With 10 managers in four years, just what is going on at Valencia?
When it was announced that Cesare Prandelli had presented his resignation as manager of Valencia just two days before the opening of the transfer window, it sent shockwaves around Spanish football. Not because Prandelli had been particularly impressive, he managed only three wins, three draws and four defeats in his ten games in charge, but because his resignation reflected just how deep the despair at Valencia is as he became the tenth manager to depart the club in four years, since now Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery departed.
His unexpected walk out comes at a time when Valencia are in their lowest league position at this stage of the season since the club’s only relegation in their history over 30 years ago. Funds to sign players are tightly limited, largely down to financial fair play, and the squad is struggling. But just how has Spain’s fifth best supported club, with six titles to their name, come to this situation?
The easiest thing to do may be to point the finger at the managers who have failed to last. Particularly for English fans, it would be easy to look at the appointment of Gary Neville last season and lament the wrong choices of managers, but to do so would be foolish. Prandelli himself was previously the manager of the Italian national team and has also had roles at Roma and Galatasaray amongst others. Before him, Ernesto Valverde lasted less than a season but has since been a massive hit at Athletic Bilbao, Juan Antonio Pizzi is now national manager of Chile, Nuno is head coach at Porto and even supposed cheap option Pako Ayestaran had decades of experience at the very top of the game.
The problem lies deeper than that. On one level, the current squad is not good enough. In attack, there is no real out and out striker. The likes of Rodrigo, Santi Mina and Nani have been trialled but none are best used in a central role and their goal tallies reflect that. Defensively, the quality is better, but Eliaquim Mangala, on loan from Manchester City, is one of many who have taken longer than expected to settle and improve the quality of their performances. That said, it should be performing better than a side only out of the La Liga relegation zone on goal difference. It boosts players of the quality of Diego Alves, Dani Parejo, Joao Cancelo and more, who should be expected to do better.
That has developed from the sale of top players, with the likes of David Villa, Jordi Alba, David Silva, Juan Mata and Nicolas Otamendi all sold previously. This summer, the problem reached its peak with Shkodran Mustafi, Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes three key names to be sold and not effectively replaced. This summer, Los Che made a £65 million profit in the transfer window, having spent a shocking £122 million on 14 players in the summer of 2015.
Herein lies the biggest issue in recent years for the club – their recruitment has been appalling. Fueled by Jorge Mendes’ questionable influence over the club’s transfer policy, fees such as the £24 million paid for Alvaro Negredo, now on loan at Middlesbrough, have been exorbitant at best. Others have been needless, with none of the 11 signings made in the 2013/14 season still at the club. That kind of turnover is unsustainable, and every two seasons the squad has become almost unrecognisable. The most successful manager since Emery’s departure, Nuno, secured a fourth place finish in 2015, but the turnover in players means that very few of the key players of that side remain.
So, where does the issue come from? Most blame Peter Lim, the Singaporean investor who took over the club in 2014. To do so could be harsh; Lim sunk €94 million in taking a controlling share of the club and stabilising it by paying off the massive debts, effectively securing the future of the club. However, things have turned sour, he hasn’t been seen at Mestalla for over a year and that has led to booing from the home crowd and questions in the look media like “who is Peter Lim? Does Peter Lim exist?”. Club president Layhoon Chan did little to ease fans fears when she responded by saying “I am Peter Lim. Do you understand? I am Peter Lim and I am here.” Right…
The complicated management of the club is not helped by constant speculation over the role of sporing director Suso Garcia Pitarch, largely held accountable for the poor transfer dealings but still at the club. Funds are reportedly running low, with claims that the club could not afford to sack Pako Ayestaran in the summer and now cannot afford to fund the transfers that Prandelli wanted in January. Agents are said to be reluctant to deal with the club as many are not convinced by the running of the club. Pitarch himself seems to be unclear, just two weeks ago he stated that nobody wanted to leave the club, and now the manager has.
What next for Valencia? Their top target as a managerial candidate would be former Villarreal boss Marcelino, but the Spanish FA have already prohibited that due to a rule in Spain which forbids any manager from managing two clubs in one season, and Marcelino left the Yellow Submarine after registration for the 2016/17 season. There are seemingly few candidates ready to step up and takeover, especially given the poisoned chalice that it has come to represent. An experienced manager would be the perfect fit and Manuel Pellegrini has previously been mentioned, but he is unlikely to take the gamble. Nobody wants to see an unknown quantity like Gary Neville again, but there seem to be few alternatives, particularly given caretaker manager Voro’s reluctance to take the roll on full-time.
With 12 points from 15 games and only narrowly above the relegation zone, forward Santi Mina summed it up perfectly when he said post-match after a defeat, “either we show our balls and our courage or we’re going to ****.” Improvements are need, and desperately fast. They do have a game in hand on their side, but that is against table toppers Real Madrid. A manager and a striker have to be the top priorities, or else you could only fear the worst for the club. Relegation from the top flight would be the first time in over 30 years, the only time in their history. With financial concerns off the field, relegation on it could be a death sentence for one of Spain’s biggest clubs. Whilst consecutive draws or defeats may have constituted a crisis a few years ago when Rafa Benitez led the club to league and UEFA Cup success in 2003/04, this is the definition of crisis.
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