Challenging the Duopoly

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 29th 2014)

Glory Days

The days when València broke the duopoly of Barçelona and Real Madrid in Spanish football are long gone, although Atlético de Madrid have somehow found a way to challenge despite financial constraints. Previous owners of València left the club in serious financial straights. The iconic Mestalla Stadium is the oldest in the Primera División. It had been refurbished in the 1980s.

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València had contested two Champion’s League finals in a row, losing both to Real Madrid and Bayern München at the start of the last decade. They were the last club to break the duopoly, achieving that feat twice in the noughties. They won the double of the UEFA Cup and La Liga a decade ago under current Napoli coach Rafa Benítez Maudes.

Inheritance

The future then seemed promising. Benítez inherited a great team from Héctor Cúper, but it needed revamping soon, and Benítez knew it. He presented the then Board with a wish-list, but was told to achieve his targets with what he had. Benítez won the double. Too late the Board offered him funds. He resigned, enabling Liverpool to avoid paying compensation, even though it was obvious that he would take over at Anfield before long. He did.

His successor Claudio Ranieri – who had won the Copa del Rey in 1999 during his first spell at Mestalla – was given the funds, but largely wasted them. However, he won the UEFA Supercup before being succeeded by former Spanish international Quique Sánchez Flores, under whom the team challenged without collecting silverware.

Acrimonious

The Sánchez Flores era was shrouded in acrimony as club legend Amadeo Carbone finished his decade long playing stint at Mestalla, aged 40, and was was appointed technical director without being given time to learn his new profession. Carbone and Sánchez Flores clashed as the technical director and proceeded to buy players that the coach didnʼt want. It was a recipe for failure and it delivered.

Then Chairman Juan Bautista Soler was forced to fire Carbone despite the strong friendship between their wives. With Carbone gone Sánchez Flores was next. He was fired and eventually replaced by Ronald Koeman, whose turbulent reign did not even last a season, as the club flirted with relegation, but won the Copa del Rey. It was the last trophy won by los Ches to date.

Unai Emery came and delivered third place and Champion’s League football regularly, but the distance to the top two was considered too great. Managers came and went in a turbulent two seasons, which will probably end without European football at all unless they outwit former boss Emery on Thursday night and win the Europa League in Turin on May 14th.

Disaster

The good times were coming to an end as the global financial crisis hit València hard. Soler left, replaced by Vicente Soriano in 2008 – a man he is no longer allowed , but plans to build a new stadium were hit hard. Loan repayments threatened to rip the heart out of the proud club that boasts Spanish legends Alfredo di Stéfano and the late Luís Aragonés among its former coaches.

The club haemorrhaged talent. David Villa, David Silva, Raúl Albiol, Juan Mata, Isco, Roberto Soldado, Joaquín Sánchez and Pablo Hernández were all sold as other clubs circled, sensing bargains. There were also loans of players like Aly Cissokho to Liverpool and Adil Rami to AC Milan – the latter leaving in October even though he could not actually play for his new club until January.

The Future

No team could lose such talent over a few short years without it having an effect. Others had to be replaced too, such as club legend David Albelda. There was little option but to turn to youth – los Ches have a remarkable talent-spotting record. Another potential diamond has been unearthed locally (Torrent which is in the Commuidad de Valenciana) Francisco (Paco) Alcácer, who came through the clubʼs academy.

Alcácer has already played for Spain at youth level. Sadly the youngster was the subject of a harsh booking in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla. Trailing 0-2 los Ches have a tough assignment on Thursday night, but take confidence from their remarkable success in the quarter-final against Swiss champions Basel. Trailing 0-3 from the first leg, the Mestalla faithful would not take elimination as an option, producing the greatest recovery in the competitionʼs history, winning 5-0 at the Mestalla after extra time. Sevilla will underestimate this team at their peril. It remains to be seen if Emery is treated as well by the Mestalla faithful as David Villa was on Sunday evening.

 

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