The word ‘crisis’ is one that is regularly over-used in football but there can be little doubt that one of Spain’s grandest clubs is currently in one. Valencia have responded to their worst season in 28 years by cashing in on almost all of their brightest young prospects and doing precious little to replace them. Two games and two defeats into the new campaign and fears that they may struggle to even replicate last season’s 12th place finish when they only beat the drop by 6 points are genuine.
Valencia fans are increasingly tracing the club’s problems back to the day Peter Lim bought the club in August 2014 and started Spanish football’s first major foreign ownership experiment. The plan was simple enough in that extra investment, most likely from abroad, was starting to look like the only obvious way Valencia could seriously compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid, sides they regularly used to tussle it out for titles with during the early part of the century.
While some were sceptical from the off, particularly with regards to the exact role of Portuguese ‘super-agent’ Jorge Mendes who helped broker the takeover, few could argue that the first season was anything but a success. Valencia achieved their joint best points tally in 20 years, actually bettering the 75 points they managed when Rafa Benitez led the side to the first of his two titles in the 2001-02 campaign.
Paco Alcácer’s 80th minute winner at Almeria on the final day of the season secured a return to the UEFA Champions League but from that point on things started to unravel and the cracks in Lim’s great plan started to reveal themselves.
Valencia spent in the region of €150million that summer, almost exclusively on Mendes clients as it became increasingly clear that the agent was effectively pulling the strings behind the scenes. With Lim’s reluctance to engage with the fans or the media and Mendes not an official employee of the club, predictably it was Nuno who the fans turned on and the Portuguese coach left at the end of November.
The appointment of Gary Neville to replace him was a huge gamble and one that never really looked like coming off and although Pako Ayestarán steadied the ship to some extent, Valencia still ended the season with 3 successive defeats and a bitterly disappointing 12th place finish.
The scale of Valencia’s capitulation on the pitch still takes some explaining. With a net spend of in the region €100million, Valencia somehow managed to finish the 2015-16 campaign with a staggering 33 fewer points in a season which they flirted with relegation and never remotely looked like European contenders.
It represented enormous under-achievement on behalf of the board, players and coaches that oversaw it and has led to the mess they currently find themselves. In the age of financial fair play, even owners with deep pockets can’t simply keep getting the cheque-book out and hope things comes good in the end.
Whether Lim is merely balancing the books or is cutting his losses and preparing his exit is open for debate and only time will tell but the events of the last few weeks have thrown the club into an utter state of crisis.
Valencia responded to another woeful defensive display and humiliating 4-2 defeat to Las Palmas at the Mestalla on the opening day by agreeing to sell Shkodran Mustafi, their only defender of real conviction to Arsenal for €41million.
Another defeat to a team with a vastly inferior budget in the shape of Eibar followed and so did another high profile exit. Striker Paco Alcácer is Valencia through and through having been on the club’s books since the age of 12. His departure today to Barcelona will have come as another bitter blow to the club’s fans and leaves the team with another big hole to fill and precious little time to fill it.
The club are operating on a net transfer profit of €100million this summer with the €8.5million they spent on Nani the only serious outlay. The recent two sales instantly brings into question the future of Pako Ayestaran who had suggested both players were set to stay at the Mestalla.
‘Mustafi? He isn’t for sale and will be in Valencia. That’s what the people at club have demonstrated. Alcácer? If the President tells me he hasn’t been sold, then that’s what I think.’ the Valencia coach was quoted by AS as stating only last week.
Although the boos were back on the opening day of the season, Ayestaran is still respected by the fans, given he guided them to safety to last season having previously assisted Benitez during the club’s golden era, just over a decade ago.
Were he to depart and given the mess Valencia find themselves, you wouldn’t blame him for walking away, the one link between the club and the fans would go and anger at the way the club is being run would reach absolute boiling point.
These are dark, dark times at the Mestalla and things could yet get a whole lot worse before they get any better.