'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.”

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor