Phil Neville’s job safe as brother Gary named Valencia coach until end of La Liga season

Former Manchester United and England defender replaces Nuno Espirito Santo as Valencia coach, who was sacked after a poor start to the season on Sunday.

Valencia appointed Gary Neville as the coach ahead of his brother Phil owing to a technicality with Phil's qualifications for the job. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
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For a country with Western Europe’s highest unemployment levels, Spain has some restrictive labour practices. A football manager, for instance, cannot coach in Spain during the same season that he loses his job.

The top-level coaches may be able to absorb the financial implications of a dismissal, but what of managers such as Manolo Marquez, who was dismissed by Barcelona-based fourth-tier San Andreu last month? He is now unable to work in Spain until next season. So Marquez will likely claim unemployment benefit when his skill set could be put to good use in a football crazy country.

In another restriction, Phil Neville was unable to become the next manager at Valencia because he has not completed his Uefa pro licence badge. He has done his A and B licences, which he began while still a player in England, and he has started his professional licence, which he is set to complete next summer. It is a laborious course which takes hundreds of hours, but Neville and his peers enjoy being taken out of their comfort zone and find the courses hugely beneficial.

A coach with Neville’s qualifications would be able to work in England’s Premier League, but in Spain he is only allowed to be joint-caretaker manager for 10 days.

Alongside former Valencia defender Salvador Gonzalez, known as “Voro”, Neville was appointed caretaker manager at the Mestalla following the resignation of the Nuno Espirito Santo only 13 weeks into the season following a poor start.

Valencia players had stopped playing for him and his friends in the club were few, despite him being an ally of the world-renown agent Jorge Mendes, a decision-maker at Valencia with the owner, Singaporean businessman Peter Lim.

Voro and Neville are in charge for games against Barakaldo, in the Copa del Rey, and at home in the league on Saturday to Barcelona.

Their new manager will start Sunday, his first game against Lyon in a vital Uefa Champions League game next Wednesday.

Neville, who won 59 caps for England, wants to be a coach when the time is right and was not expecting to become Valencia coach this season. He went to Spain to learn, to experience a new culture and study a new language after a life spent working in England’s gilded Premier League bubble.

He has thrown himself into the challenge, moving his family to Spain and his son, a talented player who had been on the books at Manchester City, has joined Valencia’s youth academy. It is not a move he regrets and the sunshine is appreciated after spending his life in England’s gloomy north.

Playing for two stable clubs in Manchester United and Everton, Neville enjoyed a successful career where he was managed by only two men, Alex Ferguson and David Moyes, who were both very popular with their fans.

As a coach, initially with United under Moyes, he saw how football can turn with results. He has seen more of that at Valencia, where the demanding fans and the club which stands third in Spain’s all-time league table have been unhappy with Nuno all season, insisting that he goes with sustained chants during matches. They got their wish on Sunday before Valencia’s 1-0 defeat at Sevilla, though the decision was announced after the game. That is when the players found out, too.

Valencia have been in a state of flux since the weekend, with their next coach uncertain. Even on Tuesday night as he prepared for a trip to the Basque Country, Phil Neville did not know who it would be or if that next coach would take him as his assistant.

That became a little clearer on Wednesday morning. His new gaffer will be his brother, Gary, who will go into his first management job as he takes over at Valencia until the end of the season.

Gary had long intended to decide his future this month, whether that meant relinquishing his role as a television analyst, his job as England’s assistant manager and/or moving into management. Ever decisive, he settled matters on December 1. His brother is delighted.

Old financial problems return to haunt Malaga

Malaga will play a cup tie on Thursday evening at Mirandes, a team who became famous as giant killers in 2011.

That was the year when Malaga dared to live with the giants of Spanish football. Under the new Qatari ownership of Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, they recruited big names who had previously been beyond Malaga’s budget. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla, Martin Demichelis, Nacho Monreal and Jeremy Toulalan all arrived. And all departed when the club hit financial problems in 2013, with players claiming that they were still owed money by the Andalusian club. Local boy Isco and coach Manuel Pellegrini, who led Malaga to the 2013 Champions League quarter finals, also left. Malaga were banned by Uefa from playing in Europe because they failed to pay players’ wages and tax bills on time, but the club survived.

Though the Qatari project was downscaled and their annual wage bill cut from €150 million (Dh582.8m) in the 2011/12 season to €38m (Dh147.6m) last season, Malaga appeared to have some stability as they finished 11th and ninth in the past two seasons. They scouted and signed well; they promoted young players from one of Spain’s best youth systems.

The financial worries have returned, however, along with the instability and poor results. Malaga are currently 18th in La Liga and in the relegation places having won only two of their 13 league games so far.

The city council voted to remove Sheikh Abdullah’s name from a roundabout they had named after him. Malaga do not have a shirt sponsor, nor money for transfers, though they are not alone in Spain on that.

Malaga have not scored a single away goal from six matches on the road, they also seem to suffer from the worst kick-off times of any club – all to suit television.

On Sunday, they were 2-0 up against Andalusian neighbours Granada before conceding two goals in the last eight minutes. The club’s general manager Vicente Casado was sacked soon after and he was blamed during a press conference later for making unauthorised actions without the permission of the club president, including giving salary rises.

The Qatari owner, now in his fifth season, maintains that he is keen to stay in charge at the club and that any changes will be for the better. He has stuck by his coach Javi Gracia, but relegation would be a disaster for such a well-supported club. Malaga averaged 26,197 for home games last season, the eighth highest in Spain, and that from an area of high unemployment.

Player of the week

Neymar was again magnificent as Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 4-0 at Camp Nou, but Aritz Aduriz became the first Spaniard to score a hat-trick in La Liga this term as in-form Athletic Bilbao beat Rayo Vallecano 3-0 away. The 34-year-old striker gets better with age and, with 10 league goals already, is the leading Spanish goalscorer. He is not big, but he is strong and does not miss many chances.

Game of the week

Valencia v Barcelona on Saturday. Can Valencia stop the Barcelona juggernaut at a ground where it is traditionally so hard for visitors?

The focus was expected to be on Valencia fans abusing Nuno in the presence of visiting Valencia owner Peter Lim, but they will likely get behind their caretaker managers ahead of Gary Neville taking charge the following day. Despite their troubles, Valencia are still unbeaten at home this season.