AGONAsport Spotlight: Manolo Jimenez, AEK’s history maker
In his second stint as AEK Athens head coach, Manolo Jimenez has ingrained himself into the history books, steering the Kitrinomavri to their first Greek title in 24 years.
Jimenez isn’t a stranger to success with AEK, winning the Greek Cup with the club in 2011 and granting the Enosis a UEFA Champions League berth in the 2016/2017 season. Nevertheless, winning the Super League, including doing the double over arch-rivals Olympiacos, tops them all. AGONAsport takes a look at Jimenez’ successful coaching career to date.
PROMISING PLAYING CAREER IN SEVILLE
Born in Arahal, a province of Seville, the young Jimenez immediately joined Sevilla, progressing through the academy to eventually play for the senior team. Initially, Jimenez spent three years with Sevilla’s youth and reserve sides, before making his debut with the first team in 1984. The Spaniard went on to make an impressive 354 appearances with Sevilla, playing 18,960 minutes of football in La Liga alongside 15 caps for the Spanish national team.
Having stayed with Sevilla for the vast majority of his playing days, Jimenez left the club on a free transfer in 1997, joining Jaen in the second division where he would stay until June 1998. Upon his departure from Jaen, Jimenez decided to call it a day and hang up his football boots once and for all.
EARLY COACHING DAYS
Eager to stay in his native Seville region, Jimenez started out on the coaching path by taking charge of Sevilla Atletico (Sevilla B). Jimenez managed Sevilla’s reserves for seven years between 2000 and 2007, achieving promotion in his final season with the team. However, when Juande Ramos left Sevilla’s senior team in October 2007, Jimenez gained his first major break as a manager and was promoted to first team head coach.
IN CHARGE OF HIS BOYHOOD CLUB
Jimenez managed 134 Sevilla matches from October 2007 to March 2010, winning 71, drawing 23, losing 40 and picking up a decent points-per-game average of 1.76. His best La Liga finish with Sevilla was third in the 2008/2009 season, taking the club back to the UEFA Champions League in the process.
Things appeared to be going swimmingly, but when Jimenez’s Sevilla hit a horrible patch of form in spring 2010, it was the coach who paid the price. Jimenez was promptly sacked on March 23.
THE AEK JOURNEY BEGINS
As fate would have it, Jimenez’s next port of call was Greece, becoming AEK Athens head coach in October 2010 for his first taste of working abroad. In just under a year in the Enosis hotseat, the Spanish manager tasted Greek Cup glory after beating Atromitos 3:0 in the final and helped AEK to qualify for the UEFA Europa League.
On October 5, 2011 Jimenez and AEK came to an agreement which saw the Spaniard lose his job and move back to Spain.
BACK HOME FOR A YEAR, QATAR ADVENTURE
Three months after terminating his AEK contract, Jimenez put pen to paper on a deal with Real Zaragoza in Spain’s La Liga. Sadly for Jimenez, he didn’t have the best time in Zaragoza. In his first full season in charge, Zaragoza could only finish in 20th place of the league, three points away from safety. Relegated to the Segunda Division, Zaragoza’s board took the immediate decision to relieve Jimenez of his duties in June 2013.
Next up for Jimenez - a trip to the Far East, signing a contract with Qatar club Al Rayyan. Jimenez joined Al Rayyan in November 2013, but he couldn’t save the faltering team from relegation in the Qatar Stars League, only taking a points-per-game average of 1.00. To his credit, the Spanish manager did stay with the club in the second division, gaining promotion back to the Stars League.
RETURN TO AEK
Jimenez’s grand return to AEK took place on January 19, 2017. To be honest, many were doubtful whether Jimenez could turn the club’s fortunes around after not giving the best impression with Zaragoza and Al Rayyan, but the decision to re-sign the Spaniard was the best Dimitris Melissanidis could have made. When Jimenez joined, AEK were in terrible shape and had only won three of the past 14 matches with previous manager Jose Morais, but Jimenez heroically took the Kitrinomavri to the Greek Cup final and embarked on a stunning playoff run.
AEK were in fourth place of the Super League regular season, but the Enosis performed superbly in the playoffs, beating PAOK, Panathinaikos and Panionios to take second spot in the championship and seal a golden Champions League berth.
SUCCESS IN 2017/2018
AEK didn’t start the 2017/2018 season in the best fashion, losing to CSKA Moscow 0:3 on aggregate in the Champions League third qualifying round. The Enosis did perform a lot better in the Europa League preliminaries, comfortably defeating Club Brugge 3:0 to qualify for the club’s maiden European group stage in a long six years.
It’s been a campaign which AEK’s faithful supporters will surely never forget. Jimenez has created a strong, exciting, united and almost unbeatable group, leading AEK to Super League glory, the Greek Cup final and the Europa League Last 32. The Spanish coach never panicked at any time in the season, even when key midfielders Petros Mantalos and Jakob Johansson received horrible injuries in close succession.
The spirit within this set of AEK players is special. Just take a look at the two matches against Olympiacos in the Super League, where AEK pulled off unbelievable comebacks to win both games. Without doubt, the success is down to Jimenez and his coaching staff, who have installed AEK’s players with a winning mentality.
Generally playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the 54-year old has gotten the best out of players such as Marko Livaja, Sergio Araujo and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, transforming them into AEK heroes. According to transfermarkt.com, Jimenez’s AEK contract does run out in June, but whatever happens, the Spaniard is an eternal part of the Kitrinomavri’s history.