Pepe Mel – should he stay or go?

Just when I, and a few other people, thought Betis had found their style, a new effective way to play, they have put in two very poor performances in the last two weeks.

A crushing 3-1 defeat at home to Espanyol last weekend and a lacklustre 1-1 draw away at Granada yesterday has left many béticos with a sense of emptiness and lack of optimism in regards to the future; in particular to the future of cult hero Pepe Mel. Before the international break things were fairly rosy at the club but since the return there’s a certain lingering sense of foreboding around the club.

ABC de Sevilla journalist, Mateo González, writes passionately today about the club asking – do Betis know how to play? What is our thing? Do we keep possession and try and break teams down with nice, attractive football? Do we sit back and play the counter attack with Joaquín and Rubén Castro punishing teams on the break? Do we play with a quick tempo or a slow tempo or something in between?

The answer is I don’t know. Neither do the fans and neither do the team.

Yesterday at Granada, who were rock bottom, Betis looked bad. They conceded after 2 minutes and that threw them off the whole game. Rubén Castro slotted home a penalty near the end of the first half during a period of 10 minutes were Betis looked half-dangerous. Aside from that, we didn’t see anything in regards to flair, spirit or capability.

More passion and the Betis way please Pepe!

More passion and the Betis way please Pepe!

Pepe Mel said, “we had too many hesitations”. It seems to be the same problem: if it’s not Rubén Castro then it’s nobody. Mel started Rennella up top who contributed precisely nothing. Summer signing Portillo, who hasn’t really impressed me, also did nothing.

Despite signing a new contract after months of wrangling and committing his immediate future to Betis, Dani Ceballos was left on the bench, although he is easily one of our best players. Why? Not sure. He came on in the second half and had no impact whatsoever. Don’t really blame him, the game was half dead.

Let’s be clear, Betis have made a decent start to the season. They are sat in 10th place, with 12 points from 9 games: three wins, draws and losses apiece (exactly the same as Sevilla). The only aim of this season is safety. Do not get relegated. So, for me Pepe Mel’s job should not be under fire.

However, a few béticos are starting to panic and get a little worried about the unfolding situation. It seems that Betis have lost their mojo and impetus. Historically, Pepe Mel’s team are attacking, exciting and good to watch. Defence was always a second thought and this fitted the Betis philosophy perfectly. It didn’t work all the time but the fans liked it. However, Mel got accused of a lack of tactile nouse, the inability to adopt a different approach to get a result. I know I used to write about it at the time.

Build the team around Ceballos

Build the team around Ceballos

Right now we are seeing a whole lot of nothing. As Mateo González says, with the likes of Rubén Castro, Joaquín and Ceballos, Betis have the talent that their rivals for relegation just don’t have. The team needs to be centred around these 3 – sin duda! Combine these with Alfred N’Diaye in centre-midfield, Westermann/Bruno centre-defence and Antonio Adán in goal and Betis have a very solid team.

We have seen a few versions of Betis already this season and right now according to Miguel Ángel Benítez Merelo, we are seeing a flat and grey version. Like Mateo, Miguel writes passionately about the two versions of Pepe Mel. The first when he took over and the second version since his reinstatement. Miguel says Mel is now more defensive and more resultadista – driven by results and not the brand of football that made him a fan favourite.

He and I’m sure the majority of the fans want to see good football. Boring just isn’t Betis. The club motto – long live Betis even when we lose – relates to the football played. If the players but in an entertaining performance full of heart and determination, the fans will love them. Despite this there does need to be an element, a slight element, of results play. The last thing we want is to be back in la segunda again. This balance needs to be struck.

Watching the game yesterday I was urging the team to do something. At 1-1 the game was there for the taking for both sides. I wanted to see Betis go for it! Try and sneak that second goal – like they did at Sporting Gijón – and show a bit of ambition. If they concede whilst going to win the game then so be it, shit happens. That’s what used to happen. Perhaps Mel is trying to move Betis forward to become a more ‘effective’ team? Miguel doesn’t want this Mel.

I do agree, but I think getting rid of Mel now would be both cold and stupid. They did it last time and the club still ended up getting relegated. He deserves to have the time to get his team playing the way he wants. What he does need to do though is but Dani Ceballos in the centre of midfield and build a team around him.

The call for beticismo – a united Betis

Last night’s defeat at the hands of Atlético Madrid was painful. Very painful.

I am not going to give you a match report today as there are a fair few out there and they don’t make for good reading if you are a supporter of green and white. But if you must read one in English, try here (ForeverBetis.com) , or here (insidespanishfootball.com).

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Not too happy Béticos

Unsurprisingly, there were many, many disappointed, angry Béticos. Many actually managed to air their views in person. As the players and staff boarded an AVE train home to Seville, they were also accompanied by many fans making the same journey – cue a very uncomfortable and long train ride home. No member of Betis was left out in receiving some well intended tips from the fans – Pepe Mel, the players and Rafael Gordillo were all on the end of a few verbal volleys. If fans couldn’t air their views in person then they certainly aired them on social media – the images show a couple of views from Saturday night.

Let’s begin with the excuses. Yes, Betis were without a few key and experienced names (Verdú, Xavi Torres, Paulao); but would it have made that much difference? In pre-season Verdú looked like a world-beater. I watched him on a few occasions and I thought he would slip into the Beñat-shaped hole seamlessly. However it has to be remembered that Betis were playing the likes of Huddersfield, Bolton and Wolves (no respect to any of those sides, but they aren’t quite at the level of Atlético – and neither are Betis for that matter). Verdú though hasn’t quite carried the good form he showed through to when it matters; in the league every week.

Verdú is without doubt la liga quality and it would be harsh to pick him out as the only player who hasn’t performed so far. Life is always going to be tough without the natural goalscoring Rubén Castro in your side. Without Verdú, Rubén Castro or Molina playing on Saturday, the average age of the midfield and striker was just below 22. This show that Betis have good a few good, young players on their books, but more importantly, are these players actually good enough to make it in la liga? Obviously, only time will tell us that one but it is a very precarious position for a squad to be in when the stakes are so high i.e. staying in La Primera. We have seen it in the recent past that La Liga isn’t frightened of dumping big names into the second division – I give you Zaragoza, Depor, Villarreal, Real Betis. Yes, Betis know all too well that Spain’s top division will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t good enough for just one season.

Currently and clearly, it isn’t looking rosy for Betis. They have started the season like a slug making its way through hot tar. The defence is looking incredibly penetrable, the midfield are neither here nor there and the forwards (plus the rest of the team) are managing less than a goal a game, and that’s even including three they scored in one game against Valencia! Two wins out of 10 mean that only Osasuna and Almería are below them. It is the first time that Betis have been in a relegation zone under Pepe Mel.

Ok, so that is what has happened so far in a nutshell. Last night’s 5-0 hammering was the pinnacle. I aired my views last night on Twitter as did thousands of other supporters. The Spanish/Seville based media have not been pleasant towards Betis. 

Beticismo.net called it ‘ridículo‘ in their report. On Twitter today Beticismo also said ‘to lose in the Calderón is possible, very possible. But this attitude cannot be taken’. They are absolutely spot on. It hasn’t just been in this last game. Béticos are becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of commitment and passion being shown by a lot of players.

This has even led to some Béticos dismissing the clubs iconic phrase, Viva el Betis manquepierda – Long live Betis even when we lose. Citing that is doesn’t apply if the players don’t care. Again, I agree. There is nothing more disheartening as a fan of football than to see your beloved team go down without a fight and without a care.

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BUT there is hope! We have Pepe Mel and almost all Béticos are staunchly behind him and if they are not then they should be! Pepe Mel will never back down and shy away from a scrap.

The first thing he did on Monday morning was to change his plans and open the gates so anyone who wanted to could watch the players train when the first session starts on Tuesday. As on the train last night, the players had to answer directly to the fans. A similar precedent was set the last time Betis were highly embarrassed, after losing 5-1 to eternal rivals Sevilla. It’s true that some fans displayed their views to the players and staff and that at times training was heated and intense. That is what the player need, a good kick up the backside to get them going.

Pepe Mel also immediately ordered a press conference to face the media straight up and so he could explain the situation at the club – ask me anything you like he said. He laid some home-truths, touched a few sensitive spots but remained upbeat and completely focussed on the task. We need this positive outlook to get through this rough patch. Below are just a few excerpts of what he said:

“If I jumped ship I would be a coward, a very bad professional and a very bad Bético.”

“The unity of everybody is key.”

“If we don’t win on Thursday (against Levante) it will be a small drama for us and that in match day 11 is dangerous.”

“We need players that are strong mentally, people that want the ball and enjoy the game. I don’t have a problem with that, it will be better or worse and we will have horrific days like Getafe, which has outraged me more.”

“We have time to paint the future the colour of what we want.”

“They was a more worse situation in 2010 and we got through it together and a worse situation when we lost five games in la segunda and we had to ascend because if we didn’t the club would have died.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves, Pepe Mel isn’t ratified miracle worker but he is a bloody good manager and trainer. Béticos (including me) need to accept that we can’t just rely on Rubén Castro. Mel needs to get Chuli firing. He is a very good young player, you don’t make your debut for a club like Betis and score a hat-trick if there isn’t something about you. He is in the same mould as Rubén Castro but he needs to believe in himself. Molina has shown he is a good striker but he hasn’t got the same killer instinct to be deadly, needing around five good chances before he finds the net. Without service Chuli is going to do nothing. Juanfran needs to start playing on the wing again and Cedrick needs to find the form that has Sergio Ramos and co. backing off with horror. Most of all Betis need Verdú, Salva Sevilla or Nosa to provide the driving force in midfield to get the whole team going. There is no real leader at Betis at the moment and this is a major problem. Somebody needs to pick up the mantle. It could be Matilla, it could be Nosa, it could be Paulao. The biggest problem Pepe Mel has got at the minute is getting his players to believe in themselves and unite as one on the pitch. Football is a team game but they aren’t performing as one.

As Pepe said himself, Betis have been in worse situations and have got through them together. The club, the fans, the players, the staff as one. Betis will turn this situation around, starting with Levante on Thursday.

Viva er Beti manquepierda!