From incredible highs to ridiculous lows, Valencia, celebrated its 100th birthday this week with the team fighting to save a soporific centenary season
It is challenging to write about one of the biggest sides in LaLiga and one of the few clubs to have reached the 100-year milestone. Valencia CF is a unique specimen, separated from others such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Atlético Madrid or Sevilla due to their bombastic nature, pyrotechnic character and a resilient-as-hell attitude towards achieving their ultimate goal.
Or, as Joseph Sikl (Vice-president of Sparta Prague) once put it in 1924 (only five years after Valencia’s foundation), they have always had “the will to see it through”.
The road towards this 100th birthday hasn’t been an easy one. Valencia’s history is full of ups and down, periods of undoubted glory followed by crisis and living dangerously close to the edge.
For every Mario Kempes world-class star there was soon a disaster in the form of a relegation to La Segunda (the only one in a hundred years took place in 1986); for every historic feat such as the ‘Doblete’ of LaLiga and UEFA Cup in 2004 there was a harsh economic crisis that was very close to sending the club into bankruptcy.
? GOAT ?
— Paco Polit English (@pacopolitENG) March 20, 2019
As a rabid football fan I’ve followed Valencia’s rollercoaster seasons for the last three decades both in the stands and in the press area, infatuated by Mestalla’s atmosphere (sorry rest of Spanish football grounds, there’s truly nothing which can be compared to Mestalla’s ‘roar’) and trying to achieve that level of thoughtful understanding of what Valencia’s traits mean in the larger picture of modern football.
The truth is that Valencia haven’t really found their spot in the current context, still reeling from the fact that everybody considered them the best in the world 15-years-ago but they were unable to capitalize on that.
Rafa Benitez and his squad of warriors fought (and beat) some of the biggest and best teams of the continent. But Rafa left, a majority shareholder went nuts with expenses and the economic crisis in 2008 was just the icing on the cake.
2008 was actually a turning point in the way Valencia used to do things around here. From building a squad of world-class players (remember: David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata, Joaquín, Fernando Morientes, David Albelda, Rubén Baraja… all used to play together in the same line-up) to having to sell every single outstanding footballer to even the expenses and not lose money. That low-cost era, while relatively successful, wasn’t really solving anything: just buying some time till the inevitable happened.
This came around in 2014: after trying unsuccessfully to come up with a viability plan in the 2013-2014 season, the biggest creditor for the club (Spanish bank Bankia) decided that the club had to be sold in order to recoup their $250 million loan. In a wildly uneven selling process where many conflicts of interest took place, billionaire Peter Lim was lured in by the then president Amadeo Salvo to make a bid for the club. Having the privileged intel other bidders lacked, he obviously won the race to become Valencia’s newest owner.
Meriton Holdings will also celebrate their fifth birthday as Valencia’s main shareholders in May although their half a decade at the helm has been largely uneven, with a very strong first season under Nuno Espirito Santo, stumbling around for over two years (remember Gary Neville’s stint as a manager?) and finally finding in Marcelino García the proper guide for a team full of youngsters with potential.
This season, however, Marcelino faced serious backlash for the first couple of months. He still does from time to time, especially after the umpteenth draw in LaLiga which has impacted the possibility of his side climbing up to the European spots. Other competitions, however, have been kinder to the manager: he’s got the team into quarterfinals of the Europa League and, most importantly, moved on to the Copa del Rey final which they will play on May 25th against FC Barcelona.
Maybe Lim’s biggest issue in his time around here has been his inability to properly understand the psyche and motivations of his own fans. A loyal fanbase which only asks for commitment and their players to really do their best. Winning trophies is actually not the most relevant trait they demand from their team. Only effort, a sense of pride and a sense of belonging.
Thousands of Valencia fans are in the streets today to celebrate the club's centenary.
— La Liga Lowdown ???⚽️ (@LaLigaLowdown) March 18, 2019
You only have to watch the almost spontaneous demonstration which took place last Monday, with over 6,000 fans flooding the streets in a Monday morning. Proud they stood and determined they marched. A day to truly remember, in honour of the people who came before in this century of football and, as they like to say, ‘sentiment’. Here’s hoping that one day Mr. Lim can finally understand that.