By Gethin Boore
28 October 2017, Alaves 1-2 Valencia. This may not be the most eye-catching result, but it followed a 4-0 trouncing of Sevilla at the Mestalla, where Valencia rubber-stamped their growing authority on this season’s La Liga. Yet their narrow win at the Mendizorrotza Stadium is the type of performance success-aspiring sides churn out regularly throughout the season. The type of performance where you fail to hit top-form, but still manage to come away with three points.
Ahead of Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off against fellow high-flyers Leganes, Valencia find themselves unbeaten and second in La Liga with seven wins and three draws. This equals their best start to a La Liga season, and follows a few abysmal seasons that included 4-0 home defeats, several managers that were not really managers, low attendances and fans visibly disagreeing with club owners. For a club of their size, it was not right seeing them in such a state, but all of that is seemingly on the change.
Normally, when you first think of Valencia CF, you’d associate them among not only Spain, but one of Europe’s biggest clubs. They have a glorious history, with glorious players and managers, but where did this club start?
Football arrived in the city in 1909, where you would find British sailors kicking a ball in Valencian ports, but the club was founded ten years later in the so called Bar Torino. They moved to their legendary Mestalla stadium in 1923, and were first promoted to the newly created Primera Division in 1932. Following the Spanish Civil War, the club entered their first golden era. In that period, they won La Liga in 1942, 1944 and 1947 and the Copa Del Rey in 1941 and 1949.
As they emerged to be one of the biggest clubs in Spain, the founding of Uefa in 1954 meant they could be a threat in Europe. They won the Inter Fairs Cup against Barcelona in 1961 and beat Dynamo Zagreb in 1962. A year later, they reached the final again, however there was no hat-trick was they were denied in the final against fellow Spanish side Real Zaragoza. Their next piece of silverware was in 1966-67 as they beat Athletic Club Bilbao in the final to win the Copa Del Rey.
In 1970, arguably Real Madrid’s greatest ever player, Alfredo Di Stefano, took the job to manage Valencia, which lasted four years. During that period, the club managed to win their first La Liga title since 1947, and they reached the Copa Del Rey final three times in a row between 1970 and 1972 but, they lost all three. Following Di Stefano’s departure in 1974, they won the Copa Del Rey in 1979, and shone in Europe again as they won the 1980 Uefa Cup-winners Cup, defeating Arsenal on penalties in Brussels.
In the 1985-86 season, Valencia were relegated to Spain’s second tier, the Segunda Division. The club website re-called it as the toughest moment in the club’s history. Di Stefano returned to the dugout at the end of this season to try and save Los Che with four games to go. They had a slight chance of surviving, but, however, following wins against Sevilla and Hercules, they were relegated at the Camp Nou as they lost 3-0, as other results also didn’t go their way, with Cadiz and Betis drawing.
The club returned to the top flight at the first time of asking as champions. After their season away from the Primera, they finished 14th in the league with Alfredo Di Stefano in the dugout for the third and last time. Fifteen years later under Héctor Cúper, the club entered their modern day era dorada.
To start it all off, they beat Atletico Madrid 3-0 in the Copa Del Rey final to win Spanish Football’s cup showpiece for the first time in twenty years. A year later, the club reached their first ever Uefa Champions League final, their opponents, Real Madrid. This was Los Blancos’ eleventh European Final, and it was their eighth win in the Europe’s greatest club competition. Yet it was a 3-0 win for Real. The following year, however, they reached the final again, this time against German giants Bayern München in Milan. Valencia heartbreakingly lost on penalties, and the club found it hard to re-build.
Then came the Rafa Benitez era, as they won La Liga for the fifth time in 2001-02, before winning it for the sixth time in 2004. This illustrious side had a spine of veteran Los Che goalkeeper, Santiago Cañizares, Argentina captain, Roberto Ayala, Spanish midfield duo, David Albelda and Rubén Baraja, and Norwegian giant, John Carew, as the target-man.
Following that era, a disastrous spell awaited. In 2013-14, they missed out on a European spot, having finished eighth in the table, but that was only the start. Their worst season came in 2015-16. Their controversial owner, Peter Lim, a Singaporean business man, took over the club following the 2013-14 season. When he bought the club, the Valencia fans admired him, but it did not last.
Things came to a surreal halt in 2015-16. They had four different managers. Following a 1-0 defeat against Sevilla, their first manager of the season, Nuno Espírito Santo, resigned. He had been at the club the previous season, and guided them to the Champions League. Their next manager was interim man, Salvador Gonzalez Marco or better known as Volo. He took charge for only one game, which actually ended up in a 1-1 draw against Barcelona. Then a day later, their third manager of the season was confirmed, former Manchester United and England full-back, Gary Neville – yes, Gary Neville.
His brother, Phil, arrived at the club at the start of the season, so his brother decided to join him. He couldn’t save Valencia from departing the Champions League, nor the Europa League, as they lost to Athletic Club Bilbao. In his time at the club, they only managed to win two games, and he was sacked following a defeat against Celta Vigo. His failure at Valencia led to countless debates on Sky Sport’s Monday Night Football and on twitter as Jamie Carragher teased Neville about his time at Valencia. That was their worst part of the season, and it was his first ever experience as a manager. Their fourth and final manager of the season was assistant manager Pako Ayestaran, who steadied the ship until the season’s close.
Off the field issues definitely didn’t help, and going into the 2016-2017 wasn’t looking very glamorous. Although, they did manage to sign Nani, who had just won Euro 2016 with his country, Portugal. They sold key players as well such as Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes, both to Barcelona, and Alvaro Negredo to Middlesbrough. This was another season where managers came and went, but it was their last, for now…
Another dismal season followed, that included a 4-0 home defeat against Eibar; fans boycotting and protesting; three different managers in charge and no European qualification. It was clear they needed a change, and quickly.
Step forward, Marcelino Garcia Toral.
A former midfielder who used to play for Sporting Gijon, Racing Santander, Levante and Elche, the 52 year old from Asturias is making himself popular amongst the Valencia faithful. He retired from professional football at the age of 28 due to a serious injury so he’s been involved in the managerial industry for a long time. A former manager with the likes of Sevilla and Villarreal, he was out of a job for an entire season, following his sacking at Villarreal a few days before the 2016-17 season. They’ve also had a new president – Anil Murthy, a former Real Mallorca president, and a West Ham supporter.
They also changed their squad. Countless signings were made, including Simone Zaza from Juventus, who had been on loan with Los Che the previous season, along with West Ham. The Italian striker has been absolutely vital this season. He’s scored nine goals in ten games and is second in the La Liga top scorer chart behind Lionel Messi, of course. One of the on-field problems that they’ve had in recent years is a prolific goal-scorer, and that’s a problem that Marcelino has fixed.
Another key player is Goncalo Guedes. He came to the Mestalla with something to prove, as he rarely had game time for PSG. He was sent on loan after being bought for 30 milion Euros, and has already won a player of the month award this season. Many people hadn’t heard from him till he arrived, but he’s definitely making a name for himself. He fits Marcelino’s style, and he’s very quick. Another player that has been key for Valencia this season is Rodrigo. He’s been at Valencia for three years, and has scored three goals every season, but this season, he’s already scored five. The captain is Daniel Parejo, who’s been at the club since 2011, and a former Real Madrid player. He was criticised last season by the club for being unprofessional and that he should say sorry to the supporters. How times have changed for Dani Parejo an co.
Their start to the season has been frantic. The first sign of good football came in the second game of the season, drawing 2-2 against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. More eye-catching results game included a 5-0 win against Malaga, a 3-2 win against Athletic Bilbao and a 6-3 win away to Real Betis. And in October, following a 4-0 win at home to Sevilla, a team they’ve had many ups and downs against, Valencia, alongside Barcelona, were the only unbeaten teams in La Liga.
From Champions League finals to utter disaster, the club has had a turbulent few years. But now, it seems as though Valencia are on their way back. Marcelino has done things in his own effective way right from the beginning of his reign. By keeping a close eye on player diets and imposing a new dynamic style of play, it all seems to be coming together for this exciting Valencia side.
Marcelino’s Los Che are on the march.