By Dan Parry
Valencia CF is the third most well supported club in Spain, and it is the premier club in Valencia, the third largest city in Spain. In addition to being one of the founders of La Liga, it has also topped the league on seven different occasions throughout its history. Valencia was probably at the peak of its powers during the early noughties, when an extraordinary period of excellence saw them gain 2 La liga championships and 1 Uefa Cup (former Europa League) under Rafa Benitez in 2004, as well as being losing finalists in the Champions league for two consecutive seasons; losing to Real Madrid 1-0 in 2000 and being defeated by Bayern Munich on penalties in the 2001 final. Valencia are currently lying in 13th place in the league after two extremely disappointing seasons and five different managers. This is a club that has some of Europe’s finest training facilities, a proficient youth academy, a huge fanbase and a billionaire owner in the shape of Peter Lim. So how has this former footballing giant managed to slide into the abyss? And will it ever return to the peaks of European football upon which it used to stand so proudly?
Before Peter Lim’s acquisition of the club in 2014, Valencia had debts that reportedly amounted up to between 350-400 million euros. These debts severely restricted the club’s ability to compete with the big guns of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and ultimately lead to Los Ches (nickname used by fans) lagging behind clubs of a similar or smaller stature such as: Atlético Madrid, Real Sociedad, Sevilla, and perhaps most painfully Villarreal, their close neighbours based in nearby Castellón. The aforementioned debts were accrued in part due to the decision to build a desperately needed new stadium. The club’s hierarchy at the time, buoyed by the Spanish economic boom and the city’s inflated property prices of the 2000’s, began to plan and build a replacement for the decaying Mestalla, the Nou Mestalla. They erroneously believed they could build the new ground and pay for it by selling the prime real estate land upon which the Mestalla still sits. However, the 2008 economic crash and the subsequent recession left this masterplan in shattered pieces and stuck Valencia CF with a half-built stadium, its bill, and not enough finance to finish the construction. Today Valencia CF owns two stadiums, one that is too old and rusting, and one that remains incomplete. Peter Lim’s administration had been promising that work would begin again on the Nou Mestalla since their takeover, but they have recently admitted that it won’t be ready for the club’s centenary season (2019/2020) as had previously been hoped.
Los Che’s transfer policy has been a point of contention among the fandom for some years now. In the years between 2005 and 2014 (the pre-Lim years) the majority of the fans came to terms with the selling of major talent, firstly in order to help fund the new stadium, and afterwards in order to keep the club afloat under the pressure of crippling debts. This lead to a major exodus of top players, including: David Silva (Manchester City, £26m), David Villa (Barcelona, £35m), Juan Mata (Chelsea, £23.5m), Jordi Alba (Barcelona, £14m) and Raul Albiol (Real Madrid, £12m). However, the worrying point for most fans is that even under the Lim regime the hemorrhaging of the club’s most precious talents has not ceased to occur. During the previous summer tranfer window, club captain and top scorer Paco Alcácer (£27m), and talented midfielder Andre Gomes (£41.7m) were lost to La Liga rivals Barcelona; whilst important defender Shrokdan Mustafi (£35m) and attacker Sofiane Feghouli (free transfer) were sold to Arsenal and West Ham respectively. Furthermore, in the opinion of some fans, players expensively recruited to replace important members of the squad have failed to live up to expections. Aymen Abdennour (£22m from Monaco) and Ezequiel Garay (Zenit St.Petersburg, £20m) who were signed to replace centre-backs Nicola Otamendi (Man City, £32m) and Mustafi, are prominent examples of this belief.
People have started to point fingers, and most being angled towards one man in particular, Portuguese super-agent, and in the opinion of some, nefarious footballing supervillain, Jorge Mendes. He is a close friend of owner Peter Lim, which has resulted in players and coaches managed by him being brought to the club in recent years. Ex-manager Nuno, and players Joao Cancelo (Benfica, £12.75 ), Rodrigo (Benfica, £25m), Andre Gomes (Benfica, £17m), Eliaquim Mangala (Loan from Man City) and Ezequiel Garay are a few of Mendes’ clients who have been signed by Valencia for at times huge fees since the Lim administration took control. In the eyes of many, the recent results have been rather disappointing considering the vast sums spent on these players. Mendes has even been accused of being a dark presence, reportedly using the club and his position of influence over Lim, to structure club transfer policy in a manner that helps to line his own pockets. Although it must also be said that many have leapt to his defence and argued that it is unfair to scapegoat a man who they say is using his considerable reputation to bring premium talent to the club in order to help it progress. However, critics of Mendes will continue to point towards the cases of Deportivo La Coruña and Real Zaragoza to highlight the negative impact that the ‘Mendes effect’ can have on once successful clubs.
All the problems suffered by the club have been exacerbated in recent times by the managerial revolving door that seems to have been installed at Mestalla. Nuno, Gary Neville, Pako Ayestaran and Cesare Prandelli have all passed through the door in the past two years, leaving fan favourite Voro (full name: Salvador González Marco) to take up the position of caretaker manager for the fourth time since 2008. Since taking the reigns at the beginning of the year he has managed to steer the ship away from a relegation battle to the safer waters of mid-table obscurity. The club also gave a reasonably good account of themselves in their most recent game, a 4-2 loss against Barcelona, managing to put up a fine fight in spite of being down to ten men for the majority of the match.
For the rest of the season Valencia will be looking to further consolidate their mid-table standing and keep their distance from the relegation spots. They will fail to qualify for a European Competition for a secon consecutive season and it is this prolonged absence that has left the notoriously demanding Valencia fans so embittered towards the current regime. They look towards the recent domestic and European successes of clubs they once sneered down at such as Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, Villarreal etc, and are filled with feelings of anger and envy. These clubs have demonstrated how stability on and off the field, focus, a clear plan, proper structure, and a footballing philosophy can help to propel a club like Valencia to national and European prominence once more.
Although recent times have been tough and full of false hope and fake dawns, Valencia continues to possess all the ingredients needed to reposition itself as one of Europe’s elite football clubs and reachieve the successes of yesteryear. It is easy to understand the ire and desperation of the fans when these things are taken into account, but surely it is just a matter of time before a club of this stature starts to click again, and regains its seat at the top table of European football, whether that be under the current regime or a new one. All of which begs the question: Is Valencia truly a fallen giant? Or is it a sleeping giant that could awake at any moment to wreak havoc yet again? Presumably, over the next few years the answer will become more clear.