Monday, July 1, 2013
ESPNsoccernet: June 30, 6:38 PM UK
The road ahead
Dermot Corrigan, Spain Correspondent
Valencia's recently installed club president Amadeo Salvo was not happy when confronted by local reporters who claimed the club was being forced by its bankers to sell star striker Roberto Soldado.
"We are going to sell the players we want to, and for a price we set ourselves, but we are not in a situation where we need to sell any player," Salvo said. "I do not know where this information has come from, but it is wrong and intended to damage the club. These reports are both malicious and false."
The reports in question may have been speculative, but nobody could blame anyone for believing Valencia might be short of cash and need to sell their best player. The club has, after all, sold David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba over the last four summers. Its well documented debts are now around €450 million. In a calmer moment, even Salvo himself admitted that "Valencia is a great club whose books do not balance".
The club's biggest problem remains the awful decision by former president Juan Bautista Soler to gamble on the local land market in 2007, just as the Spanish property bubble was about to burst. Six years, and €150 million, later the 'New Mestalla' ground sits half-built, with no funds available to finish it. Meanwhile 'old' Mestalla is unsold, with its site value having plummeted.
Soler is long gone [and currently facing fraud charges related to his day job as a banker]. His replacement Manuel Llorente grew increasingly unpopular as he sold Valencia's best players to keep the club's head above water. But the team still remained 'the best of the rest' in La Liga, comfortably finishing third behind Barcelona and Madrid, securing Champions League cash each year.
That was until Llorente erred by replacing Unai Emery with the untried Mauricio Pellegrino 12 months ago. Pellegrino was ditched by December having confused even himself with strange selection and tactical decisions, and successor Ernesto Valverde righted the ship, but the team still missed out on a top four spot. No Champions League football for a season is a pity football-wise, but missing out on the usual €20 million plus was a disaster for the club's finances.
By this stage Llorente was also gone, having resigned in April in protest at a new president of the foundation which [on paper] controls 70% of the club's shares being appointed over his head. This decision was made by the local government, who had themselves been leaned on by the club's bankers [Bankia] who need to monetise assets such as Valencia and its one and a half stadiums. When the meddling stopped [for now at least], both Llorente and Varona were gone. Salvo was the club's new chief, while Aurelio Martinez now heads the foundation.
This duo, along with seemingly unmovable sporting director Braulio Vazquez, now appear to be quietly but impressively going about their business. When it became clear Valverde preferred a return to Athletic Bilbao to dealing with any more new presidents, former player Miroslav Djukic was quickly secured from Valladolid. Djukic, who won the 1999 Copa del Rey and 2001-02 Primera Division title as a player under Rafa Benitez at Mestalla, immediately showed he understood both the size of the club and the task he faces.
"Valencia is a sleeping giant and I am coming to wake it up," he said at his presentation in early June. "I want to put Valencia back where it should be, among the best teams in Europe. If we all work together in the same direction - the fans, the media, the board and the foundation - we will achieve our objectives. Amunt Valencia."
Squad rebuilding to that end has already begun. Most interest, to Salvo's obvious annoyance, has so far focused on which players will be sold. Local paper Superdeporte reckon the club must raise about €17 million in the next few weeks, a figure the president preferred not to confirm ahead of another "internal audit".
Soldado has been marked as unsellable, along with Jonas, Sofiane Feghouli and Dani Parejo, while Jeremy Mathieu finally signed a contract extension recently, ending speculation of a move to Barcelona. Djukic looks keen to keep Ever Banega, but the club would like the Argentine plamaker to commit to a new deal too.
The aim seems to be to cash in on players who are both less useful and less popular with fans. €7 million has already been banked for inconsistent and often injured midfielder Tino Costa from Spartak Moscow. Raising €12 million for the talented but erratic Adil Rami would be even better business. Others who could leave without seriously weakening the first XI include Brazilian keeper Diego Alves, Argentine midfielders Pablo Piatti and Fernando Gago, and French full-back Aly Cissokho.
The incoming business also looks well thought out. Impressive pivote Javi Fuego has joined on a free from Rayo Vallecano, to replace the departing David Albelda. Midfielder Michel, a former Paterna youth teamer who had been developing at Levante, was bought back cheaply last week.
Attacker Paco Alcacer, a scorer for Spain against France at the Under-20 World Cup last week, is also returning after a less happy loan spell at Getafe. Other sensible transfer priorities include rescuing Raul Albiol from Real Madrid's bench and Giovanni dos Santos from relegated Mallorca, but it is clear that money for reinforcements is tight.
Asked this week how much he would pay for Dos Santos, Braulio suggested the club were working down a list, and would not be rushed into overpaying. "The market in Valencia is one now, it will be different on August 20," he said. "Other players could come in then, in other circumstances."
So even if most business will be done late in the window, Djukic should have a decent squad next season. The Serbian showed an ability to get a motley team playing entertaining and efficient football at Valladolid last term and could do so again.
No Champions League demands may be an advantage, and fourth spot [behind the big two and Atletico] looks well within reach. Especially as likely rivals including Emery's Sevilla, Malaga and Real Betis are all selling their best players. The biggest challenge could come from Valverde's Athletic.
Longer term the news on the ground[s] is also positive, if you believe the noise coming from foundation president Martinez, who talks a lot about following a "Dortmund model". Another €150 million is required to finish the new stadium, but promising negotiations have already apparently taken place with investors from overseas.
Salvo says that youth development will be a key focus - and La Liga-winning winger Rufete has returned as the club's new academy chief. When Spain eventually exits its recession, the old ground could be sold, and suddenly Valencia would be well placed to at least have a go at Barcelona and Madrid.
That's the glass half-full view. Less happily, June's EGM heard that a decade ago Valencia's annual budget was about half of Madrid's [€80 million to €192 million], but is now only a fifth [€107 million compared to €512 million]. The club have also lost almost a third of their season ticket holders in the last three seasons [from 45,000 to 32,000]. And Bankia remains looming in the background, with its president Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri reminding everyone recently that the club are still in reality at the mercy of their bankers.
So these are chastening times to be a Los Che fan - and this is a group not often renowned for their patience when things do not turn out perfectly, as Llorente knows well. It might now be time to put white hankies away for a while though as the club heads into a medium-term which may not feature a title challenge, but should see them back on a firmer financial footing.
Salvo, Martinez and Djukic may face more criticism along the way, even some which is "both malicious and false", but not too much. Valencia's three new men deserve a chance to put their fine words into action.