Madness, Mystery and Misery at the Mestalla

After Englishman Gary Neville was sacked after a dreadful four months in charge of Valencia, leaving the club at a time where Valencia sat a mere six points above the drop zone with only eight games remaining of the 2015/16 La Liga season, many would have thought it surely couldn’t get any worse for the Spanish giants, could it? Yet approaching twelve months on since Neville’s departure and the managerial merry-go-round that has quickly followed, there is however no denying that things have ultimately gone from bad to worse both on and off the field with a Valencia side truly in the thick of a relegation battle, only one point above the drop and a club president, board of directors and members of backroom staff left in complete disarray.

Following Neville’s sacking it was down to Pako Ayestaran to save the day and steer Valencia back to where they rightfully belong, competing at the top of the Spanish La Liga. Yet Pako Ayestaran’s quick fix and first season heroics, most notably leading Valencia to memorable wins over Sevilla, Barcelona and Eibar may have indeed have gone some way helping the club survive somewhat comfortably after a poor start to the season but as with everything at Valencia in past few seasons, his magic did soon and perhaps predictably ware off. Any pre-season optimism that the previous season was simply just a blip and that after a spell in Europe the chase for European football would be back on again this season quickly faded away as Ayesteraran’s first full season charge started in utter chaos – losing his first four games of the season and consequently losing his job after losing two thirds of his games in charge of the club. It was only now that Valencia fans were beginning to learn what it was like to lose, albeit quickly and catastrophically.

No surprises then at what happened next at Valencia with another day and another drama quickly followed by the ever dependable ‘Voro’ stepping out of the darkness and into the light as caretaker manager of the club once again as Valencia scrambled around mid-season looking for the perfect answer to their escalating problems on the pitch – not forgetting any issues away from the Mestalla. With an experimental choice like Gary Neville ultimately proving unpopular with the club’s fans, although in some ways perhaps sacked prematurely given the disastrous antics of successor, Valencia consequently turned to the proven manager Cesare Prandelli in an attempt to help quickly turn the clubs fortunes around before the prospect of relegation proved even greater. However in a similar vein to his predecessors, after an optimistic start to life at the club with the veteran saying all the right things and conducting himself professionally despite ever-growing rumours of unease behind the scenes, with the benefit of hindsight he too failed to get the best out of a squad more than capable of challenging for European football. Therefore after an underwhelming few months in charge the Italian coach unsurprisingly walked away from the poisoned chalice citing unrest behind the scenes with regards to the money available for January transfers as the final straw and Valencia soon found themselves in a crisis.

In a similar period, whilst the club have evidently free fallen down the league with the fourth worse number goals conceded out of all twenty La Liga sides this season and relegation form to match, off the pitch it has also proven to be a season of discontent. Amid reports of growing unrest between Valencia players in the dressing room, former club captain Daniel Parejo individually hit the headlines towards the end of the last calendar year after footage emerged of him enjoying himself a bit too much in a Spanish nightclub despite the club’s struggles. The Spanish midfielder’s subsequent public apology to Valencia fans for his actions however typified the wider problems at the club, notably between loyal Valencia supporters and those involved in the day to day running of the club and whilst Parejo was far from a scapegoat, Valencia fans grievances stray much further than Parejo instead at the wider club itself. Aside from Parejo there undoubtedly remains a toxic atmosphere in and around the Mestalla and Valencia’s most passionate followers are unsurprisingly, a very unhappy bunch in more ways than one, with the unsavoury scenes outsides the club’s Paterna training ground almost a month ago following Valencia’s ninth loss of the season, a 3-2 defeat at Real Sociedad, proving only to be the tip of the iceberg. For a fan base that have been not so much perhaps used to earning consistent success on the pitch but more so the capability of watching their team show the passion and determination required to stand any chance of challenging in La Liga, the last eighteen months have led to some of the club’s most devoted supporters to fall out of love with the game, fall out of love with the team and with everything that the club has always stood for.

A disappointing start to the season therefore meant there was been very little to cheer about and with this in mind there was to be no Happy New Year for the club, fans instead taking to the streets outside the Mestalla to vent their frustration at owner Peter Lim and their displeasure at his running of the club following another defeat, this time a 4-1 thrashing by Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey. A far cry from the scenes almost two seasons ago when the club secured a fourth placed finish ending the season ahead of fierce rivals Sevilla and in the process earning a spot in the UEFA Champions League, fans took to the streets of Valencia in their thousands and with an authentic togetherness to celebrate the club’s magnificent achievement. From unity, solidarity and harmony among Valencia’s supporters to anger, exasperation and outrage, the Peter Lim honeymoon appears to be over for Valencia fans and whether Jesus Garcia Pitarch’s resignation from his post as sporting director of Valencia is the start of things to come, let’s hope that any changes are made for the better and that the club start moving upwards as quickly as possible.

Almost two years on however from their fourth placed finish and memorable days at the Mestalla with two home wins over the Madrid pairing of Real and Atlético illustrating just how good of a side Valencia were with the likes of Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer and Nicolas Otamendi pulling the strings and things are much, much different. Chants praising the work of former manager Nuno Santo and the positive thoughts regarding how well the club was being ran and how bright the future looked for the club are distant memories. Nowadays you need only listen to the Valencia fans inside the Mestalla during each home calling for owner Peter Lim to finally abandon his Valencia project and ‘leave Valencia’ for good or to just look around at the thousands of glum faces, unenthused by yet another defeat for the club to realise that all is not well with fans left furious at what is happening to their beloved club. And with the club’s key performers leaving every summer and reinforcements brought in that are evidently not of the same ability and quality to help lift the club back to where they want to be, it almost seems like a waiting game for the club’s fans as to how long it will be before another star player leaves for pastures new before soon followed up by an inadequate replacement bought because of the name or the brand and for an extortionate fee without any guarantee of any genuine individual quality; a vicious circle that sadly shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Whilst it may seem all doom and gloom for Valencia fans, you can’t help but think that it wouldn’t take much for the club to get back on track but with every managerial appointment ending in failure in the past two seasons, something needs to be done thick and fast to help stop the rot before it is too late and a club with so much history are condemned to the second tier of Spanish football. Whether it is Mario Kempes, Roberto Ayala or David Silva, no matter what generation of football fan you may be, everybody is able to associate a player to the club and that is testament to the prestige and European, if not worldwide appeal and reputation that the club maintains to this day. Inevitably it will have been upsetting for Valencia fans to see their club down in the doldrums, but to lose Valencia entirely  and from the top flight of Spanish football would be an absolute disaster for fans not just of the Spanish game but of football as a wider phenomenon. Therefore only time will tell us what happens next at Valencia but for the good of the beautiful game let’s hope that they are Junts Tornem and that things change sometime soon for the club. As much as Valencia fans want to remain in La Liga as well as competing in Europe, wider football fans want to see them back to their very best too but in any case 2017 will either make or break the club – here’s hoping it is the former and not the latter.

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