MADRID • There were repeated calls from supporters for Valencia coach Marcelino to be sacked when the Spanish LaLiga club were languishing in 12th position last December. Look who's having the last laugh now?
The 53-year-old Spaniard was feted by the travelling fans after the final whistle at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla on Saturday as Valencia secured Champions League football for the second year in a row by beating Real Valladolid 2-0 in their final match of the season.
Valencia, owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, clinched fourth place with 61 points, two ahead of Getafe, who drew 2-2 at home to Villarreal. Marcelino's side had to win to make sure of fourth spot and goals from Carlos Soler and Rodrigo guaranteed that.
Club president Anil Murthy told the Straits Times in a phone interview: "In the last five years since Peter bought the club, we've been in the Champions League three times and qualifying two times in a row is quite a feat.
"This year, we made history in the Spanish league. No team has come from such a difficult first half (of the season) to climb back up all the way to reach the fourth spot."
"It has been a very difficult year with a lot of demanding games," added captain Daniel Parejo. "We didn't make the best start but, by working hard, we've managed to turn things around."
Valencia will be looking to finish the season on a high when they face LaLiga champions Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final at the Estadio Benito Villamarin in Seville on Saturday.
This year, we made history in the Spanish league. No team has come from such a difficult first half (of the season) to climb back up all the way to reach the fourth spot.
'' ANIL MURTHY, club president, on Valencia working hard and turning things around after making a wretched start this season.
Qualifying for the Champions League and reaching the Copa del Rey final had seemed like a distant dream early on in the season when they won only one of their first 11 league matches.
The rebellion against Marcelino began during a 1-1 draw in December with Sevilla when angry fans waved handkerchiefs, the traditional signal of dissatisfaction in Spanish stadiums.
The protests reached boiling point during a game against then basement club Huesca later that month and not even a last-gasp winning goal could quell the anger, as fans continued to furiously boo the team and their coach after the final whistle.
After a limp defeat by Alaves in January, reports were rife that Marcelino would be sacked by Valencia, but he was helped by public support from his players and clung on to his job.
In the space of four months, Marcelino has gone from persona non grata to becoming the first Valencia coach to secure successive top-four finishes since Unai Emery in 2012.
They also reached the semi-finals of the Europa League before losing to Arsenal 7-3 on aggregate.
Murthy said: "It's a mixture of factors (for the turnaround).
"What happened in the first half (of the season) was that our defence was good, but we weren't scoring enough goals so we had to change our strike force.
"(Michy) Batshuayi went to Crystal Palace and we brought in a couple of players. The big difference in the second half was that we started scoring more goals and chalked up 38 points compared with 23 in the first (half of the season).
"And, while most people expected us to change our coach, we chose stability and decided to support Marcelino."
And Murthy hinted that Marcelino will stay on at the Mestalla, saying: "He has proven himself in the two years as our coach.
"In football, results matter the most and he has delivered results."
Asked about the club's plans for next season, the former diplomat said the club's focus is solely on the "huge" Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
"The first objective is to beat Barcelona on Saturday," he said.
"Now that we're in the Champions League, we will refine the team with players who can compete with the best in Europe.
"This year, we beat Manchester United (2-1 in Valencia) in the Champions League. I don't mind getting Liverpool in our group next year."
- Additional reporting by Xener Gill