The Rebirth of Valencia
It’s summer 2006. Valencia have just finished third in La Liga and plans for the ‘Nou Mestalla’, a 75,000 capacity stadium has been approved. It leads the clubs president Juan Soler to proclaim that the club will become, ’’the envy of Spain’’.
Construction commenced in August 2007. The board, with hindsight rather foolishly, decided not to pursue a buyer for the existing stadium, instead holding out hope that a better offer would present itself at a later date. The financial crisis would then rear its ugly head and plunge Spain’s construction industry into crisis causing potential property developers to reject the idea of buying the Mestalla site. The rope that had been afforded by the clubs financial backers began to tighten. Panic began to spread in the boardroom as the debt increased to a level that would have killed off most clubs.
Fast-forward eight years and the partially constructed stadium looms large over the Benicalap area of the city, serving only as a vacuous, concrete reminder that almost all football clubs are not recession proof. However new owner Peter Lim has provided a desperately needed cash injection and under the stewardship of manager Nuno Santo the clubs healing process is well under way.
They are now battling Atletico Madrid for third spot in Spain’s top division. The Rojiiblancos have taken Valencia’s position as the main challenger to Barcelona and Real Madrid’s dominance. Last season Diego Simeone’s men became the first team aside from Barcelona and Real Madrid to win La Liga since Valencia in 2004.
At that time the club was prospering with Rafa Benitez at the helm. They reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 (losing both to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively). They also won La Liga in 2002 (the clubs first in 32 years) and the league and UEFA cup double in 2004. Benitez soon departed for Liverpool however and the managerial merry go round began. Twelve people would occupy the Mestalla hot seat in the next nine years.
Despite the turbulence the club was experiencing off the field the team managed a number of successful seasons, finishing in third spot three years in a row, however in each year they were closer to the relegation battle than to the league title, although perhaps that says more about the strength of Barcelona and Real Madrid at the time.
Trophies however have eluded them. Since that League and UEFA cup double in 2004, just the 2008 Copa Del Rey has been added to the Mestalla trophy cabinet.
David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Jordi Alba, Roberto Soldado and Isco are amongst a huge list of stars that were sold to service the enormous debt, reported to be almost €550 million at its worst. Had Los Che been able to hang on to these players, their squad would be truly world class.
An excellent academy and scouting network managed to keep the club competitive. However, as with any selling club, this tactic has a shelf life. They finished fifth in 2012/13, failing to qualify for the Champions League and after finishing eighth last season and without the revenue that Europe’s premier competition provides, the club was forced to explore their financial options.
After a protracted takeover process, Singaporean businessman Peter Lim emerged as the preferred owner, completing his much anticipated purchase of the club in October. He quickly began exploring the possibility of resurrecting the Nou Mestalla project.
It has been reported however that the stadium would require significant investment before building could begin again due to the site being exposed to the elements for the past six years. For the time being, these plans have been shelved, instead choosing to cosmetically revamp the current stadium.
Nevertheless things are significantly rosier on the pitch. Young star Paco Alcacer has recently signed a new contract, keeping him at the club until 2020. Academy graduate Jose Gaya appears to be another left back in the same mould as Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat. After spending this year on loan at the Spanish club, Alvaro Negredo will also complete a permanent move from Manchester City this summer for around £25m. Although it represents excellent business for the English champions, it is somewhat of a coup for him to be lured back to his home country.
New signings Rodrigo, Andre Gomez and Enzo Perez all appear to have settled in well at the club. Diego Alves has been as reliable as ever in goal and Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi and formed a good partnership at the heart of the defence.
A healthy balance of youth and experience has given the club a grip on that all-important fourth spot, a position that under Nuno’s direction they show no sign of relinquishing. Real Madrid, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have all been defeated at the Mestalla this season, with only Barcelona leaving Valencia with all three points thanks to a last gasp Sergio Busquets goal.
The timing of Juan Soler’s 2006 prophecy may have been wrong, but almost a decade later Peter Lim’s investment could provide the springboard for the club to embody that decade old vision.