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Valencia: The once successful club are in freefall

Thursday 9th February 2017
At the turn of the millennium, Valencia began making progress towards establishing themselves at the summit of Spanish football; over the next decade, they added several major honours to their trophy cabinet. However, the La Liga club has gradually declined and are now fighting at the bottom end of the table.

Valencia came to prominence in the 1999-2000 Champions League campaign, with Argentine Hector Cuper at the helm, when they lost the final 3-0 to Real Madrid. A year later, Cuper's side again reached the main event of Europe's biggest club competition, this time agonisingly missing out in a penalty shootout against Bayern Munich. Despite failing to win the trophy on both occasions, Los Che were on the right path and success was just around the corner.

After a 31 year wait, newly appointed manager, Rafael Benitez, guided Valencia to the La Liga title in 2001-02. It was a remarkable feat considering they were up against the two global footballing superpowers in Real Madrid and Barcelona; besides a strong Deportivo La Coruna. But it was no fluke, Los Che had a talented squad with a clear identity, which they proved by repeating their title triumph just two seasons later. Benitez left the Mestalla in 2004, but not before delivering the UEFA Cup as a parting gift.

There is a huge contrast between those joyous times and the position the team now finds itself in. With Salvador ‘Voro' Gonzalez in charge, the man who oversaw Valencia lift their last piece of silverware with victory in the 2008 Copa del Rey, the Spanish side were humiliated in their last league encounter, losing 4-0 at home to Eibar. The third best-supported team in Spain are currently 16th in the table and a massive 20 points behind the top four; qualification for the Champions League should always be the target for a club the size of Valencia. So what has gone wrong?
Constantly changing managers is often detrimental to a team; Valencia are guilty in that regard. Pako Ayestaran led the club at the beginning of the season, until being replaced in September by former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. However, three months later the Italian also left, which saw Voro given the role, on a temporary basis, for the fourth time in his career. The managerial unrest has had an effect this season at the Mestalla: Valencia went eight league games without a victory earlier in the campaign, they have conceded the fourth-most amount of goals in La Liga, and sit just six points above the relegation places. Gary Neville may believe he's being unfairly treated for his short managerial spell in Spain.

Possibly, the greatest cause of Valencia's demise is the crippling debts they have encountered. Businessman Peter Lim took ownership in 2014, with his arrival expected to stabilise the club; however, up to now, there is no evidence of that taking place - both on and off the pitch. The Spanish side are renowned for selling their best assets and over the last decade, key figures have continued to depart the Mestalla. It has not only reduced the club's potential but also played a major factor in their current plight.

During the same year, 2010, both David Silva and David Villa left Valencia, to join Manchester City and Barcelona, respectively, for a combined £60 million. That was followed by the departures of talented trio Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, and Isco. Los Che had become accustomed to dealing with the loss of their star names, with some success, but this season it has had a greater impact at the Mestalla. The club haven't yet recovered from losing some of their best players in the summer - most noticeably central defender Shkodran Mustafi, central midfielder Andre Gomes, and striker Paco Alcacer.
While the Valencia supporters have to suffer the ongoing disappointment of witnessing their best performers move on, the replacements signed have proved inadequate. In the summer of 2015, Aymen Abdennour, a Tunisian centre-back, and Rodrigo, a striker who has hit just six La Liga goals in the past two seasons, both arrived for big money - £47 million combined, but neither man has lived up to their hefty price tags. The fortune wasted caused the club to act more cautiously during the last two transfer windows, with the large majority of new recruits signed on loan deals; including Eliaquim Mangala from Man City and most recently Italian striker Simeone Zaza. But are those the standard of players who will improve Valencia's situation?

Valencia is one of the great clubs in La Liga and while they should remain safe from relegation this season - due to the abysmal form of Osasuna, Granada, and Sporting Gijon, they must find a way to improve their performances. The gradual decline of Los Che resulted in this disastrous campaign, and the situation has now reached a critical stage. It is time for the former Champions League finalists to rebuild, to continue producing promising youngsters, while also retaining their top players. There is a long way to travel before the club reaches previous heights, but Valencia are capable of reclaiming their place among the elite sides of Spanish football.
Danny Glendenning

Passions include reading, sport, and nights out with friends. A football fanatic whose writing career began in May 2016. Now 30 years old, lives in South Yorkshire - local team is Doncaster Rovers, although heart lies with Arsenal. Contributing editor for It's Round And It's White. Current claim to fame is an interview with Ron Atkinson. Always looking for work, either editing or writing. Contact via email: Dannysg1988@outlook.com. Or Twitter: @DannySG1988.



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