Benítez’s Celta flies low | Soccer | Sports
“I didn’t think it was going to cost so much,” resolves Rafa Benítez (Madrid, 1960), who on his return to Spanish football is dealing with a project that wants to be based on patience, but who on the ninth matchday is already bothered by a classification that places him in a relegation position. Celta has its worst start to the championship since Carlos Aimar had to pack his bags in 1995 after collecting the same five points in eight games that the award-winning coach now presents as baggage. Only in 1956, with five draws and three defeats, had the Balaídos team started the League so stranded, that it is second to last after winning in Almería, drawing with Real Sociedad and Alavés and falling with Osasuna, Real Madrid, Mallorca, Barcelona and the past Monday in Las Palmas. This Sunday they host Getafe and after the national team break they will play at home again, against Atlético. “I don’t have a blank check,” says Benítez. But the feeling is that his prestige and the three-year contract that he signed in the summer are what keep him going in a project that is not taking off.
The messages from Celta refer to patience, a value that has not always been perceived in a club where in the last 17 years, under Carlos Mouriño, 19 coaches have passed through. All despite the fact that the club is now beginning its twelfth consecutive campaign among the big teams, just two seasons away from equaling its best historical stay in the top category. Right in the year of the Centennial and with the near horizon of a presidential replacement that is de facto already confirmed in the day to day that Marian, the daughter of the owner of the club, captains, Celta is a team in the works with an identity that does not end to focus. Established as it was on the foundations of its prolific nursery, the team showed off last Monday in Las Palmas a starting eleven in which barely one player from the house was lined up, the goalkeeper Iván Villar and the captain’s armband was worn by the Swede Starfelt, who reached that honor after playing seven games with the team.
Last summer, captain Hugo Mallo, who was just on the verge of playing in the final of the Copa Libertadores with Internacional de Porto Alegre, said goodbye. Gabri Veiga went to Arabia. Denis Suárez left before him, who ended his contract in conflict with the president, or Brais Méndez, transferred for 14 million euros to Real Sociedad, a bargain. “We have lost quality. We need that last touch that we don’t have now,” cried Iago Aspas in the heat of last season, resolved with a last-minute salvation. This summer the club focused the market on bringing in a forward (Douvikas), two wingers (Bamba and the return of Carles Pérez), two left backs (Manu Sánchez and Ristic), a new midfielder from Castilla (Dotor), a center back (Starfelt ) and a goalkeeper (Guaita). Basically he signed for all the profiles except for the one he needed the most, the one Aspas claimed.
Now 36 years old, the Celta emblem maintains its influence on the team: he is the LaLiga footballer with the highest number of key passes (those that generate scoring chances). With 25 he surpasses Isco by one and Adri Embarba and Fede Valverde by eight, but in 603 minutes of play he has not scored a goal. Against Alavés the coach replaced him just after the hour mark and in Las Palmas he had him on as a substitute until the 70th minute. “When Iago comes back, we lack something up front and when he is up front, we lack something back to link up,” assumes Benítez, who before starting the season had already announced a new time for the celestial idol: “You must think about quality and not quantity. It is not about him having to play 40 games, but about doing the ones he has to play very well to make a difference and for the team to win.” While the roles are defined and the results validate them, the coach already slips that things could have been done better. “We know that the January market can help us fix some things that we have not been able to cover,” says Benítez.
In the background beats the figure of Luis Campos (Esposende, 1964), the sports advisor who combines his work at Celta with that he develops at Paris Saint-Germain. The newspaper The Team He pointed out a few weeks ago that the Vigo team was left without the signing of French midfielder Batista Mendy because Angers’ latest requests caught Campos busy with the last day of the market at the Parc des Princes. Juan Carlos Calero, the Portuguese strategist’s deputy in Vigo, denies that episode and warns: “I worked with Luis Campos 20 hours a day throughout the summer.” Calero, a man from Albacete who ran Andrés Iniesta’s youth football academy in Japan, arrived at Celta a little over a year ago as a link between Campos and his troop of analysts and scouts with the club. “Two brains like Campos and Benítez give us energy to continue growing,” he warns. They have work to do because the team lacks football and pose: if all their games had ended in the 80th minute they would have double the points and would be in the middle of the table.
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