Big changes mattered not a jot
The summer of 2016 brought plenty of change to Alavés. A promotion to a division within which they had not competed since 2005, a new coach who controversially replaced the man who had brought the group into LaLiga, and a host of new signings to try and equip the Basque club with the correct tools to battle relegation.
It has gone far better than that. The expectations at the outset of the campaign would have been low, but a fantastic season will have upped the benchmark heading into 2016/2017. Mauricio Pellegrino arrived as coach having previously failed to impress in Spain with Valencia, but has led Alavés to a confirmed top-half finish, as well as a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.
Earlier in the season, they managed to triumph against Blaugrana at Camp Nou, a shock result that also demonstrated just how far they have come as a club during a very short stretch of time – alongside a helpful three points. But while the top-flight success has arrived in unexpectedly quick fashion, it could all vanish in a similar instant.
Retaining the boss is vital for Alaves
Pellegrino has been heavily linked with a move away from Vitoria, in favour of taking over at Celta Vigo in the west. A step up which, if talking cynically, may well have been in mind for the 46-year-old before taking on Alavés’ challenge in 2016. Losing the Argentine coach will be a huge blow, but he isn’t the only member of their personnel to be guaranteed an exit.
The main issue with El Glorioso is their reliance on loan players. Due to their low budgets and inability to give high-earning players contracts, this has been a frailty dictated to them, rather than chosen. The policy of bringing in temporary signings has been a fruitful one that has aided the club on the pitch in the short-term, as well as giving a few excellent home-grown talents a chance that wouldn’t have got a look in elsewhere.
Marcos Llorente and Victor Camarasa have been key in the heart of the midfield for Alavés, with the former sitting deep to break up play while the other seeks to support their lone striker more closely. Theo Hernández has had an unbelievable breakout season at left-back under Pellegrino, after signing on loan from Atlético Madrid, while their main striking threat Deyverson is contracted to recently promoted Levante.
Big move awaits for Theo
Theo has been linked with a move to Real Madrid, and will undoubtedly be playing his football at either one of Spain’s giants or at least at a bigger club next season, while Marcos Llorente’s future also may lie at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Victor Camarasa has a 12-million-euro release clause with Levante, which is bound to be activated in the summer by one of the division’s circling vultures.
Realistically, Alavés will wave goodbye to four first-team faces in the summer. A figure which is not unthinkably destructive in itself, but the players in question have played vital roles in an organised system devised by Pellegrino, who is also unlikely to be at the helm at the start of next season.
Between now and then, El Glorioso have the chance to win a major trophy in Spain, a date which is set in their minds with anticipation. They have had a special kit announced, with their players regularly looking ahead on social media. That is their biggest game of the season, one which would make an already impressive season a phenomenon.
Sadly, it could be the last time that we see such a well-drilled and ambitious side pulling on the colours of Alavés for a while. The loan market is there to be exploited, but it is also a double-edged sword. Whatever occurs, El Glorioso will always have this season, but patching up the gaping holes in their first-choice eleven is no easy task.