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Valencia CF: Learning the hard way

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David Wall is a Valencia fan based in New York. In this piece, he steps back from a terrible season that could so easily have ended in total disaster, and takes the club hierarchy to task.


There’s no sugar coating it, this season was atrocious. As a Valencia CF fan you get used to a rollercoaster ride every season, but I have experienced few with quite so many drops as this one. The only comparison I can make would be the 2007/2008 season – a season where Valencia was almost relegated, our most iconic players were ousted from the club and our own captain even sued the club’s ownership! And even then we managed to win a Copa Del Rey title. This season, considering the stability and success of the previous year, was a complete and utter disappointment.

To pinpoint the problems this season, we have to go back to last year’s success. Many had noticed towards the end of last season that the Valencia attack had become a bit toothless. For whatever reason, the midfield had simply stopped producing killer balls for the forwards. Chalk that up to end of season fatigue or complacency, surely then-coach Nuno Espirito Santo would figure out a way to get the team firing again come next season.

He didn’t. And neither could his successors. Nuno put out a lackluster four months’ worth of football before getting the sack. Gary Neville, a completely inexperienced manager with no Spanish skills to speak of, was brought in as his replacement. Great media bomb though he was, he failed to win a single game for the first nine weeks he was in charge. Little surprise he got the sack after only four months in the job.

Neville’s fitness coach, Pako Ayesteran, was promoted to close out the season. He managed to pull the team to mid-table, but the feckless style of play continued. Considering the lack of improvement, many Valencia fans (myself included) might be scratching their heads at the prospect of Ayesteran being considered the favorite for next season’s coaching position.

That is emblematic of the problems at Valencia CF – no matter what our financial or sporting situation might be, our boardroom and front office are always in disarray. Just like 2007/2008 was then-President Juan Soler’s bid to gain complete control over the club, this season saw a similar power-play in Nuno’s bid to oust former Sporting Director, Rufete. The tension quickly mounted and came to a head when Nuno cancelled one of his own transfers(!) just so he could cancel one of Rufete’s as well. The incident caused Rufete to resign, and former-President Amadeo Salvo to go with him.

You have to understand, Salvo was an icon to the Valencia faithful, and probably to the players as well. He was a boyhood fan of the team who rose to the level of President during the most precarious financial crisis the club had ever seen, saving the club from liquidation – all in two years’ time. It was his hard work that got Peter Lim to purchase the club and wipe out all the debt. So when he walked out because he couldn’t work with Nuno anymore, it was truly a sign things were taking a turn.

After Salvo left, the team was never the same. So much of the enthusiasm and grit the players had shown from the previous season was gone, and all that was left was a shell of the team. Even after Nuno departed, the appointment of Peter Lim’s good friend Gary Neville must have done more harm than good to the players’ morale. For those that don’t know, Nuno replaced a popular coach named Piti, an appointment that many saw to be favoritism on new owner Peter Lim’s part towards his good friend Jorge Mendes, Nuno’s agent. Neville’s appointment was seen by many as another example of Lim favouring his friends over the club’s well-being.

When all is said and done, I can only blame the board and the front office for the problems we’ve had this season. The coaches were terrible, sure, and the players played far below their standards, but in the end, when you look at the missteps taken by Lim and his associates, you can only place the blame on them.

I should say, however, that I’m not furious with Lim, I haven’t joined the small minority of fans chanting “Peter vete ya“. The man took a huge chance in purchasing Valencia, and indeed did save us from disaster two years ago. I can forgive this stumble with the hope that he learns from his mistakes.

And things have started to make a turn for the better. Halfway through the Neville debacle, Lim hired a new Sporting Director, Suso. It was Suso’s decision to fire Neville and hire Ayesteran, a move that certainly saved the team from relegation. Lim has empowered Suso in finding a new coach for the coming season, as well as put him in charge of supporting said coach in the development of a strong and competent squad. Lim must have learned the hard way that his friends can’t always be trusted.

I hope next season we can find our best form once again. Here’s to next year, amunt!


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