He looks a little bit like what would happen if Jason Statham ate Martin Jol; but just who is Pepe Mel?
The 50-yard old Spaniard was appointed West Brom manager yesterday, succeeding Steve Clarke, who was sacked in December.
Mel started his playing career as a striker for Real Madrid, but never made it past the youth teams. Similarly ill-fated and goal shy spells at RCD Alaca and Osasuna soon followed before a tiny club just north of Valencia handed him a second chance. 28 goals in 62 appearances for Castellon then attracted the interest of Real Betis, with whom he would enjoy his best years as a player, picking up the Pichichi Trophy (top scorer) in 1990.
After leaving Betis in 1993, he slipped into relative obscurity, journeying Spain and France’s lower leagues to varying levels of success. He eventually hung up his boots in 1998; though his absence from the game would be brief, with Mel embarking upon a management career the very next season. He started small at amateur side Coslada, a club based in his native Madrid; and in 2001, after one year at then second division Real Murcia, he replaced Valencia bound Rafa Benitez in charge of CD Tenerife. It was his first job as a top flight coach, but Mel could not save them from relegation.
In the following seasons, he see-sawed between Spain’s second and third divisions, enduring unsuccessful tenures at Alaves, Poli Ejido and Rayo Vallecano. It was beginning to look bleak before former club Betis handed him their reigns in 2010.
It would seem that Betis was his team, the one he was meant for. A popular choice among fans, he led the club to promotion as champions from the second tier in his first season, and to the comforts of mid-table the year after. In the 2012-2013 season, Mel led Betis to seventh in La Liga and subsequently qualified for the Europa League.
But a turn for the worse this season would see him sacked in early December, with Betis rooted firmly to the bottom of the table. The decision, however, was not necessarily a welcome one. Still held in high esteem by most fans, there can be no overlooking what Mel had achieved in the last three years.
In a very short space of time, Mel transformed Betis from a stagnant second division side into Europa League contestants. Committed to an attractive brand of passing and possession football, what he delivered must have been beyond even the most optimistic supporter’s expectations on such a paltry, shoestring budget.
Much of Mel’s success at Betis centered around a highly organised midfield, owed largely to two players, who due to financial constraints, he was forced to sell – Benat who joined Bilbao and Jose Canas now at Swansea. West Brom are blessed with a particularly talented midfield pairing in the shape of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu which might help Mel to achieve his preferred style.
Beyond the pitch though, the appeal of Mel is in his candour. He is not a manager to shift blame or make excuses for poor results and interacts directly with the fans. After a heavy loss to Atletico Madrid last October, Betis’ training ground was invaded by an angry mob. Mel did not shirk or hide from their complaints, he took the time to answer them, building a positive and constructive rapport. His teary farewell press conference was by no stretch insincere – Mel is a passionate manager, whose transparency in the Premier League would be a nice change.
Some Baggies fans might feel Mel was the cheap option, having been linked with some more well-known coaches, namely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Malky Mackay; but his record at Betis against the backdrop of financial ruin, makes the Spaniard fully deserving of this chance.
Mel will take charge of his first game at home to Roberto Martinez' Everton on 20 January.