Saturday afternoon’s LaLiga Santander meeting between Valencia and Barcelona at Mestalla brings a long-awaited first opportunity for Albert Celades to coach against the club he first joined over three decades ago.
Celades, 44, has impressed in a sometimes-difficult situation during his first managerial job in LaLiga this season, and now faces new Barça coach Quique Setien in what will be just his second game with the blaugrana.
Barcelona-born Celades jointed his boyhood club's La Masia academy aged just 13, climbing the ranks before making his LaLiga debut in El Clasico at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in September 1995 during Johan Cruyff’s time as coach.
The tactically intelligent midfielder went on to make 72 LaLiga appearances over four seasons as an important member of the Barça first team squad, scoring four goals and winning the LaLiga title in 1997/98 and 1998/99.
He later represented RC Celta, Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza, winning two more LaLiga titles while at the Bernabeu, before spells in France with Bordeaux and the United States with New York Red Bulls. Meanwhile, he won four senior caps with the Spain national team including two at World Cup 1998.
An intriguing aspect of Celades’ playing career was the number of teammates who have gone on to coaching success after hanging up their boots. These include four current LaLiga bosses: Zinedine Zidane [Real Madrid], Oscar Garcia [Celta], Abelardo Fernandez [Espanyol] and Julen Lopetegui [Sevilla]. Other former Camp Nou colleagues include now Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, Al-Sadd coach Xavi Hernandez and current Barça directors Guillermo Amor and Patrick Kluivert.
Celades’ own coaching career began with Spain’s underage international teams in 2013, and he helmed his country’s Under-21 side for four years from 2014 to 2018, when he first met his current Valencia charges Jose Luis Gaya and Carlos Soler. He also worked as an assistant to close associate Lopetegui with both Spain’s senior side and Real Madrid.
A perhaps surprise appointment by Valencia when Marcelino Garcia Toral left last September, Celades has impressed hugely with both his tactical ideas and calmness under pressure. His teams like to control games with their passing, while he has also shown flexibility and a hard edge when required.
Although his first game was a difficult 5-2 LaLiga defeat at the Camp Nou in this weekend’s reverse fixture, Celades soon steadied the ship at Mestalla and the team started to climb the LaLiga table to their current position of seventh. Strong home form – four wins and two draws in their last six games – has been crucial to this. Los Che have also progressed to the Champions League last 16, winning a group which also included Premier League side Chelsea and last year’s semi-finalists Ajax.
New Barça coach Setien is not among Celades’ former teammates but the two will surely have plenty to discuss when they meet at Mestalla on Saturday afternoon.Published 23 Jan 2020, 16:33 IST