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A Club in Crisis

Rewind to October 2004. Juan Bautista Soler, a Spanish property developer, took over as president of Valencia CF, one of Europe’s biggest clubs at the time. In the previous four years, they had reached two Champions League finals, won the Primera Liga twice and had lifted the UEFA Cup. Their starting eleven included the likes of Roberto Ayala, David Albelda, Rubén Baraja, Santiago Cañizares and Pablo Aimar. Although Rafa Benítez had just left, Claudio Ranieri, the man who had led Valencia to the Champions League final, had returned. The future looked bright for Valencia. Fast forward back to the present day. With debts reported to be over €450m, construction having stopped on the new stadium and relegated to the depths of the Europa League, Valencia are a club in crisis. How could things go so badly wrong in such a short period of time?

As an example of how not to run a football club, the past 5 years at Valencia should be used to warn off all future owners. Major mismanagement, combined with the effects of the economic crisis, has hit Valencia hard, threatening the very existence of the famous club. Arguments between the boardroom and the coaching staff, and amongst the coaching staff and the playing staff resulted in club captain David Albelda taking the president and club to court. The inability of the club to pay its playing staff led to a downturn in results on the pitch. Valencia virtually turned into a tragic soap-opera.

We will come to the mismanagement and the financial problems later, but the first, and one of the more bizarre, happenings was the ostracism of three of Valencia’s star players. David Albelda, the most successful captain in the history of the club and an icon at the Mestalla; Santiago Cañizares, arguably the second best Spanish goalkeeper at the time behind Iker Casillas; and Miguel Ángel Angulo, who had made over 300 appearances for the club over 10 years. The decision came as a major shock to everyone. It is suggested that they were excluded by Juan Soler – the three were major critics of his regime and he wanted to silence them, potentially fearing the influence of the three as a threat to his power. The three players were eventually reinstated over four months later, following a court case and the dismissal of Ronald Koeman, but the whole incident had caused major divisions in the squad, with some squad members supporting Soler and others supporting the exiled stars.

However, it is the financial problems that are the biggest threat to the club. With reported debts of over €450m, up from around €100m when Soler took over, there have been many worrying events in recent times. Last season, they were forced to delay payment to player for two months, leading to a dramatic collapse in form; the club fell from second to eighth, and slumped out of Europe during this period. On the 25th February last year, construction on the new stadium stopped due to lack of payments. A fortnight later, coach Unai Emery admitted that the club had reached ‘rock bottom’. Mass player sales were expected in the summer, although the club defied the predictions to retain all their players, other than Raul Albiol, who moved to Real Madrid for around €15m.

The economic crisis has hit Valencia badly in comparison to other clubs, due to their position at the time. Soler’s grand plan was to build a brand new stadium and training ground, and finance it by the sale and redevelopment of the existing stadium land and training facilities. However, they were dependent on the housing and construction markets remaining strong. With the economic crisis, these two sectors were amongst the worst hit in the Spanish economy. The club were left with two stadia and two training grounds – one that they couldn’t sell and one that they couldn’t build. Huge expenditures under Soler on both players and coaches added to the problems. Severance pay totalling over €35m went to Quique Sánchez Flores, Claudio Ranieri and Ronald Koeman. The club spent around €20m each on the likes of Manuel Fernandes, Ever Banega and Nikola Zigic – none of which has justified the large price tag.

The club was rapidly going through staff members as well. Over the course of Soler’s four year reign, the club went through five sporting directors, three director generals and three medical chiefs. The departure of Soler as president in March 2008 hardly stemmed the flow. In the following 12 months, the club had four different presidents, whilst in only six months between October 2008 and March 2009, they had six different sporting directors. Within three weeks of Unai Emery taking over as head coach in May 2008, he had worked for more different bosses than he had in the rest of his four year career combined.

When Soler stepped down as president, he sold his shares to Vicente Soriano, who claimed he would pay €90m for them and find a buyer for the Mestalla at €350m, but he broke both promises – he didn’t actually have the money he claimed he did. The club were dropped by their shirt sponsor and ditched by the local government. As if to spite Soler, the club won its first trophy in five years months after Soler had left.

The club missed out on the Champions League again last year, denying the club a crucial source of revenue. They are currently playing in the Europa League, but the difference in the money between the two competitions is huge. Qualification for next year’s Champions League would be a major boost for the club, and they currently sit in third place, despite poor recent form and a major injury crisis in defence. It could be argued that with a strong defence, the club would have the ability to challenge for the title with Barcelona and Real Madrid. In an attacking sense, the club is blessed with a number of highly talented individuals.

David Villa is one of the most sought after strikers on the planet; David Silva is a hugely talented midfielder who has been linked with big-money moves to the Premiership on numerous occasions; Juan Mata is a Spanish international, rated as having more potential than Silva by many; Ever Banega has been reinvigorated this season and praised as one of the best midfielders in the league. If they were forced to sell players, there would be no shortage of suitors.

It is a shame to see one of the historic clubs of Europe in such dire straits; indeed, there were major worries over bankruptcy only recently, and officially, the club is still insolvent. However, Unai Emery has done a magnificent job on a very limited budget – he has taken the club from finishing in the lower half to realistic challengers for the Champions League, virtually without spending any money whatsoever. Qualification for the Champions League next year would provide some hugely needed revenue. However, it would be expected that the club are forced to cash in on some of their assets this summer – David Villa and David Silva are two names that are likely to be mentioned with regards to this. Hopefully the club can hang on to their stars and continue their gradual recovery, but the new unfinished stadium will remain as a monument to the financial mismanagement of the past.

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