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Twelve months ago, Valencia were looking at another uncertain season with unwanted players and a toxic locker-room – everything looks very different now 

It’s utterly amazing how things can change in twelve months.

Last summer, Valencia CF were facing an uncertain fate, after two absolutely appalling campaigns with managerial experiments such as Gary Neville or Pako Aiestarán, close to sending the team to the second division. After a few course corrections and the arrival of CEO Mateu Alemany, the appointment of Marcelino García Toral as coach in May 2017 seemed a smart choice.

And yet, nobody was sure that it would actually work. At least, not as well as it ultimately did.

After a great effort and impressive fourth spot, Valencia’s return to the Champions League is a fact. The club’s centenary celebrations were kicked-off a couple of weeks ago, with a new shirt – The Bats are returning to a full-white kit – and a new song which commemorates a hundred years of passion.

All in all, a radical departure from last summer. If we look back, Marcelino didn’t have an easy task at hand: he had to turn things around swiftly and, at the same time, reinvigorate a bunch of depressed and nearly worthless players (in the transfer market sense). So he set up shop, cleaned the dressing room of toxic characters and started from scratch. Unfortunately, that meant that he had to be patient and wait for the proper choices to be executed: Gonçalo Guedes and Geoffrey Kondogbia, for example, were signed in the last ten days of August 2017.

This year, things are going much more smoothly. With no such need of getting rid of players as last year, both Marcelino and Mateu Alemany, aided by incoming sporting advisor Pablo Longoria – with plenty of experience in his earlier stint in Juventus – have focused on signing almost all new players before the first friendly match was played.

Indeed, the end of the transfer window is still five weeks away, but Valencia have already signed midfielder Uros Racic, all-arounder Daniel Wass, young defender Mouctar Diakhaby and the latest one to arrive, former Sporting Club right-back Cristiano Piccini. Also, they bought Kondogbia from Inter, confirming ‘King Geoffrey’ as the cornerstone in midfield.

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The remaining weeks of the market seem focused on strengthening the offense, with advanced talks with Atlético regarding French striker Kevin Gameiro. He is Marcelino’s top choice right now, although if we ask fans about their preferred transfer deals, most Valencianistas will point at Gonçalo Guedes and the impossibly tricky deal that the club is trying to close with Paris Saint-Germain. Guedes was one of the breakout stars last season in LaLiga, and obviously many teams saw their interest piqued due to his quality, skill and scoring ability.

However, signings are not actually the biggest reason to be excited about this new, re-energized Valencia. It’s the fact that they have finally got everything together relating to the management of their youth academy. Traditionally an limitless source of quality players, the ‘Cantera’ has been nothing short of a mess over the last decade.

The perfect example of this can be found in the current first team roster: left-backs José Luis Gayà and Toni Lato, Carlos Soler, winger Ferran Torres. All of them have been ‘canteranos’ for many years and finally were able to fulfill their dream of playing for the team they love. And, luckily, it seems the trend has no plans to stop: we already have The Next Big Thing lining up in the launch pad.

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His name is Kangin Lee. He’s only 17. And he made his unofficial debut with the ‘grown-ups’ last Tuesday in a friendly match versus Lausanne. This Korean-born number 10 is a total delight to watch: fast, cunning, creative, can pass and score.

He has been slowly but steadily making it through the ranks for the last seven years, since he landed in Valencia when he was a 10-year-old boy. And, after seeing his contract extended to 2022 and with a $93 million buyout clause, he’s ready to show the world what he’s capable of.

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