Let me start this with the blunt truth. Valencia are in trouble, big trouble. 1. They carry the millstone of a huge debt around their neck, 2. of a new stadium which has not been completed, of an old stadium they cannot sell, and from years of reaching beyond their means in order to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona. Selling key players has been unavoidable; 3. David Villa and David Silva could not sit around in a mediocre team forever, just like Raúl Albiol before them.
Their well documented problems off the field are about to be matched by problems on the field though. Villa, Silva and the manager, Unai Emery, have performed very well to put the club in the lofty heights of third position last season. This gives direct entry to the group stages of the Champions’ League, and therefore brings in valuable money to the club. The truth of the matter was that Villa and Silva probably knew they were playing last season in order to let the club sell them and be able to bring in at least some form of replacement.
The security of the TV money from Europe has allowed Valencia to cash in on their prized playing assets in order to start tackling their debt. Villa was sold to Barcelona for the biggest bargain 40 million Euros will ever look, Silva has gone to moneybags Manchester City for a fee in the region of 30 million Euros, and Rubén Baraja was released after 10 years’ loyal service.
In their places have come Roberto Soldado, the former Real Madrid youngster, for 8 million Euros on the form of 29 goals in 2 seasons for Getafe, the young French midfielder Sofiane Feghouli on a free transfer, who is still regaining full fitness after a knee injury, and Mehmet Topal, a Turkish holding midfielder who was signed for 4 million Euros.
So their accountants will be happy with the club’s work over the summer, after a net profit of nearly 60 million Euros. But at what cost does this come to the team? The size of the challenge facing Emery this season can be pointed out with one statistic; 4. David Villa scored 44.5% of Valencia’s goals over the past 5 seasons (129 out of 290).
5. Villa also created 53 goals in that period; taking the number of goals he was directly responsible for to 183 in 290. Replacing a player upon whom a club has grown so reliant is always traumatic, risky and a significant culture shock to both the players and fans alike.
6. But replacing David Villa with 8 million Euros of Real Madrid reject and mediocre scoring record at Getafe adds a whole new level of difficulty to the equation. Villa has created more goals than Soldado has scored since the latter’s debut 4 years ago.
In short, Valencia need their new signings, and their remaining squad members to play out of their collective skins if the club are to even come close to matching last season’s results. Looking more realistically though, they have a fight on to prevent themselves sliding down the table in the direction of mediocrity or worse.
7.This may seem like an exaggeration, but the value of Silva and Villa cannot just be measured in impressive numbers. Between them they won Valencia countless points, their ability opened defenses that had otherwise proves impervious to the advances of Los Che. They were the difference between mediocre and good, and they are now gone.
8.Their remaining squad includes a number 1 who was understudy at Real Madrid for years and then ushered out of the door at Tottenham, with Harry Redknapp publicly saying he could not trust César. It includes a midfielder who would not look out of place on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean and was exposed… exposing himself on webcam, Ever Banega.
It contains a midfielder who lost his place in the Braga team while on loan last season, Hugo Viana of Newcastle “fame”. It contains a defensive unit which concedes more than a goal every game, and has done for the past 4 years.
Yet Valencia have to rely on this collection of footballing nomads, turned away from other pastures and even considered outsiders at Valencia until recently. These are the players that fans of Los Che have to reluctantly pin their hopes on. It’s a far cry from the heady days of Piojo López, Pablo Aimar, Mario Kempes and other luminaries of the global game, however fleeting those days may have been.
Not many expect any specific member of the current squad to shine, other than Juan Mata, but they do expect someone to step up to the challenge. Maybe it is time Vicente and Joaquín rediscovered their form of three years or so ago. Maybe it’s time Banega started exposing defenses on a more consistent basis rather than his genitalia.
Maybe it’s about time Alexis proved himself anything other than a liability at the heart of the defense, having arrived to proclamations of immense potential.
If someone can step up to the plate, to borrow a phrase, and take up the mantle of the departed stars, then this season can yet be shaped into something respectable. However, nothing about the current squad seems to suggest that anybody has the temperament or the nerve to drag the club, kicking and screaming, through the season.
It could be a long year for Valencia, and the nature of the mid-table of La Liga is such that 7th and 17th are not usually miles apart. It would be a surprise if Emery was still in his job in May to find out where they finish.