Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

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Ambitions

Ambitions

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Vincenzo Montella wants success. The current coach of Fiorentina, known as the Little Aeroplane due to gis goal celebration has made the transition from player to coach. His opposite number Tottenham Hotspurʼs Mauricio Pochettino has too. Both teamsʼ league positions suggest that qualifying for the Championsʼ League through their respective leagues will be difficult, but there is another option – winning the Europa League.

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Thereʼs no doubt of course that itʼs a really important game tomorrow and yeah, this is what we work for, this is why we are involved in football”, Montella said. “Weʼre very, very passionate about the game and Iʼm sure that tomorrow will be a fantastic experience and weʼre focussed on tomorrowʼs game. Of course we want to go as far as possible, but we want to focus on tomorrow and the rest will take care of itself”.

Montella knows that Spurs will be a difficult side to beat. “Tomorrow, itʼs going to be very difficult”, he said. “We need to ensure that weʼre extremely focussed out on the pitch. We need to be full of energy, but by the same token not get too carried away, because that could perhaps make things difficult for us, perhaps even have a slight bit of fear that could keep us on edge during the game”.

Ready

Veteran defender Manuel Paasqual has no illusions either. “… weʼre in the Europa League, direct knock-out round”, he said. “We know weʼre playing a very good team, perhaps one of the favourites for the competition. We know that theyʼre fast, tough, very physical. And this year weʼre up against Tottenham, but weʼre going to go up there and do our best to carry on in the competition”.

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His coach is ready too. “I think whatʼs really important for us is to be ready, to be prepared, physically, tactically, mentally as well and I think that is something which we all are”, Montella said. “My team is ready for the game. We know itʼs a big game. Itʼs a big game against a strong team, playing at home with their own crowd behind them, which is not necessarily something weʼre always used to playing in this kind of atmosphere, but yeah weʼre ready”.

Important

Itʼs not a season-defining match, but both teams know that victory is important. “Well I think itʼs a very important game for us, because obviously weʼre playing a very strong team in Spurs, but I think we ourselves in the past and at the moment, we are showing ourselves to be a very good team”, Pasqual said. “We know that Spurs are going to be difficult.

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Montella is keen to play their own match. “Well I think that we know that we have to play our game”, Montella said. “We have to display what weʼre capable of doing We have to be combative; we have to be energetic. We have to know match the opposition, whether itʼs physically, mentally. We need to play well, stay true to our style, be brave and also a little bit humble and be aware of what might happen if we donʼt play to our top level”.

Commitment

Among the players returning for their first taste of football in England since leaving these shores are Mohamed Salah on loan from Chelsea and former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards. Montella doesnʼt think that will matter much. “I think that what is important isnʼt so much being used to play here in England, itʼs being used to playing at this kind of level against these kind of teams,he said.

He has no illusions that Fiorentina face a tough tie. “Tottenham are a complete team”, he said. “Thereʼs nothing missing from them whatsoever and theyʼre pretty special in that they combine a Spanish style of play and an English style of play, so a lot of possession and the slow the ball down, but then theyʼre also very quick in the transition phase. Theyʼre able to speed things up. Theyʼre able to be very direct as well, so thatʼs something you have to get used to and yeah, theyʼre strong opposition. We know that. Theyʼre a very, very complete team”.

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Pasqual shares his coachʼs opinions. “Itʼs going to be tough, but the important thing for us to give our best, play well on the pitch in exactly the same way as weʼve done in any other game weʼve played whether it be the Cup Italia – the Italian Cup – or in the Italian Championship”, Pasqual said.

Montella tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution. “We need to be extremely enthusiastic”, he said. “We need to be very brave. We need to enjoy the opportunity, but by the same token we canʼt get too carried away. We canʼt be too euphoric, because obviously that might lead us to become a little bit careless and thatʼs when mistakes can happen”.

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Knock Out

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Patchy

Tottenham Hotspurʼs league form has been patchy, relying on a rich vein of form of striker Harry Kane, whose recent form compares to that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Kane was recently rewarded with an improved contract. Vincenzo Montellaʼs Fiorentina side are aware of the threat posed by Kane.

At the moment heʼs kind of exploded onto the scene recently and thereʼs no doubt that heʼs one of Spursʼ best players at the moment”, veteran defender Manuel Pasqual said. “We know heʼs a goal-scorer, so weʼll be marking him and trying to stop him from scoring”.

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But Spurs have a chance of silverware – the first of the season – next month. They face Chelsea in the Capital One Cup Final, but first they have possibly their best chance to win Champions League football next season – the Europa League. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino expects a tough match tomorrow night. The former Argentine international expected the Viola not to be affected by the loss of Colombian World Cup Star Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. He stresses that Fiorentina have good players.

Points to Prove

Among them is Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian winger has a point to prove. His performances for Basel against Spurs in the Europa League and then against Chelsea earned him a move to Chelsea. It didnʼt work out as he planned, but his move to Italy appears to have already rejuvenated the young Pharaoh.

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Pasqual is impressed. “Well obviously it goes without saying that weʼve replaced Cuadrado with someone who is an excellent person to replace him and Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

Montella has been won over too. “Salah is a very good player”, he said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

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Hungry for Success

But Salah is not the only player with a point to prove. Mario Gomez has endured a terrible year recovering from injury and the disappointment of missing out on Germanyʼs World Cup triumph. He is scoring again and confident. Pasqual was one of the most supportive players in the Violaʼs squad about Gomez.

“Well I donʼt think that the way that heʼs playing now is just down to me”, Pasqual said. “Itʼs down to the whole of the team and I think that when a team sets out to play in a certain way and create chances for a striker to score goals then all of the team contribute to that”

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He remains supportive. “I think you need to bear in mind that Marioʼs a striker”, he explains. “Strikers score goals and once he started scoring goals, things got a lot better for him. You know he was out for a whole year. Thatʼs a long time and it did require time for him to get back to his form, but I think now certainly heʼs playing at a very good level”.

And for anyone tempted to write a eulogy for his career after tomorrowʼs last 32 tie, he has a simple message. “Certainly I donʼt believe itʼs going to be my last game playing in this kind of match playing for Fiorentina”, Pasqual said.

A Villainʼs Charter?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 8th 2014)

A Clean Slate

This week the Championʼs League and Europa League will reach the business stage of deciding which teams will continue in the knock-out phase, drop down to the Europa League, or finish their participation in either competition. Soon the consequences of a rule change on carried over yellow cards will bite.

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Prior to the start of this seasonʼs tournaments UEFAʼs General Secretary Gianni Infantino explained the reasoning behind European Footballʼs governing body taking the decision to follow FIFAʼs lead to give players a clean slate for the final stages of the Championʼs League and Europa League for the current season. Like the World Cup yellow cards will be wiped clean at the quarter-final stage.

UEFA says it wanted to avoid the risk of top players being suspended for the latter stages of the competition. But does it? The World Cup-winning French midfielder and current Strategic Advisor of Greek champions Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu told Empower-Sport that he supported the changes.

Of course”, Karembeu said. “This is normal. I think that … every player deserve to play final, for example, and I think itʼs logical to give the chance to everyone when you dream about the finals – you dream about it”! But will it?

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Villainsʼ Charter

But the flair players – the ones spectators pay to see – are the victims of the persistent fouling, the ʻenforcer tacklesʼ designed to discourage them from playing and much more besides. This leads to them getting frustrated on occasion and reacting.

Remember David Ginola trudging off the pitch unhappily after being sent off for elbowing Lee Dixon when Arsenal played Newcastle United in the Coca Cup as it then was in January 1996. “They wonʼt let me play football”, he said. And they hadnʼt. Dixon had been fouling Ginola throughout the match, ensuring that Ginola could not function and the officials had allowed it. Finally a very frustrated Ginola retaliated by elbowing Dixon. He was sent off. The referee had no choice, but as Kevin Keegan then manager of Newcastle observed, flair players were not being protected.

And then there are cards picked up for deliberate blocks or non-violent cheating. The deliberate hand-balls, the shirt-tugging to prevent an attack developing and of course the simulation all deserve cards and the full consequences, donʼt they? Wonʼt this change in the rules encourage players to offend more as the consequences for doing so diminish?

The recent World Cup was ruined by a combination of excessively lenient refereeing and this rule. The quarter-final between Brasil – the most persistent offenders – and Colombia was destroyed as a spectacle by the failure to enforce the rules of the game. This happened under the auspices of Luiz Felipe Scolari – a manager who once declared the ʻBeautiful Game Deadʼ and the man that also said he wanted his team to foul more. What did they expect to happen other than the anti-football inflicted on the world that night?

Foul and Fouler

Far from guaranteeing the participation of the top players, these changes rewarded persistent offenders whose job it was to prevent the most talented from playing football – the exact opposite of what these changes are supposed to be delivering. What did they expect?

Letʼs hope that the amnesty on suspensions will not be accompanied by a repetition of the ludicrously lenient refereeing that rewarded the cynical and dirty play that Scolari inflicted on a world hoping for Samba football. Was it coincidence that Brasil played dirty?

It was their game plan after all – one that was cynically adopted to stop flair players by foul means or fouler – and utterly predictable that this would happen to ensure that a mediocre team undeservedly reached at least the final stages of the World Cup. Ironically, this happened at the expense of a team that had inherited the mantle of Samba football.

FIFA could not have failed to realise that Brasil would play this way. A talented Chile side and an even better Colombia paid the price. It also put a target on Neymarʼs back that put him out of the World Cup. Letʼs hope it doesnʼt happen again in the Championʼs League or Europa League.

Disrespect?

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Poor Relation offered Riches

The Europa League is still seen as the poor relation of the Championʼs League. To some clubs it is seen as a distraction – at best a poor consolation for missing out on the Championʼs League. Last season when asked by us what Chelseaʼs objectives for the season were José Mourinho quipped, “to not qualify for the Europa League”. He then expressed satisfaction that the aim had been achieved.

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Spain and Italy among others take the Europa League more seriously. Few can forget the drama provided last season. Stéphane MʼBiaʼs last gasp winner at Mestalla took Sevilla to the final in Turin where Béla Guttmannʼs ghost toyed with poor Benfica again. Unai Emery Etxegoienʼs Sevilla triumphed on penalties after a bore drawn in Turin. Nevertheless the emotion and drama of the Europa League at least matched the Championʼs League. Still itʼs not enough. This year the winners will join the Championʼs League at the very least at the final qualifying stage for the group phase.

Distraction?

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“If we were to get to Europe it would be a good European tour and I think thatʼs one of them where obviously we wouldnʼt go into the competition expecting to win it, but it would be a good few weekends out for the fans”, Hull Cityʼs captain Curtis Davies said after reaching the FA Cup final last April. They qualified. Only Belgian outfit KSC Lokeren stood between them and a European tour.

Davies promised that unlike some English teams previously Hull City cared about the Europa League and would take it seriously. Their Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady backed him up. Davies insisted that the Europa League is not a distraction.

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“I wouldnʼt say so because when I was at Birmingham and we were in the Championship and in the Championship you play 46 games, so obviously we played 46 games and we played 8 games in the Europa League and then we got to the play-off semi-final, so it was no distraction for us”, Davies told us. “It didnʼt take away from us. Itʼs more of the fact that youʼre playing catch-up in games in terms of you might three games behind the rest of the field, but itʼs no distraction and I think if youʼre winning games it breeds confidence, so if you can go in those games and win then I donʼt see why you canʼt be happy”.

Tigerless

Hull City looked forward to playing in Europe despite losing two cup finals last season, they were given the opportunity. Beat Lokeren and the European tour was on. A 1-0 defeat in Belgium left a far from unattainable task, but the dream ended before it started. Lokeren got a crucial away goal.

Robbie Brady got both Hullʼs goals, but resting key players cost them dear. Allan McGregorʼs error in Belgium in the first leg proved costly as did the red card shown to Yaninck Sagbo.

Ultimately the Europa League was disrespected. Despite beating Belgian outfit Lokeren 2-1 Hull Cityʼs European adventure ended before it got started. Steve Bruce and Hull City fans can at least console themselves with a pair of astute signings ahead of the Premier League campaign. Former Spurs captain Michael Dawson joins Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone at the KC Stadium.

Uruguayʼs forgotten striker Abel Hernández Platera awaits a work permit after leaving Sicilian club Palermo. Hernández rejected Benfica for Hull. Their conquerors were drawn against Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Turkeyʼs Trabszonspor and Polandʼs Legia Warszawa, who were controversially ejected from the Championʼs League.

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Béla Guttmann – The Decline

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 25th 2010)

The Return

After his sojourn in Brasil Béla Guttmann returned to Europe in 1958. He joined Porto and coached them to the championship overturning a five point deficit to Benfica to achieve it in 1959. After winning the title for Porto he joined bitter rivals Benfica, winning the title, a Portuguese Cup and two European Cups.

However, he failed to win the Intercontinental Cup, losing to Peñarol in a play-off – goal difference didn’t count. Apparently that was not deemed worthy of a pay rise and Guttmann left in disgust, leaving the Portuguese giants in no doubt what he thought of it.

Cursed

After his departure Benfica lost the Intercontinental Cup again this time to Santos. No play-off was required. No doubt dismissing Guttmann’s enraged parting shot, Benfica lined up in the European Cup Final to prove him wrong just a year later. They faced another club who had treated Guttmann badly, AC Milan, although Gutmann was far from Angelic in his treatment of other clubs. The Italians won 2-1 despite Eusébio scoring. The Curse was vindicated for the first time.

Two years later Benfica was beaten 1-0 by Internazionale di Milano. The misguided President who had offended Guttmann enough to supposedly curse Benfica went in 1965, so Guttmann returned to Benfica for a season, which was not successful. The Curse remained in tact as Gutmann was denied the chance to qualify for the European Cup and break his Curse.

In 1968 Benfica took Manchester United to extra time before losing 4-1. A twenty year wait for another chance to win the European Cup ended in 1988. The Curse did not – in fact it seemed to extend to all European competition as Benfica had lost the UEFA Cup 2-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht in 1983. Five years later the European Cup ended in a 0-0 draw after extra time. Benfica lost 6-5 on penalties to PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch club won the treble that season.

Eusébio’s Pleas

They had one last try at The European Cup in 1990. Not even their greatest ever player and Guttmann’s protege Eusébio da Silva Ferreira could help. His prayers at Guttmann’s grave in Vienna failed to lift the Curse. AC Milan took the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win. Frank Rijkaard scored the winner. He later won it again with Ajax and as a coach with Barçelona. Eusébio waited the rest of his life to see the Curse broken. He lived to see the seventh attempt. Benfica lost 2-1 to Chelsea in added time in the Europa League, successor of the UEFA Cup in 2013. Branislav Ivanović scored the winner.

Eusébio died in January 2014. The Champion’s League Final was held in their stadium in Lisbon yesterday. Real Madrid beat Atlético de Madrid 4-1 after extra time. Atlético led by a Diego Godín goal until the fourth minute of added time. Sergio Ramos equalised and in the second period of extra time Gareth Bale, Marcello and former Sporting Club prodigy Cristiano Ronaldo broke their cross-town rivals’ hearts.

A similar thing had happened to Atlético 40 years ago when Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck’s equaliser for Bayern München after 119 minutes forced a replay that the German champions won 4-0, but there is no Curse on them. Atlético has won the Europa League and UEFA Supercup twice in the last four years. Meanwhile, Benfica had dropped out of the Champion’s League and into the Europa League. They reached the final in Turin, beating hosts Juventus in the semi-final.

However, the Curse was not prepared to let go. Unai Emery’s Sevilla beat them 4-2 on penalties after a scoreless draw. At least Eusébio doesn’t have to suffer the effects of Guttmann’s Curse any more. But there is so much more to Guttmann than the Curse.

Profound Effect

He made contacts that benefited Benfica previously. While in Brasil he coached a player who went on to have a profound impact on Benfica without ever playing for the club. José Carlos Bauer had played in the Battle of Bern for Brasil in the 1954 World Cup, but was at São Paulo when Guttmann arrived. He went into coaching soon after with the recently established Ferroviária. While touring Mozambique with that club he spotted a teenage sensation. He recommended the player to São Paulo, who passed on him. Bauer then mentioned him to Guttmann who quickly pounced.

Thus, Benfica managed to steal the late great Eusébio from under the noses of their rivals Sporting Club, despite the young prodigy playing for Sporting’s feeder club in Mozambique. Benfica, ironically knew they had to pay to get Eusébio’s services and did. Fearing that Eusébio would be kidnapped he was spirited away in Portugal and kept under wraps until Benfica was ready to let the teenager show his class, but when Guttmann wanted a pay rise, despite bringing unprecedented and since unequalled success the club refused, unleashing the famous Curse of Guttmann.

 

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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