Champions League in Valencia's reach this season
When once-struggling Valencia appointed Marcelino Garcia Toral manager there were expectations the club would finally stablisie. The 52-year-old had taken Villarreal from the Segunda division to the Europa League semifinals in three years. Stable was a modest goal. No one imagined the impact Marcelino would have at the Mestalla.
Los Che is third in the league table. The squad in orange and black is five points ahead of Zinedine Zidane's drifting Real Madrid, on course to reach next season's Champions League. The Bats have suffered a dip in form in recent weeks. Yet they have garnered enough points to suggest they will still be in decent standing come season's end.
Manchester United legend Gary Neville failed woefully in his time at the club. He was hardly alone. Six other coaches had been at the helm without success. Voro steered them away from relegation and safely to 13th last season. For a club of Els Taronges stature, though, the campaign was a disaster. Marcelino reviewed their failed attempts then chose the right tack.
On the pitch Goncalo Guedes, Simone Zaza, and Rodrigo have stepped up their games. The team is back where its fans expect, competing for a place in Europe.
This isn't a revival of Valencia's early 2000s heyday. Under Hector Cuper and Rafael Benitez Los Murcielagos won the league twice. They reached the Champions League. For a short time the side broke Real Madrid and Barcelona's duopoly. When the Madridistas responded by launching the Galacticos program, the Orange became regular sellers. Recently Andre Gomes, Abdenour, Paco Alcacer, and Skhodran Mustafi have all left the club. The current crop is demonstrating even greater quality. Marcelino must push them as far as he can before the board looks to cash in on their achievements.
After a few turbulent years Valencia is on the road to redemption. It boasts a squad filled with hungry players and a manager who it appears can keep them on an upward trajectory.
Economic reality suggests the success under Benitez and Cuper will not be matched. Like Leonardo Jardim at Monaco, Marcelino will likely be forced back to the drawing board every season. Under Singaporean owner Peter Lim the club is financially sound. Nonetheless it stands to continue losing players. How can it convince ambitious footballers there are sufficient trophies within reach to warrant staying when Barcelona, Real Madrid, and even Atletico can outspend them?
The impressive 49,000-seat Mestalla is a fortress. Valencia will not look nor sound out of place on a Champions League night. The boisterous home support always makes the ground an uncomfortable place for opponents. The squad need merely maintain its standing to give their faithful voice.
The early season form has slowed but Sevilla, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are not pushing that hard for the European places. Even when Real Madrid sorts itself, Marcelino's club should, barring injury, remain confident.
It is said behind every cloud there is a sliver lining. After many a dark day Valencia now has its opportunity at silver.