La Liga: Why Philippe Montanier Has Been Thoroughly Underrated This Season
Patience has been the key for Philippe Montanier and his Real Sociedad side. Seemingly down and out on a number of occasions last year, Sociedad have become one of the real wonders of this La Liga campaign.
At some point, those outside looking into La Liga will get a little bored of the trendy backhand to the league (which is wholly wrong) that there is nothing to be excited about in the current hub of modern football.
Yet, the promising reality about this season in La Liga is that it's near-impossible to pick one standout manager from the "rest."
Sure, Diego Simeone has seen his managerial reputation spread wildly across Europe after guiding Atletico Madrid to the Europa League and UEFA Super Cup. Only last week, Atletico surrendered second place in the league to Real Madrid for the first time this season. It's March, and whatever way you want to paint it, that's phenomenal.
It's also a great injustice to look past the work of Manuel Pellegrini this season at Malaga. A team who should have been bereft of hope are now into the quarterfinals of the Champions League in their debut season. Even UEFA swinging the hammer and banning Malaga from European competition next season hasn't been enough to dampen the spirits at La Rosaleda.
A little further down the financial table, who would have thought Rayo Vallecano would be in with a shout of Champions League football next season? Paco Jemez's work this season has been nothing short of fantastic.
But Real Sociedad have become one of the next in line in La Liga to prove that Spanish football is much, much more than a two-team league.
At the time of writing, Sociedad sit fifth in La Liga and are well on course to be involved in one of the two UEFA club competitions next season.
So are Sociedad up for it? Well, why not?
Philippe Montanier has guided his team to a number of impressive results. They were the team to dish out Barcelona's first league defeat of the season. They recently clawed back from two goals down to draw 3-3 against Real Betis in a thrilling encounter. They beat Athletic Bilbao in the last Basque derby to be played at San Mames. Just this past weekend, they became the first club to take anything off Atletico at the Vicente Calderon. And as a side note, their players are not too bad either.
The quickly maturing Antoine Griezmann will one day line up for one of Europe's grandest teams. Carlos Vela is proving why Arsenal made such a mistake in discarding him well before he was able to showcase his quality at the Emirates. And isn't Xabi Prieto the kind of captain almost all teams want? Leading by example, calm under pressure; a wonderful and necessary balance to the two outstanding youngsters in the attacking midfield three.
The younger players have been given a home and a great deal of guidance to become the leading lights of Montanier's side. They know how to play, they know how to win and there certainly isn't a disruptive undertone of important names wanting to leave.
But let's not over-romanticise the story: Sociedad are still one of the many Spanish clubs whose resources are dwarfed by that of the big two. Yet who can really say Barcelona and Real Madrid have never been challenged, even if only on a small scale during a weekend game away? Who can really say there are no surprise elements in La Liga beyond what is well documented?
Montanier is helping to support the theory that good football can win the day. Sociedad should be rewarded with the financial windfall that comes with UEFA's top competition, such has been their quality this season. They're not about to see defeat when it could be on the cards.
Only last season, Sociedad were looking nervously over their shoulder and hoping to avoid the drop. This season—Montanier's second with the club—they're the front-runners of a collection of "smaller" teams who are preparing to serve up another surprise from Spanish football.
We've seen inspiring performances in the past from Villarreal, Bilbao, Malaga and Levante. Is Sociedad next? Is the Basque club set to capture hearts in the same way teams from the "others" have done in the past?
Montanier deserves all the credit and more for the transformation. When financial restrictions spell out the impossible, when calls for his sacking suggest the game is up, the Frenchman forces a huge swing in the fortunes and lands Sociedad within arm's reach of Europe's top competition.
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