Adios! Valencia sacks Gary Neville after just four months

Gary Neville's unhappy tenure at Valencia was brought to a sudden halt on Wednesday as the Spanish club announced he had been sacked after just four months in charge.

Adios! Valencia sacks Gary Neville after just four months
Photo: AFP

Neville's first foray into senior management after limited experience as an assistant to Roy Hodgson with England was a risky one from the day the shock announcement of his appointment was made in early December.

On the back of a hugely successful 20-year playing career with Manchester United, Neville had gained widespread praise for his astute analysis as a Sky Sports pundit in his homeland before taking up the challenge offered by Valencia's Singaporean owner, his business partner and friend Peter Lim.

The hiring of an untried coach who didn't speak Spanish and the close personal relationship between Lim and Neville raised suspicions straight away in Valencia.

“I would question it as a neutral observer,” Neville said himself on the day he was presented as the club's new coach.

“I'd be sceptical and I would want to be proved otherwise. Anyone who has any doubts, concerns, reservations, they'll only be removed if we win football matches.”

Ultimately, he didn't win enough even to see out his short-term contract until the end of the season.

“I would have liked to have continued the work I started but understand that we are in a results business and in the 28 games (W10, D7, L11) they have not been to my standards or to those which are required by this club,” Neville said in a statement after his dismissal.

Even those statistics are padded by three wins in Cup ties against third-tier Barakaldo and struggling Granada, as well as a 10-0 aggregate rout of Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.

Neville won just three of 16 La Liga games in charge to see Los Che tumble from four points off the Champions League places when he arrived, to six points above the relegation zone with a tough final eight games of the season to come.

Cup runs briefly prolonged his stay, yet even they ended in major disappointment.

The 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final was described by sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch as one of the worst results in the club's history.

Elimination from the Europa League at the hands of a fellow La Liga side with far fewer resources in Athletic Bilbao earlier this month closed the door to any salvation for a miserable season at the Mestalla.

Neville will be succeeded for the remainder of the season by Pako Ayestaran.    The hiring of Rafael Benitez's former assistant to translate Neville's ideas to the squad in February coincided with Valencia's only upturn in form in recent months.

“I'm the head coach of Valencia, I will be the head coach of Valencia for the rest of this season. If I leave, Pako will leave,” Neville said at the time of suggestions Ayestaran had been hired with eyes to replacing him.   

Neville's trust in Ayestaran, his old friend Lim and his own ability to turn around a sinking ship in Spain was ultimately misplaced.

By Kieran Canning

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.