MADRID (AP) — Singaporean owner Peter Lim made it clear who is in charge at Valencia.
Going against the will of fans and players, Lim fired coach Marcelino García Toral three games into the season, igniting a crisis at the Spanish club ahead of important matches.
The surprising decision on Wednesday, coming days before Valencia takes on Barcelona in the Spanish league and Chelsea in the Champions League, shocked fans and players.
“Whoever made this decision, not only took (Marcelino) out, but also dragged the entire team and its fans with him,” Valencia defender Ezequiel Garay said on Instagram. “I say it loud and clear: It’s not fair.”
Captain Dani Parejo said on Twitter he wished the best for Marcelino at a place where he is “allowed to work.”
Midfielder Gabriel Paulista said players have to find a way to “move on” even though it was “hard to understand” Marcelino’s firing.
The firing stirred up new turmoil for Valencia since Lim took over in 2014, when the club was struggling financially.
The team finished fourth in the league that season but followed with two consecutive 12th-place finishes, and time near the relegation zone. Lim and club officials attracted a lot of criticism — and even boos by fans during matches — for their planning decisions.
Marcelino was adored by fans after leading the club to a fourth-place finish in the league last season, a result that gave the team a berth in the Champions League. He also helped Valencia win the Copa del Rey, beating Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in the final, and reach the Europa League semifinal.
But Marcelino had been at odds with club officials recently, making public comments criticizing decisions to sell players and not bring pieces he felt were necessary to keep the team contending in the elite.
Lim clearly didn’t agree with Marcelino’s views and decided to make the unpopular move, bringing in former Real Madrid and Barcelona player Albert Celades as his replacement. Celades was Spain’s Under-21 coach until last year, and the club said his experience coaching young players was crucial.
“Valencia has to stick to its philosophy of promoting its academy players and giving them the opportunity to compete at the highest levels. These young players represent our values,” team president Anil Murthy said on Wednesday. “They are one of the pillars of a club that must balance ambitious goals with a long-term sustainable model that is our identity.”
Murthy said Celades “shares Valencia’s philosophy.”
“It is a demanding challenge because Valencia must remain ambitious and win every game, but it is also demanding in the long term because it’s our academy players, and a sustainable model, that will allow us to keep contending in the elite,” he said.
Celades was an assistant to Julen Lopetegui when the former Spain coach was at Real Madrid. The 43-year-old former midfielder also played for Spain. He finished his career with the New York Red Bulls in 2009.
Valencia, the league winner in 2002 and 2004, is 10th in the 20-team standings after opening with a home draw against Real Sociedad, a loss at Celta Vigo, and a home win against promoted Mallorca.
A request for comment from Valencia club officials was not immediately answered.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni