x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Valencia finding their feet despite losing key players

Following the club's near-extinction, coach Unai Emery and the management have resurrected Valencia's place in Europe.

Unai Emery has brought great stability to Valencia during his three-year stint as the club’s coach.
Unai Emery has brought great stability to Valencia during his three-year stint as the club’s coach.

Unai Emery, the Valencia coach, sat his players down as normal before Saturday's game at Sevilla, with every reason to be content.

Like last season, he had overseen a great start to the campaign with his side unbeaten. Like last term, he had overcome the departure of a star player. Valencia won their first three league matches and drew with Barcelona, in Spain's best game of the season so far, last Wednesday.

They are in the Champions League again after an impressive third-place league finish. Imagine how good Valencia would be had they not sold David Villa, David Silva, Raul Albiol and Juan Mata to bigger clubs to stay afloat.

Emery is a stickler for detail. The 39 year old's style is not for everyone, including some of his own players, but then he does not view his job as a popularity contest.

He briefs players individually and shows them a 20-minute video before games in which he highlights opponents' and Valencia's tactics.

These often go to plan, but not against Sevilla where Valencia stumbled to a 1-0 defeat, their first of the season, and playing against nine men for the final 22 minutes. Ever Banega also missed a penalty.

Los Che hope to recover their composure before Wednesday night's Champions League tie at home to Mata's new club, Chelsea, and the Spanish player "won't celebrate if I score against Valencia out of respect".

The departed Valencia players speak well of their former club. They stayed longer than expected and the fans appreciate that - Villa was applauded last week, just as Mata will be tonight.

Appointed in 2008 after Valencia finished 10th, their lowest position in a decade, Emery is now the club's longest serving coach since Alfredo di Stefano, who took office in 1970 and lasted four years.

The former second-division player may threaten to quit each spring, but the stability he has brought came at the right time for a club who had worked through six coaches in the four years before he arrived from Almeria.

 

Among those predecessors was Claudio Ranieri who came from Chelsea in 2004 before tinkering with the tactics of a successful side and failing to integrate five Italian signings. Ranieri lasted 36 games; Ronald Koeman two fewer.

A problem for both was that expectations had risen after Rafa Benitez led Valencia to two league titles and the Uefa Cup in three years at the beginning of the century.

Benitez's predecessor, Hector Cuper, had also taken Valencia to successive Champions League finals, but that was at a time when they could afford to keep hold of their best players.

Valencia, the third most successful team in Spanish football, have been a selling club since they stood on the precipice of extinction in 2008. Debts, political infighting and ownership squabbles were exacerbated by unhappy players and the spectre of building a vast new 75,000-seater stadium at precisely the time that Spain lurched into an economic crisis which saw the property market crash.

Valencia had intended to pay for the new stadium by selling their Mestalla home for apartments in the city centre.

The half-built shell of the new stadium has remained untouched for two years. The club are confident that they can make the move within three years. In the meantime, they continue to scout and sign players efficiently like Jeremy Mathieu, the attacking left-back who came from Toulouse in 2009.

Valencia's game is still based on the counter-attacking philosophy of yore, but it is also aided by technically gifted talents like Sergio Canales, 20, the attacking midfielder on loan from Real with a view to a €12 million (Dh60m) permanent deal.

Los Che also signed the Spanish Under 21 centre-back Victor Ruiz, 22, a product of Espanyol's youth system who found himself sold to Napoli for €6m in January to help pay the Catalans' debts.

Valencia have debts, too, but they are also the fourth-best supported team in Spain with average crowds of 40,621.

They also continue to reinvest what money filters down from their big-name sales into developing emerging talents - until a richer club takes them away.

It is not ideal, but it is as good as Valencia fans can possibly hope for.

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