Those of you who don't follow La Liga may look at the league table and be wondering why Valencia, traditionally the biggest and most successful club in Spain after the obvious two are fighting relegation again.
Valencia's money woes over the last 10 years have been well documented - the club was bleeding money through a new stadium it couldn't afford to finish and was needing to sell players like David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata in order to keep itself afloat, but the loss of these players was mitigated by the good work of executive president Amadeo Salvo and sporting director Rufete. They made sure that whenever we sold a star player or needed a new manager, we had a well scouted alternative ready to come in and do a job (see Soldado for Villa for example) and the pair were constantly looking for new sponsorship deals to maximise our revenue. Even still, the club was struggling and with no more star players to sell it was looking like we would go into administration and fold.
Now cast your minds back to the end of the 13/14 season and Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim's purchase of the club. Talks had been going on for months with the fans desperate for the takeover to save the club however several members of the board were refusing to sanction the sale believing that he was an asset stripper in disguise. The club's dire financial situation ended up forcing the sale through and with Lim having negotiated new deals with our creditors and promising to finish the new stadium and inject new funds for Rufete and Salvo to spend, the future was looking bright for a change.
For the first time in years we had some money to splash in the transfer market and splash we did. Nico Otamendi, Rodrigo, João Cancelo and André Gomes were all brought in from Benfica, world cup winner Shkodran Mustafi from Sampdoria, promising midfielder Rodrigo de Paul from Racing in Argentina and marquee signing Álvaro Negredo to help add firepower and tutor academy starlet Paco Alcácer. Many of these signings seemed sound yet expensive with the club being considered to have overpaid for many of the players who used Jorge Mendes as their agent. In addition to a new squad, Lim demanded that the club bring in a new manager - Nuno, who had just finished an impressive season with Rio Ave in Portugal. This was not a popular decision as Nuno was both another Mendes client and relatively unheard of, whilst the outgoing manager Pizzi had taken over mid season and transformed the club's fortunes on the pitch. Questions were beginning to be asked about the friendship between Lim and Mendes.
With a gentle set of opening fixtures and club morale at a high, the 14/15 season started well with the team unbeaten after seven games including mauling champions Atléti 3-1 at Mestalla. Although our strikers were misfiring, the new defensive pairing of Mustafi and Otamendi were playing well helping us to soak up pressure and hit teams on the counter with the highlight of the season coming in January, ending Madrid's record unbeaten run with a convincing 2-1 victory. The good form wasn't to last as our lack of goal scoring prowess came back to bite us. Negredo was proving to be a flop and Nuno couldn't seem to find a way to fit Paco's very limited yet effective style into a system that would fit the rest of the team. Valencia limped to a fourth place finish thanks in no small part to Sevilla's extended run in the Europa League affecting their league form. Midfielder Dani Parejo finished the campaign as the club's top scorer with 10 goals, highlighting our impotence.
The ensuing summer did not go well with a civil war breaking out in the board room. Nuno demanded full control over transfers, upsetting Salvo and Rufete who were already furious with Jorge Mendes' influence over the club. Lim sided with his friends and the two men who's passion and experience had guided the club through some of it's darkest days, resigned, leaving Lim and Mendes in control. Nuno's contract was renewed despite many fans being unhappy with how poorly the team had played in the second half of the previous season and the results weren't getting any better in pre season with the team having a disastrous tour of lower league German teams. To compound problems, Otamendi, who had been the rock at the heart of our defence went on strike in order to force a big money move to Man City. The club refused to sell until the last few days of the window forcing the panic buys of Aderlan Santos and Aymen Abdennour. This was a kick in the teeth to the fans as we had been told that the days of selling our best players was over. With the club in a shambles on and off the pitch, there was an air of panic in the build up to the vital champions league qualifier against Monaco, yet Valencia was lucky with one strong half over two legs enough to see us through to the lucrative group stages.
This however, was not a change of fortune. In order to fix our goal scoring maladies, Nuno tried to implement a possession based system to bring the best out of Alcácer however it proved unsuccessful. Abdennour and Santos were not good enough to replace Otamendi and injuries to Mustafi and José Gayà hit our defence hard, so with a leaky defence and a faltering attack our season fell apart. Morale was low and Nuno had compounded the problem by ostracising Negredo and de Paul from the team, even when others in their positions continued to perform poorly. By December, Nuno had lost the dressing room and with us out of the Champions League and nowhere near qualifying again, he agreed to resign.
This should have been a wake up call for the board; they needed to get an experienced manager in with a proven record of nurturing young teams and so names like Carlo Ancelotti and Rafa Benítez were being thrown around in the newspapers. It was to everyone's surprise then, when the club hired TV pundit and close friend of Peter Lim, Gary Neville. The train wreck that was Neville's reign was well covered on r/soccer so I'll skip over his chapter in our history.
This summer was almost as bad as last year. Having spent lavishly on players over the previous two seasons and missed out on qualifying for this season's Champions League the club now found itself in breach of financial fair play rules. To compound our problems, the club had used to loan with compulsory buy options for players like Negredo and record signing Rodrigo meaning their purchases would be considered in the current block for FFP judgement and the club was lacking in sponsors. To make ends meet, the club was forced into the sale off Mustafi and wonderkid André Gomes. Academy graduate Alcácer, upset at the running of the club, turned Judas and forced a move to Barcelona late in the window with Munir coming the other way on loan. Two years ago were told that wouldn't have to worry about keeping our best players and now we're surviving on scraps like Mangala and Munir on loan from other clubs. Pako Ayestarán who replaced Gary Neville near the end of the season was allowed to continue in his role despite tepid results and was sacked less than a month into the season.
Our current manager Cesare Prandelli has inherited a team that has lost much of it's star quality and is devoid of confidence. Without a preseason to bring in his own players and install new tactics, the results have been predictably poor. He has changed our formation to a 5-3-2/3-5-2to shore up our defence and make use of the fact that our wing backs, Gayà and Cancelo are our best attacking players. He's pushed Dani Parejo up the pitch into a no 10 role where his lazy passing and work rate doesn't punish us quite as severely as when he plays deeper but the same problems still exist. We're a patchwork team: our midfield in particular has been assembled by committee with no real game plan in mind, so no matter how we set ourselves up, teams continue to glide through our midfield as if it weren't there. Our forwards, Munir and Rodrigo are both very similar lightweight, tricky forwards with no arial presence which limits our tactical variety and for the second year running our central defenders are mostly new to the club.
Results will continue to be poor till the end of the season however I believe with the quality in the team and a good manager we can put together a run of form to avoid relegation. Providing we stay up, Prandelli should be allowed to continue his work; the last thing we need is more turmoil (he's our seventh manager in three years) to say nothing of the fact that he is a proven manager with the Italian national team. We need a transfer window where the manager can identify deficiencies and bring in the right player for the job, rather than an overpriced client of one of our owner's friends. It's said that a camel is a horse designed by committee and this Valencia squad is a frail, impotent camel.
This may solve our problems in the short term, but with a billionaire investor we should be up with Atléti challenging the big two. However, whilst Peter Lim and Jorge Mendes have a strangle hold on our club I don't believe we'll ever see a return to where we belong.