Tuesday 21 May 2019

Valencia badly need grounds for optimism

'The blame for Valencia's misfortunes should be spread around but it would be fair to say that up to the collapse of 10 years ago, they had been run into the ground by successive owners.' (stock picture)
'The blame for Valencia's misfortunes should be spread around but it would be fair to say that up to the collapse of 10 years ago, they had been run into the ground by successive owners.' (stock picture)

Sam Wallace

At the football club with two stadiums, Valencia announced last week that they have at last found a solution to the 10-year-old problem of their ghost ground, the Nou Mestalla, which remains unfinished, a 15-minute drive away from their original 1920s Mestalla home.

When building was suspended in 2009, amid a meltdown of the club's finances, and the death of a construction worker, the manager was Unai Emery, whose Arsenal side will face Valencia in the Europa League semi-finals next month. The two clubs' 21st century history offers up some curious parallels, although when at last they meet at the Emirates for the first leg on May 2, the difference in how they cashed in on their millennial golden years will be stark.

Both clubs won their last two domestic titles in the same years, 2002 and 2004, and both narrowly missed out on winning the Champions League during their best periods - Valencia reaching two finals, against Arsenal's single appearance in 2006. Then both had to dismantle good teams over the course of the 2000s for financial imperatives and under pressure from much wealthier rivals. The difference being that when the dust had settled, Arsenal had a new stadium out of their period of necessary austerity, while Valencia were left only with a concrete shell that they now hope to complete and move into some time during 2022, about 15 years after work first began.

The blame for Valencia's misfortunes should be spread around but it would be fair to say that up to the collapse of 10 years ago, they had been run into the ground by successive owners. Unlike Real Madrid and Barcelona, the club have been denied by Spanish law the right to constitute themselves as member-owned. It left the club, considered to have the third-largest supporter base in Spain, at the mercy of bad owners.

The plans Arsenal made at the start of the century to move away from Highbury had solid logic behind them, even if they did not foresee the explosion of new money in the English game. That, plus the declining power of a great manager changed their position in the hierarchy over a longer period. When they face Valencia, however, whom they last played in 2003 in the Champions League in much better times for both clubs, they will meet an opponent who fell a great deal further.

Building their new stadium is a complicated deal for Valencia, most likely involving the transferral of a mortgage held on the Mestalla to the new stadium. It is dependent on the presale of houses, offices and shops to be built on the Mestalla site where work can only begin once the club's new home is ready for them to move into. Valencia estimate that they need around €113m to finish the stadium.

Now under the stewardship of the Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, they have some stability. Their year-to-year finance plan relies upon the fragile premise of Champions League qualification which the club has achieved five times since the arrival of Emery in 2008, including last season.

Fifth on the all-time list of Spanish titles, Valencia do not even figure in the top 30 revenue generating clubs in Europe according to Deloitte. The cut-off for the 2019 report was revenue of €150m, Benfica being the last-placed club. Among others, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Besiktas, Sevilla and Brighton all have a higher turnover than Valencia.

They badly need Champions League qualification next season. They find themselves in a Europa League semi-final against the manager who, like his predecessor Arsene Wenger, was once required to oversee a conjuring act on the field while his team were sold out from under him.

Emery did a remarkable job in the circumstances. Valencia were sixth in his first season, 2008-2009, then third in the next. At the beginning of his third season at Valencia, 2010-2011, the club sold David Silva to Manchester City and David Villa to Barcelona. Emery still guided them to third. The next summer Juan Mata departed for Chelsea and Emery once again secured a third-place finish in 2011-2012, his final season. Valencia have never been as high since Emery left.

In the years that followed, Atletico Madrid have established themselves as the third force of Spanish football.

Valencia finished as low as 12th in 2016 and 2017, although curiously when Emery did leave in 2012 he departed as one largely unpopular with Valencia supporters.

He had overseen a rearguard action against the inevitable decline brought on by financial meltdown, although he was not thanked for it. One more parallel that his French predecessor might recognise.

Telegraph

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