanding.
Together with several of Europe’s most prestigious footballing leagues, capable of attracting the biggest and most talented names in world football, for a club perhaps on the periphery of establishing themselves as a regular top four or even six side, it can therefore take a surprise throw of the dice that not many would have been expecting for a title challenging outsider to throw a spanner into the works and cut it with the very best. In the English Premier League and German Bundesliga for example you need only look at Southampton and Borussia Dortmund’s last couple of managers and their evident approach to appointing a new man at the helm; perhaps often left field choices that may look better on paper than they do in reality but if a club is able to get it right with a manager that the biggest clubs in Europe may not have even considered for a vacancy, then what may seem a strange and widely questioned managerial appointment is then later and consequently viewed with greater respect and praised by the very clubs who once neglected their managerial profile in the first place.
Yet for all the benefits that appointing a manager to everybody’s surprise can have if everything indeed goes to plan, a club’s hierarchy and their supporters would obviously be foolish to completely ignore the inevitable risks that come with naming an often unheard of candidate as their new manager. Not only can it be somewhat controversial given the number of big names both available and most importantly often willing to take over at a club with aspirations of challenging at the very top but also by naming the likes of Sampaoli, Koeman or Tuchel as managers with very little track records and top flight managerial history you ultimately risk both the short and long term profession of the club.
Especially given that Sampaoli’s arrival at Sevilla was to be his first taste of managing in top flight football on the European continent, even in spite of his glittering CV compiled further afield in South America, cultural adaptability is also regularly overlooked and can significantly impact on a managers success at his new team. With fellow South Americans, Manuel Pellegrini of Chile and Argentinean Mauricio Pochettino perhaps serving as the most prominent examples of this in action, like Sampaoli even in spite of their managerial potential and reported capability of one day managing the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint Germain or Arsenal, both opted to start their career at La Liga teams that not only offered a platform for self-development and first level experience in Spanish football in order to grow as individuals but also clubs that would allow for trial and improvement; aware of the unavoidable and often significant risks that come with appointing a coach from another continent with little to no previous experience in a given league.
Whether his good start to life both at Sevilla and as a top flight manager in European football should be put down to beginners luck or more so true testament to his ability as a manager will only become more evident as time progresses. However given Sevilla’s recent slump which has saw the Andalusian club dumped out of the UEFA Champions League by a struggling Leicester City despite an initial first leg advantage alongside falling severely off the pace in the La Liga title race since the turn of a new calendar year, Sevilla supporters will be hoping that their side return to their early season form much sooner rather than later.
As often is the case in modern football, form is temporary and success can often be short lived and with no physical profession from Unai Emery’s reign with regards to silverware earned at present, the club’s loyal and incredibly passionate fans will be praying that the club are only on a short term slide as opposed to a long term descent destroying all the previous years’ hard work achieved by the sporting director Monchi and former club manager Emery. Furthermore considering that it was Sampaoli that was handed a lengthy contract at the club last summer, a financial warchest to spend in the summer window and largely thought of as a manager that perfectly the club’s blueprint to not only sustain their previous European success in the Europa league, but also a man capable of attracting some of the most exciting, young, promising stars in world football with the hope of making Sevilla a genuine force to be reckoned with in years to come, the pressure will always be on the Argentinean to get results – more so given the initial signs Sevilla were back to winning ways before their mini, mid-season slump.
Nonetheless where there is a manager at fault, it’s also often necessary to point the finger of blame at the club’s players who wear the club shirt week in, week out. Motivation, determination and most importantly momentum may well be difficult to sustain over an elapsed period of a season but how can a group of clearly talented individuals that at times played as well as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid earlier this season, suddenly fall so far off the pace in a mere matter of weeks? Sevilla’s strength was always a strong spine with the likes of Krychowiak and Bacca operating as defensive and attacking lynchpin’s respectively with a highly talented group of players buzzing in and around them. Yet under Sampaoli, despite keeping a strong defensive spine through the likes of Rico, Rami and N’Zonzi together with an array of different attacking options in numerous forward positions, Sevilla appear to have much stronger strength in depth this league campaign and looked to be making use of their many talented options on the bench to help see out crucial league or cup games, snatch important late goals or merely to provide cover for regular starters sidelined by either suspension or injury.
Shrewd purchases in the summer window alongside clever and calculated loan moves for stars left unwanted by some of Europe’s biggest sides has helped provide such strength in numbers but in the balancing act that the Argentine faces, having so many talented professionals will therefore always make for difficult decision making and keeping an entire squad happy. Take Franco Vazquez and Samir Nasri for example, attacking stars that shone in the Spanish sun for Sevilla in the early part of the 2016/17 season, their glittering displays have in recent times dulled over as both have found returning from a winter break to the same standard is prior to the Christmas holidays very difficult. In defensive positions too, most notably Matias Kranevitter on loan from Atlético Madrid, game time has been few and far between for the Argentine international, perhaps highlighting the ongoing difficulties that Sampaoli faces in juggling a highly talented group of individuals whilst maintaining high levels of performance on the pitch.
I mean, take one look at the regular starting XI at Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Olympiakos or in fact any of the league leaders throughout Europe this season and beyond and one thing is consistent in them all; settled starting XI’s make for a much more settled squad and less complacent performances and avoiding biting off more than you can chew is paramount.
After crashing out of Europe and appearing to plummet down the league faster than the time taken for Leicester City players to rediscover their winning touch after Claudio Ranieri’s departure, the best that now Sevilla can hope for is a much more comfortable run in and top four finish. Recent disappointing defeats have seemingly cast doubt on Sampaoli’s masterplan but his project most certainly still has legs. All Sevilla supporters have to wish for is that even if results do come and a top four finish is attained, that at least the performances on the pitch at least bode well for the future and provide some much needed optimism heading into next season.
With a good summer planned in keeping hold of their many loan signings and perhaps even cashing in on their biggest stars and consequently investing that money wisely into the next batch of young talent capable of propelling Sevilla back to where they dream of finishing in the Spanish top flight, Sevilla maintain a profitable blueprint for the future both financially and in terms of domestic success. It’s just making sure however that Sampaoli is able to fully see the issues at hand through his trademark glasses for the club to stop sliding away and to instead start moving back in the right direction to their desired league standing at the top of the Spanish pile.