As expected, David Gallego was officially dismissed as Espanyol’s head coach on Monday evening. The man from Súria is gone and has been replaced by a Machín. Pablo Machín, former coach of Numancia, Girona and Sevilla. He was presented to the media and fans yesterday, saying all the right things and highlighting the importance of the fans in helping the club to move onwards and upwards. “When you took over at Sevilla last summer, did you imagine you would be here to fight a relegation battle just a year later?”, asked nobody.
Such is the way of modern football that we were treated to surreal scenes such as Machín being greeted by Espanyol owner Chen Yansheng via video call and interpreter, and plenty of nice video montages showing the new coach becoming versed in blanc-i-blau folklore. He was surely itching to get out on the training pitch with the players, and will have his first opportunity to do so today. Let’s have a look back over the new man’s career so far.
Pablo Machín represented his hometown club of Numancia as a player in Segunda B, Spain’s third tier. After injury ended his playing career prematurely, he went into coaching, sticking with the club from Soria and coaching youth teams and the B team before becoming assistant head coach in 2007, with the club by then established in Segunda.
Over the next four years he worked alongside head coaches such as Gonzalo Arconada, Sergi Kresic, Pacheta and Juan Carlos Unzué as the club enjoyed a brief jaunt up to La Liga in the 08/09 season, before immediately heading back down to more comfortable surroundings. In 2011, when Unzué decided that he would prefer to rejoin Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff at Barcelona, the Numancia board turned to him.
In two seasons at the helm, Machín did not exactly set the world alight, rather guiding the club to consecutive mid-table finishes, notably devoid of much stress. Fans were not especially sad to see him go, however, with the club recording only two wins away from home in his final season. Presumably the board weren’t either, letting him go at the end of his contract.
His next opportunity would not come until March of the following season, with Girona, the riches of affiliation with Manchester City as yet a mere glint in Sheikh Mansour’s eye, floundering at the bottom of Segunda. The Catalan club were bottom of the table with thirteen games left to play, and staring into the abyss of Segunda B and regional football. After two initial losses, Machín turned the club’s fortunes around dramatically, losing only twice in their last 11 games. A home win against Deportivo la Coruña on the final day was enough to clinch safety, and for Machín, a new contract.
Girona romped through the following season, reaching the final round of fixtures needing only a win at home to a Lugo side with nothing left to play for to secure automatic promotion to La Liga. It was all going well until the final minute.
The late equaliser was a cruel blow. A disallowed goal in stoppage time added insult to injury, with ugly scenes ensuing when the assistant referee was hit by a UFO thrown by the home support. Girona would have to settle for the playoffs, but they failed to dust themselves down and were hammered by Zaragoza in the semis.
When Pere Guardiola established murky connections with Girona in summer 2015, it ensured that this kind of promotion push would not be an isolated incident. Players like Pablo Maffeo, Rubén Sobrino, Aleix García, Angeliño and Douglas Luiz would all arrive on loan from Man City in subsequent transfer windows. Machín fell under scrutiny in the 15/16 season, as the club struggled for most of the season, before eventually breaking into the playoff positions in the final weeks. This time they had the momentum. This time they reached the final, beating Córdoba after extra time. Osasuna, however, would prove to be a bridge too far. Disappointment once more, and another season in Segunda awaited.
It felt like the last-chance saloon for Machín, and he responded by leading Girona through a much more consistent campaign in 16/17. At least until March, that is, when the wheels began to come off. Until that point they had been running away with Levante at the top of the table, but doubts crept in as they lost six of their next 11 matches to open the door to Getafe. On Sunday, June 4th, 2017, Girona made history. It was not beautiful, with a 0-0 draw at home to Zaragoza getting them over the line, but they finished second to become a La Liga club for the first time in their history. Pablo Machín was the coach who took them there, and he has guaranteed himself a prime position in the club’s history because of it.
The historic 17/18 season turned out to be something of a lap of honour, with the expected relegation battle never materialising as Girona finished in 10th position, two points and one place above Espanyol. Machín’s side won 0-1 at the RCDE stadium in round 15, but the pericos got their revenge with a Gerard Moreno double securing a 0-2 reverse at the Montilivi in week 34.
Machín’s stock was high, and he decided to cash in when an offer came in from Sevilla at the end of the season. Forgoing the final year on his Girona contract, he signed a new two-year deal with the Andalusian club. The season started in promising fashion, with Sevilla competing in the top four, and progressing through the group stages in the Europa League. A losing streak after Christmas, however, meant patience was wearing thin. Standards are high at Sevilla these days and the club expects to compete for silverware each and every season. They had fallen to sixth in the league by the time they travelled to Prague to face Slavia in the second leg of the last-16 Europa League tie. Three trophies in this competition and two appearances in the CHampions League knock-out rounds in the previous five seasons meant failure was not an option. Fail they did, though, thanks to an own goal in the final minute of extra time from Simon Kjaer. It was seen an an embarrassing capitulation by the Sevilla board, and Machín was fired immediately.
On the face of it, it was a harsh decision. Machín’s Sevilla were far from terrible, and they may have recovered in the league. In the end, they finished sixth under interim coach Joaquín Caparrós. Girona, meanwhile, were hurtling towards relegation under Eusebio. Machín could argue that his new team were still adapting to his playing style, that they were unlucky to be eliminated from Europe, but, ultimately, the results spoke for themselves.
And so we come to Espanyol. Machín was touted as a possible replacement for the outgoing Rubi in the summer, before the board opted for an inhouse substitute in the form of David Gallego. He now has just under two weeks to transmit something of his approach to the squad (minus Vargas, Wu Lei, Lozano, Pedrosa and Pipa), before the real challenge begins against Villarreal a week on Sunday.
Of course, the fans will be fully behind the new boss, but how optimistic should we be?
- Leading Girona to La Liga for the first time in their history in 16/17
- Keeping Girona in La Liga with relative ease in 17/18
- Losing consecutive promotion playoffs with Girona in 14/15 and 15/16
- Losing in the Europa League round of 16 with Sevilla and being sacked as a result
- No cup pedigree whatsoever
Overall, Pablo Machín’s teams have performed consistently in the league. Despite only being 44 years old, he has eight years of experience as head coach, but only two of these were in La Liga. He won’t have much of a settling in period, as the situation could become desperate fairly quickly, but his record in this regard bodes well.
On the other hand, his record in playoffs is poor, and his side’s challenges in cup competitions are non-existent. On top of this, Girona showed a worrying tendency to crack when the chips were down in the latter stages of promotion campaigns. This suggests that the Europa League may not be much of a priority. This would be a mistake, as it is the most exciting aspect of the season for Espanyol fans and is a reward for a great end to the season last time out.
Only time will tell, but Machín is our man now. Welcome to the club and let’s hope it’s a successful spell. Join us next time as we take a look at his tactical approach.