'Traveller' Pepe Mel's history is good news for West Bromwich Albion

 

After waiting 26 days to learn the identity of their new manager, West Bromwich Albion fans could be forgiven for feeling a little underwhelmed by the appointment of Pepe Mel as Steve Clarke’s successor.

This is a man, after all, recently sacked by La Liga’s bottom club Real Betis and whose negotiations with West Bromwich had initially broken down over the Spaniard’s thwarted wish to bring his own staff with him, before this week’s unexpected U-turn.

Yet Albion supporters may be placated to hear that Mel, who will be on a watching brief at Southampton today as Keith Downing takes the reins one last time, is a man of surprises. Not only is the 50-year-old a history buff and published author, but at Betis he lifted a club with virtually no money out of the second division and into the Europa League.

Adrian, the West Ham goalkeeper, played under Mel at Betis and recalls how he confounded expectations with the club’s first European qualification since 2005. “Nobody thought last year with the squad we had that we could get a European place but we had a great season,” he told The Independent.

Adrian remembers Mel as “a coach who is quite close to his players” and plays an attractive, possession-based game, with a focus on attack. “We played from the back, with lots of touches, short passes. He likes to keep the ball but always looking for the goal, not backwards passes that take you nowhere.”

This love of attacking football reflects his own past as a centre-forward – Mel, whose father was a footballer too, was an unfussy No 9 schooled in Real Madrid’s academy who hit 22 goals as Betis won promotion to the top flight in 1990. When he returned to the Seville club as coach in 2010, the club were in administration and almost €90m (£74.7m) in debt, yet history repeated itself, his first campaign bringing promotion to La Liga as champions – his second trophy as a coach after Rayo Vallecano’s 2008 third-tier title win. Betis consolidated in 13th place the next year, before, on a €2.5m transfer budget, he lifted them to seventh last May.

It made him an icon at Betis, who must raise some €9m annually to pay off their debts. “In every match there was a moment when the fans would start chanting ‘Pepe Mel, Pepe Mel’,” Adrian added. Even at his valedictory press conference last month, fans gathered outside to sing his name and call for the dismissal of Vlada Stosic, the director of football whose poor transfer dealings last summer hit Betis hard.

Mel describes himself as a “viajero”, a traveller, in the blurb for his second novel, El Camino al Mas Alla (The Road to the Other Side). His journey now takes him to the Black Country and a club, like Betis, for whom many neutrals have a soft spot. He must slot into the club’s existing coaching structure but Adrian believes he can adjust. “He’s an open-minded person, who likes to broaden his perspective. He will adapt quickly.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'