THE BLOG

From Betis to the Baggies

14/01/2014 15:14 GMT | Updated 16/03/2014 09:59 GMT

It was a tearful last press conference from the man who had led Real Betis back into the big time.

With the fans outside of the stadium chanting the name of their icon, Pepe Mel, the longest serving manager in the Primera, thanked them for their loyal support - and emotionally made for the exit following his dismissal in early December.

As the old saying goes, "when one door closes, another opens" - and that couldn't be truer in the case of Mel, who pitched up as the new Head Coach at West Brom on Friday.

He has never hidden his desire to one day ply his trade in the Premier League, even taking English lessons over the last year in order to better prepare himself for a move.

But little was he to know that his opportunity would come so soon - and having watched his Betis side extensively, I believe that his new club have unearthed a real gem.

In the media scramble following his appointment at the Hawthorns, I have seen the decision to bring him to the Midlands described as everything from "a gamble", to "surprising" - and even "disappointing."

A relatively unknown quanitity outside of Spain, I can understand the initial trepidation of some Baggies fans - but in many ways, he and West Brom are perfect for each other.

My family hails from Seville, and I still spend much of my time in the area - so I have experienced first hand the passion that football ignites across the city.

The two top tier clubs in the area, Sevilla and Real Betis, enjoy a fierce rivalry - and, although he was born in Madrid, Mel has been adopted as a true Betico icon.

He arrived in at the Estadio Benito Villamarín back in the early 90s, making his mark on the pitch as he made over 100 appearances in the green and white, notching an impressive 50 goals.

After eventually moving on, and enjoying success at a host of other clubs, he retired from playing and turned his attentions to management - learning his trade under Rafa Benitez at Tenerife before returning to Andalusia in 2010, with Betis languishing in the Segunda Division.

Even then, he was not a particularly obvious choice for the role.

But taking charge of a side in financial difficulties and at a low ebb on the pitch, his attractive and free-flowing approach to football saw him engineer a turnaround which will live long in the memory of the Beticos.

The Verdiblancos secured their place back in La Liga in his first full year at the helm - and followed up that success by finishing seventh, and securing a place in the Europa League, last campaign.

But it was always going to be difficult to maintain the upward motion of those three years. Some excellent displays last season put his players under the spotlight - and other clubs came to cherry pick their talents over the summer.

In many ways, Pepe Mel was a victim of his own success.

The loss of key players such as José Canas to Swansea and Beñat Etxebarria to Atletico Bilbao, as well as the injury of influential forward Ruben Castro, who described Mel as "a friend, and a father figure", left gaping holes in the Betis squad.

It is perhaps testament to Mel's man-management skills that Beñat, who last season broke into the Spain squad on the back of the performances of his life, has struggled to recapture that form at his new club.

With their replacement signings struggling to gel into a cohesive unit, Betis stuttered and stalled right from the off this season - and slumped to the bottom of the table.

A 4-0 drubbing in a fiery Seville derby proved the final nail in the coffin for Mel - and in the aftermath of that defeat, the club made the decision to part ways with their icon.

As someone who has worked closely with, and owned, a host of clubs across the continent, I have written before that it is the owner's job to make the tough calls - however unpopular those decisions may be.

I know the Real Betis President, Miguel Guillén, very well - and the decision to remove Mel and his staff from their posts is not one that he would have taken lightly.

Fast forward just a month, and Mel now has a fantastic opportunity to make his mark in the Premier League.

Albion are a solid, forward-thinking club - and with Richard Garlick in the role of Sporting and Technical Director, they are actually rather continental in their structure and approach.

The arrival of the Spaniard into English football is yet another nod towards a growing appreciation of the focus on ball retention and entertaining approach that we see so often in Europe - and a further nail in the coffin of the traditional, outdated, 'English way'.

More and more, English clubs are turning to the likes of Mel, and for that matter, Pochettino, Laudrup and Martinez, instead of English managers - and all of the above have certain attributes in common.

Intelligence, a real tactical astuteness, and a deep-rooted desire to produce attractive, dynamic football - as well as a patient, thought out approach.

"They are thinking of the future, and have an important model in place." Mel said of his new employers over the weekend. "They wanted a Spanish coach, as we do things well. I want to show them they were not wrong."

They're certainly not wrong. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has travelled Spain extensively in order to soak up and school himself in the traditional coaching methods which have fared La Roja so well over the last few years.

His approach to the game leans heavily on the Spanish blueprint - and I believe that his commitment to his own on-going learning and development is something that more young British managers need to show.

It is all too clear that Premier League fans are no longer willing to accept unattractive and direct tactics. Even if results are going favourably, that approach leaves a sour taste in the mouths of supporters.

A quick look at the furore over at West Ham in recent months suggests that the mindset of Premier League clubs and supporters is evolving - and that patient, intelligent and, most importantly, easy on the eye football, a mirror of what is being produced on the continent, is now a necessity.

With that in mind, I think that Mel, and his exciting, dynamic approach to the game, will suit English football very well.

His reputation in Spain, and particularly Seville, really is second to none.

He is very much seen as "a thinker" in the Arsene Wenger mould, and is well known for his love of classical music and literature, having written a pair of published mystery novels.

As he prepares for his introduction against Everton at The Hawthorns next Monday, all eyes here in Seville will be fixed on what his next chapter holds.