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Valencia : On The Brink



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The 2007/08 season will undoubtedly be remembered for the appointment of perhaps the worst manager in the history of Valencia.

Along with the appointment of Dutch-man Ronald Koeman, club officials at the Mestalla did little to help a disastrous season thus as the club was going through the gutters on the field, off the field the sewage flowed endlessly.

Almost a year later Valencia has managed to redeem itself from the shambles of the first half of the year yet off field issues still cast doubts concerning the club’s immediate future.

On the Field

Ah.. those sleepless nights, tumultuous relationships and almost suicidal afternoons – yep, Los Che made me feel that when they stepped on the pitch last season. I did my be best by engaging in meditation and soft therapy to banish the memories of last season but to no avail as i still have nightmares about ex-manager Ronald Koeman and ex-president Juan Soler whose rendition of dumb and dumber almost made Spain’s third biggest club the laughing stock of La Liga – an honor bestowed to Real Zaragoza. A quick rewind to the beginning of the 2007/08 season shows how the prospect of a remarkable season ended wih a flirt with relegation.

Quique Flores, current manager of Portuguese table toppers Benfica, started the 2007/08 campaign as manager of Valencia after guiding them to consecutive 3rd and 4th place finishes in previous seasons with high hopes of another successful reign. It started off in good fashion, the club recorded 7 wins and 3 losses in the league but a less than stellar record – 1 win and 2 losses – in a Champions league group with Chelsea, Rosenberg and Schalke did Quique Flores no favors as several of the Los Che fans called for his head. The powers that are at the club caved in and swung the ax, rather prematurely in hindsight.

Rumors swirled, which world class manager would be strutting his stuff at the club – Mourinho, Capello, Lippi, anyone? Unable to attract any of the big names, the board did the WORST next thing and less than a week later, PSV manager Ronald Koeman was appointed. Like a good plot gone awry, no one expected the disaster that befell Spain’s third biggest club as the 45 yr old blond who was expected to steady the ship incurred self-inflicted wounds thus  sunk a steady ship. Taking a page out of Steve McClaren’s managerial book, Koeman banished fan favorite and club captain Albelda, veteran midfielder Angulo and goalkeeper Canizares from the club’s training ground. His reasons? The trio who had spent 13, 12 and 10 years at the club wielded too much power in the dressing room and were responsible for the team’s bad performance in the league. Naturally, the team and manager were at loggerheads but on the flip-side the board and manager were bed-buddies as Koeman was given the full support of president Juan Soler.

When Koeman took charge of Valencia, the club was in 4th position, 4 points behind league leaders Real Madrid with hopes as title challengers but thanks to a series of unfortunate events, the club hurriedly climbed down the ladder to 15th place, 2 points adrift from a relegation spot. So how did things go from good to bad? Well, during Koeman’s ill fated reign, the club won 4, drew 6 and lost 12 with a minus 16 goal difference. If the record looks bad, the team performance was awful to say the least. Losses to Barcelona, Mallorca and Athletic Bilbao all by a 3 goal margin with a 5-1 trashing by Real Madrid was testament that the Koeman experiment had failed yet luck smiled on the club’s fortune with a lucky run the Spanish cup competition leading to the a 3-1 win over Getafe in the final. Four days later, Koeman was sacked much to no one’s surprise and like every god-fearing man, forfeited his compensation.

Unai Emery was appointed as manager of the club in the summer taking over Salvador Gonzalez Voro who was caretaker manager after the sack of Koeman. Former outcasts Albelda and Angulo rejoined the team while Canizares decided to retire. Emery, the ex-Almeria manager, has done wonders since arriving at Valencia much to the delight of fans and his brand of attacking football has steadied the ship leading to the start of a fantastic 2008/09 domestic campaign which sees the team occupy 4th place – a point behind 2nd placed Real Madrid and 13 points behind unstoppable league leaders Barcelona.

Off the Field

While Valencia is headed in the right direction on the field, off the field – well let’s just say something is terribly rotten and the situation is anything but hopeful. Los Che are in a financial mess. No not the cheeky kind, the immediate future of the club is threatened and without some sort of miracle, Spain’s third biggest club might soon fancy a trip down to the Segunda División where the once “too good to be relegated” club Real Zaragoza currently sits atop the table.

How did it go all wrong?

In all honesty, lady luck has frowned on Valencia and the board has done it self no favors with its actions. In pure figures, the club is over 700 million euros in debt. Ex-president and majority shareholder Juan Soler’s 4 year tenure as club president has been disastrous; the club went through 4 different coaches, 5 sporting directors, 2 financial consultants and more importantly NO titles  despite having one of the most talent squads along with one of the highest payrolls in Europe. Juan Soler was the right man for the wrong job – he ran the club like a multimillion dollar company and not like a multimillion dollar football club. Football clubs cannot be run as companies as the sport cannot function as a public commodity. Unlike other business models, football cannot be run entirely from a “future” perspective thus the decision to construct a new stadium 75,000 capacity stadium wasn’t exactly the smartest decision for a club who were already 440 million euros in debt.

The penchant for instant success could ultimately lead Valencia’s downfall. With huge debt, the club still payed enormous wages for its players in an attempt to “eat its cake and have it”. Valencia never wanted to become a Deportivo! No way! Remember high-flying-money-throwers-superstar-laden Super Depor who famously sent AC Milan crashing out of the the champions league. That club, ladies and gentlemen, is in a financial crisis and are relying on television revenue to help pay €11 million of its debt at the end of the season all thanks for wanting to be champions at any cost. Super Depor overpaid its players which has resulted in €159m debt – a huge price to pay for a club trying to punch above its weight. Juan Soler was on that path but unlike Deportivo, Valencia is a big club with a non-feasible business strategy. Valencia cannot be compared with the likes of Man Utd who owe the banks €700m as the English club are a worldwide brand thus has the world’s shoulders to rest on.

Valencia should have known its limits. Chairmen and club President’s cannot cave into the fans request for instant success in exchange for ruining the immediate future of the club and ultimately threatening its existence. The club should in hindsight have sold its expensive wage earners and secured a spot as a mid-table team for the next few years with hopes of getting back to its glory days but thanks to either a case of “brutal lack or knowledge” or “attention deficit disorder”, Juan Soler who resigned as President and sold his €71.6m stake in the club last season,  has left the club at the brink. Valencia will be forced to sell stars such as David Silva, David Villa, Joaquin, Raul Albiol and anyone else in an effort to ease the financial stress of the club.

Fool it once, shame on it. Fool me twice, call it Valencia!

The decision to build a 75, 000 capacity stadium is perhaps the stupidest decision the club made. Sure building a bigger stadium is a great idea – more fans equal more revenue which potentially equals bigger success – but like all fools, the club put all its eggs in one basket. As mentioned earlier, Valencia is a huge club with a huge fan base and the club even has 25, 000 fans in queue for season tickets when the Nou mestalla opens up for the 2009/10 season,  yet the club failed in the easiest of tasks with its decision to build the new stadium. When i purchased my 80 gig Zune, i sold my old 30 gig Zune before i threw down money on the fancy one. The moral of the story being, when buying a new product of the same kind, one should sell the old one before buying the new one.

OK? Now back to Valencia.

Smart aleck Valencia borrowed €350m for the construction of the Nou Mestalla without ever completing the task of selling the Old Mestalla, the club’s current ground.  Therefore, the club is stuck with a €250m old stadium located in the heart of the city along with a new €350m. To be fair, the club has tried to sell the Mestalla much to no avail and with the current economic crisis, the prospect for any future sale of the Mestalla looks bleak. Sure the club could do a “Real Madrid” who when strapped for cash sold its training ground to the city of Madrid for €255 who in turn leased it right back to the team – a nice gesture i reckon.  That proposition seems very unlikely for Valencia following the current investigation by UEFA into Real Madrid’s  actions . The club’s fate hangs in the balance as it struggles to pay €49m to its lenders before the end of the season. Recently, current Chairman Victor Soriano has revealed the club has brokered a deal to sell the land occupied by the Mestalla for €300m to a “secret” investor and has  assured fans that the club is not in jeopardy as its debts will be resolved with the sale of the Mestalla and commercial rights of the new stadium.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.