x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Levante: the club who survive on loan rangers

Valencia's second club are battling against the odds to avoid remaining a yo-yo team.

Caicedo, left, on loan at Levante from Manchester City, has impressed during his spell at the Spanish club. Jose Jordan / AFP
Caicedo, left, on loan at Levante from Manchester City, has impressed during his spell at the Spanish club. Jose Jordan / AFP

Striking new museums and distinctive white curved bridges designed by Santiago Calatrava, the world renowned, locally born architect, have put Valencia on the urban tourist map. But it's football which makes Valencia tick, with a far higher percentage of the city's 770,000 population attending games - as opposed to watching them in a bar - than in either Barcelona or Madrid.

Most support CF Valencia, the club which bears the city's name, but the city's second club, Levante, has been making the biggest waves in 2011. The surprisingly promoted side was the favourite for relegation and it looked that way by the end of January when they were 19th with just four wins for their first 20 games. They've since risen to 10th.

Much of the credit has been given to the superb team spirit created by coach Luis Garcia, a 38-year-old former Spanish third division player who was last week rewarded with a €300,000 (Dh1,636m) bonus. That may equate to a week's total wages for Lionel Messi, but it is a lot for Levante, a club who have not paid a cent for one of their players.

Money's perennially tight at Valencia's second club. Several blue seats behind the goal have been replaced by red ones in the 25,000 capacity bowl that is the City of Valencia stadium, spoiling the effect of blocks of red and blue blocks of seats - the club's colours.

"This club has large debts left from previous administrations," explains Sporting Director Manuel Salvador Serra. "The president does not want to repeat the mistakes of old and offer contracts the club cannot afford."

On average gates of 15,000 and with debt repayments totalling €12 million a year, the Frogs have to cut their cloth accordingly, yet they have overachieved this season. After a surprise promotion last season - a fine way to end their centenary season - Levante's only aim was to avoid relegation and even that looked ambitious.

It was a familiar story, with Levante becoming Spain's most consistent yo-yo club of recent years: too good for the Segunda, not good enough for the Primera. Their current good run started when they beat Getafe 2-0 in January with goals from Valdo and Caicedo, the player of the season and 13-goal top scorer. The Ecuadorean, 22, is on loan for the season.

"We got him from Manchester City," explains Serra. "We benefited because other deals had fallen through for him. City wanted to sell him but there were no buyers. So we really pushed for him and City were good to deal with. We signed him one hour before the deadline with an option to buy him. City still pay most of his wages, but we give him football every week in a very good league. I think he likes it here."

It wasn't as if Levante could pay a fee for Caicedo. They haven't paid for a player for over three years, during which they have signed 38 pros, many of them on loan, like Asier Del Horno from Valencia, Xavi Torres from Malaga or Christian Stuani, the Uruguayan forward, from Reggina.

The most recent was Willington Silva, the 18-year-old Brazilian winger from Arsenal.

He has far more chance of minutes with the Frogs than the north Londoners.

Their nickname dates back to their old Vallejo ground which occupied prime land in the city centre by the Turia River. The same river which used to flood Valencia until it was diverted in the 1950s and caused hundreds of frogs to seek refuge on Levante's pitch.

The Frogs' eight-game run came to an end with a 4-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid last weekend. They hope to get back on track at home to another in form team Sporting Gijon tomorrow. Whatever the result, both are safe effectively safe from relegation. And when you're among the favourites to go down, that constitutes success.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

Fixtures

Today

Real Madrid v Real Zaragoza 8pm

Real Sociedad v Barcelona 10pm

Deportivo v Atletico Madrid midnight

Tomorrow

Almeria v Sevilla 7pm

Levante v Sporting Gijon 7pm

Malaga v Hercules 7pm

Racing Santander v Real Mallorca 7pm

Villarreal v Getafe 9pm

Osasuna v Valencia 11pm

Monday

Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao 11pm