The revival of Valencia – Arsenal’s next Europa League opponents

VALENCIA is the third largest city in Spain, which dovetails nicely with its football club’s status in its home country. Most neutral observers would say that Valencia Club de Fútbol is Spain’s fourth club, and given two of the three above it are from the capital Madrid, Els Taronges (the oranges) know their place in Spanish football hierarchy.

Valencia are enjoying a good season – top five in La Liga, finalists in the Copa del Rey (they face Barcelona on May 25) and in the last four of the Europa League. They will present a tough hurdle for an Arsenal side that seems to have lost its way in late season under former Valencia coach Unai Emery.

It’s not just the club’s playing fortunes that have improved, Valencia recently announced that work will resume on their new stadium, a project that has been on hold for the best part of a decade. Valencia were badly affected by the global financial crisis, almost tipping into bankruptcy, and the club had debts exceeding € 400 million with players going without wages.

Players like David Villa, Juan Mata and David Silva were allowed to leave to help resolve the club’s huge debt problems. The 2009-10 season was meant to be the last season for the club at the Mestalla stadium, but financing was a problem and Valencia played on at their old stadium with the Nou Mestalla sitting idle.

Valencia will host Arsenal at one of Spain’s most iconic stadiums. Built in 1923, it is renowned for its steep north stand and demanding local fans. Crowds at Mestalla average around 40,000 making the club in the top half dozen in Spain in terms of attendances. The ground is crumbling, however, hence the need for a new home.

Valencia are, however, way behind Spain’s leading clubs as far as finance is concerned. In 2017, Valencia’s revenues amounted to € 117 million, more than € 500 million lower than both Real Madrid and Barcelona and more than a € 150 million less than Atlético Madrid. The club is also around € 50 million light of the total generated by Sevilla.

In May 2014, Valencia were taken over by Singaporean businessman, Peter Lim, who acquired a 70.4% stake in the club from Bankia, the club’s main creditor.

Lim, is reputed to be the 10th richest person in Singapore, with a personal wealth of US$ 2.5 billion. When he took over, he hired current Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo as coach. Nuno, a client of Jorge Mendes, a close friend of Lim. Nuno resigned in 2015 and former Manchester United defender Gary Neville was appointed, but this proved to be a disastrous decision as Neville lasted just over three months and had a win rate of just 34.62%.

The last manager to enjoy real success with Valencia was Rafa Benitez, who won two La Liga titles, the last one in 2004, as well as the UEFA Cup. Current boss Marcelino was given the job in July 2017.

Last summer, Valencia were among the biggest spenders in La Liga, outlaying t € 125 million and recouping € 57 million. Only Atlético Madrid, with a net negative balance of € 78 million, had a bigger outgoing amount than Valencia’s € 67.4 million.

They broke their record transfer fee when they signed Gonçale Guedes from Paris Saint-Germain for € 40 million. The 22 year-old Portuguese winger had only been at PSG for a year after joining from Benfica. Mendes, his agent, was instrumental in the player being loaned initially to Valencia and this was followed by a permanent move in August 2018. Guedes has been in excellent form since returning from injury that required an operation in December.

Another man to watch is Brazilian forward Rodrigo Morena, who is on Barcelona’s shopping list. The 28 year-old has had a € 30 million exit fee placed upon him by Valencia, so they won’t let him go too easily. Rodrigo is the club’s leading scorer this season, but generally, goals are a problem, with just 40 scored in 34 games. Valencia also paid € 25 million for Inter Milan’s French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia who has represented France and the Central African Republic.

The club is desperate to get back to the UEFA Champions League on a regular basis, although their defeat at the hands of Atlético on April 24 will have been a blow to their hopes of finishing in fourth place.

Valencia’s president, Anil Murthy, told the Financial Times recently the Champions League was fundamental for the club to compete and to raise its international profile, particularly as the football industry has evolved very quickly. “We have to punch above our weight,” he said. Valencia have a young team and that’s where people like Murthy see the future, in developing young talent through the club’s academy.

Valencia were in this season’s UEFA Champions League but were drawn in a tough group that included Juventus, Manchester United and Young Boys Bern. They won four points off of Manchester United but were undone by two defeats by Juventus and a draw with the Swiss champions. They finished third and secured a place in the last 32 of the Europa League. They’ve have a relatively comfortable route through to the semi-finals, overcoming Celtic, Krasnador of Russia and La Liga stable-mates Villareal.

Valencia is a club with something of a European pedigree. They have been runners-up in the Champions League twice (2000 and 2001) and they won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1980, beating Arsenal on penalties in Brussels. They won the UEFA Cup in 2004 and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1962 and 1963.

Arsenal fans will recall, with just a little pain, the Cup-Winners’ Cup final in the Heysel Stadium. Valencia, who were managed by Alfredo Di Stefano, included two World Cup stars in Argentina’s Mario Kempes and Rainer Bonhof of West Germany. The game ended 0-0 and a missed penalty by Graham Rix cost the Gunners the chance to win.

Valencia know the route back into the Champions League could also come via the Europa League, should they win UEFA’s second trophy. Arsenal will have a tough task ahead of them for Valencia have lost just once at home in La Liga and only Juventus in the Champions League group have emerged from the Mestalla with a victory. Unai Emery, who spent almost four years at the club, will be aware of the challenge – not for nothing was Valencia named one of the scariest places to watch football in the world!

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