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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Granada shed no tears for Moreno, the man who lost his battle with a shadow | Granada CF

“Diego isn’t here any more, Robert Moreno is,” Robert Moreno said, but now he has gone too, Granada announcing that they had sacked their coach in a brief statement released at 12.37am on Saturday shortly after landing from Valencia. Eighteen minutes later, the B-team coach Rubén Torrecilla was named as his replacement. Moreno hadn’t lasted long – it is five-and-a-half months since that line, tone set early, and six-and-a-half since his first game – but it was longer than he had ever lasted before and longer than many expected, or wanted. Two days on, no-one has said goodbye.

When he left the training ground on Sunday, Moreno did so quietly. He had taken charge of 29 games at Granada, 27 in the league and two in the cup, which at least was 13 more than his previous job, at Monaco. He was in the job before that, his first as head coach, for nine matches but those had been successful and his departure was supposed to be good news even for him. Assistant at the selección, he was made Spain’s caretaker until his friend Luis Enrique felt ready to return following his daughter’s diagnosis with cancer. There came a point when he didn’t seem to see it that way, though, which is why his tenure ended the way it did, in tears.

That time, they were only his. When he left Monaco, he claimed that he found players and staff crying at the news that he wasn’t going to continue. This time, there are none. Granada have not won this year, picking up three points from nine, Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Mestalla their sixth in seven games. They are a single pointabove the relegation zone and were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Atlético Mancha Real from Group IX of the tercera división, somewhere below the 10th tier. But that’s not the only reason there was something oddly inevitable about this almost from the start, why his brief spell in charge might have been briefer, one paper describing the “chronicle of a sacking foretold”. The eighth manager sacked in primera this season could have been the first.

Something never really felt right, even with the early optimism. Employed by the board before the new sporting director had arrived, the personal choice of director general Patricia Rodríguez, Moreno replaced Diego Martínez, which was some cross to bear. Martínez, the most successful manager the club ever had, brought them up and led them into Europe for the first time ever, reaching the quarter-finals and a meeting with Manchester United. Impossibly energetic, charismatic and hugely popular, he had built a team that was very much his. And even though he studiously stayed away, refusing to set foot in the stadium or be seen anywhere near it, heading to England at one point, Rodríguez admitted the former coach cast a “long shadow”. Following him wasn’t going to be easy. Moreno knew that, which was part of the reason it was even harder for him.

“This team reached the summit, now it has to leap for the moon,” Moreno told Ideal not long after arriving. While survival was the objective, he said they would look to Europe too, suggesting that this team could be better than that one. More stylish, purer, a better football team. Instead, Granada were soon heading downhill. They didn’t wake up until September ended, finally collecting their first win at the start of October by beating Sevilla. The problem was that Granada only won one of the next seven, and it wasn’t even just that: it was him.

Even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on why, you wondered how long he would last as early as August. When fans started chanting “Robert, vete ya!” – “Robert, go now” – fewer than seven games into the season, you thought he really might be gone soon. And nor was it just results: it was something simpler, something almost too basic. He just didn’t feel like he belonged, like he was theirs. Moreno hadn’t exactly been given time and as the song went round, there was an ironic smile that made it worse. Afterwards, swivelling in his chair, shrugging a “so?”, he reminded them that Martínez wasn’t coming back.

When Luis Enrique returned to the Spain job after the tragic death of his daughter, taking over from Moreno again, he publicly attacked his former assistant and now former friend for being “disloyal” and “over-ambitious”, immediately ditching him from his staff as he kept the rest. Moreno had initially said that he would be delighted to step aside but, after seven wins and two draws in nine games, he had started to think he might lead them into the Euros – and suggested that Luis Enrique wait.

“Life shows you who people are,” Luis Enrique said of Moreno. “He labelled me with two very ugly things that I don’t deserve. I am not that,” Moreno insisted. He was probably right, but perhaps that lingered, conditioned the way he was seen.

When he went to Monaco, he said that he had offers from “the five continents” but, interrupted by the pandemic, it didn’t work out. At Granada there was something in his attempts to distance himself from Martínez that felt almost dismissive, and fans who saw a man not so much trying to step out of Martínez’s shadow as fight his way out – and they didn’t much appreciate the punches thrown. They detected a hint of superiority that may not have been fair but they couldn’t help feeling it. Young, handsome, proud, they saw something a little chulo in him: chest out, jaw out too, pouting and defiant, defensive.

Carlos Soler of Valencia scores from the penalty spot against Granada.
Carlos Soler of Valencia scores from the penalty spot against Granada. Photograph: Ivan Terron/DPPI/LiveMedia/Shutterstock

At one press conference in December, the tension came to the surface. Asked about opponents Atlético, he replied: “I don’t have to answer that.” What about the four-four-two which seems to be going well, he was asked: “That’s why I use it.” Asked how defender Quini was: “You have to ask him.” Will you rotate? “Tomorrow you’ll see.” The next day he apologised, insisting: “I’m a human and I make mistakes … it was not my best day for personal reasons,” he said, noting that he had been trending on Twitter.

All of which was fair enough – it is a miracle that players and managers don’t get shirty more often – but there wasn’t a great deal of warmth, even when they were winning. Which by then they were. That day, they defeated Atlético – part of a run of seven without defeat, equalling a club record. If there was a feeling that patience may have been rewarded, that they had found their feet, the manager accepting petitions to be more pragmatic, somehow there was still something they were not sure of, little affection. And then, despite spending €10m in the winter, they stopped winning again. Atlético was their last victory, and that was nine games ago.

And so it ends, early but later than it might have done, resistance from the club’s ownership in China finally overcome after a couple of weeks on edge and a season that never truly felt secure. Granada have won only five league games from 27. On Saturday the captain Germán Sánchez insisted that the players believed in Moreno but no one has said anything since, no farewell and no thanks. The wife of Luis Abram, currently out on loan, declared: “At last! I’m sure better things will come.”

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La Liga results

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Alavés 0-0 Sevilla
Real Madrid 4-1 Real Sociedad
Valencia 3-1 Granada
Espanyol 2-0 Getafe
Osasuna 1-0 Villarreal
Real Betis 1-3 Atlético Madrid
Celta Vigo 4-3 Real Mallorca
Elche 1-2 Barcelona
Cádiz 2-0 Rayo Vallecano

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They have to: next up, Granada face Elche, four points ahead of them, and Alavés, who are three points behind. “New manager, guaranteed victory,” the line goes and they had to try something. Besides, it has worked for others, not just at Barcelona but at the bottom, too.

Levante went from no wins in eight to no wins in 15 when they changed from Paco López to Javier Pereira, but have a weensy bit of a chance now with Alessio Lisci in charge. There’s a glimpse of hope emerging at Alavés who have won one and drawn two of their last four under José Luis Mendilíbar. Under Fran Escribá, Elche won two of 14 and were 18th; under Francisco, they’ve won five and are five points clear of the relegation zone. Cádiz, who sacked Álvaro Cervera, are one point from safety having just won a top-flight game in front of their home fans for the first time since 2006. And Quique Sánchez Flores has performed a miracle at Getafe.

At the same time as Getafe sacked Míchel and Levante bade farewell to Paco López, with fans singing for Robert to “go now” and many wondering if that might not be a bad idea, Granada won their first game of the season. “A liberation,” Moreno called it, but it didn’t last and now he has gone too.

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