José Bordalás’ long slog towards recognition

Words By Euan McTear Illustration by Philippe Fenner
May 11, 2018
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José Bordalás is both one of the most experienced coaches in LaLiga and one of the least experienced. He has been managing football teams for two and a half decades, so knows his stuff. Yet 2017/18 is his first ever campaign in charge of a top-flight side.

The current Getafe coach’s journey to the top has been a long and often brutal slog. When injuries cut his modest playing career short in 1992 at the age of 28, he began to study coaching. His first opportunity was with his hometown club Alicante, where he was handed the reins of the B team and where he helped them to win their regional league, the Primera Regional Valenciana, in his first season. It wasn’t long before he was in charge of the first team, but he soon departed for Benidorm, who were in the third-tier Segunda B division.

After managing to keep Benidorm in the division, completing his objective, he decided to leave the seaside resort and he nomadically passed through the lower leagues, assuming eight different coaching roles before his first opportunity to manage in second division arrived in 2006 at Hércules. Taking over midway through the campaign and with the club suffering boardroom drama and stuck in relegation bother, he managed to keep them up, but was fired seven weeks into the following campaign, with the team in the relegation zone.

This hit him hard. It wasn’t that he’d had a shot at the big time and let it slip through his fingers. It was that he’d had a shot at the medium time and it still hadn’t worked out. Bordalás took some time out from football after that disappointment, eventually returning over a year later with third division side Alcoyano. He was there for two seasons and in the second the Valencian club were just one goal away from returning to the second division for the first time in 40 years.

Even if Alcoyano didn’t win promotion, Bordalás did; he was appointed at second-tier side Elche. This time he did manage to stick around in the second division, lasting nearly three full seasons at the club and almost securing promotion to LaLiga, only to lose the play-off final to Granada on away goals in 2010/11.

He then switched to southern Madrid-based side Alcorcón ahead of the 2012/13 season, which was an important step for him on a personal level as he’d rarely strayed far from his hometown of Alicante. There, he piqued further attention as he took one of the smallest sides in the division all the way to fifth place and to the play-offs, although once again the play-offs chewed Bordalás up and spat him back out. He decided to leave at the end of that season, but returned six months later once the new coach had gotten Alcorcón into relegation bother, managing to keep them up that year and the next season too.

It was then that he was finally hired by a ‘big’ club. Alavés, having been all the way to the UEFA Cup final of 2001, had the kind of history that few other second division sides could dream of and Bordalás took over at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign. By this point in his career, the often fiery Bordalás had a very defined style of football and not one which many purists would appreciated. He set his sides up in a 4-4-2 formation and they generally played on the counter attack. “What’s the point of having 30 touches in your half of the pitch without moving forward?” he once asked in an interview with El Mundo. “People have started to confuse lengthy possession with good football.”

It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective and Alavés won the Segunda division in his first year at the Estadio Mendizorrotza. Finally Bordalás was set for LaLiga… except he wasn’t.

Alavés took the shocking decision to sack the man who had coached the side to the second division title, as a result of tensions between the coach and the board, the unattractive style and the fact that Bordalás’ side had only been marginally better than the other promotion candidates, winning the division with the lowest points total and goal difference in seven years and winning 15 of their 21 matches by just a one-goal margin. It turned out to be a smart decision for Alavés, but it was so cruel for Bordalás.

All of a sudden unemployed again, he didn’t take another job that summer and waited to see what would come up. In the seventh week of the 2016/17 season, the Getafe post became vacant, so Bordalás returned to southern Madrid to take over a recently relegated side that was second bottom of the second division. Amazingly, he took 62 points from a possible 105 to lead Geta to third place and to the play-offs, where he finally achieved success and claimed a second consecutive promotion to LaLiga.

This time, he was indeed allowed to lead the team he’d gotten promoted into the top division and the job he has done has been incredible. Even though Getafe are a newly promoted side, they are still fighting for Europa League qualification with just two weeks of the season to go. Again, the football hasn’t been stylistically brilliant, with Getafe leading the way in terms of fouls and yellow cards, while they have scored the fewest goals of any side in the top half of the table. Cala, who started the season with them, even admitted that 60% to 70% of their game is about playing long balls. But Bordalás is proving that he can win football matches. Bordalás is proving, after two and a half decades, that he belongs at the top.

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