Ernesto Valverde: Standing tall in the Valencia crisis
When asked about his contract negotiations with Valencia amidst the uncertainty surrounding the club’s ownership, Ernesto Valverde claimed it took the sharpest of minds to deal with the drama that Valencia threw up. “You have to have a Master’s degree” he said, Valencia is never boring, every week, always, there is something happening.”
That is an accurate assessment of a season where on pitch issues have almost become secondary to the external issues surrounding the club, the local council, majority shareholder Fundacio VCF and Spanish finance company Bankia. Fundacio gained the club in 2010 with a loan handed to them by Bankia, but a recent default on the repayment of an 86 million Euro loan has led to a court room dispute between Bankia and the local council, who acted as guarantors for the takeover, as to whom is answerable to the debt.
The confusion wrangles on, but in the meantime the city council have ordered changes to Fundacio’s board, introducing eleven new members to which club president Manuel Llorente has reacted badly, resigning in protest to the upheaval. Despite this, Valverde is eager to carry on working at a club that, after working hard to cut debts by 200 million Euros over the past three and a half years by selling the likes of David Villa, David Silva, Jordi Alba and Juan Mata, remains immersed in a massive 360 million Euros worth of debt.
Valverde has appeared immune to the gross mismanagement and financial mess that engulfs the club and has voiced nothing but enthusiasm for the prospect of extending his 6-month deal that he signed in December to replace Mauricio Pellegrino. The club sat tenth at the time of his takeover following a 5-2 defeat to Real Sociedad in the comfort of the Mestalla. Now, after a run of just 3 defeats in 17 matches, Valverde’s Valencia lie sixth, four points behind Sociedad in the race for La Liga’s fourth Champions League qualification spot.
The bid to run down current Champions League spot occupants Sociedad did appear to be relentless until Saturday’s dramatic 3-3 draw at Espanyol. Given the madness currently surrounding the club, it was rather fitting that Roberto Soldado’s 91st-minute goal was denied by an even later strike from Sergio Garcia playing in a side reduced to ten men after Raul Rodriguez’s dismissal, but Valverde’s burning ambition is unlikely to be deterred by such a setback.
Pellegrino had inherited the side from Unai Emery, the now Sevilla coach who guided Los Che to successive Champions League qualification but remained widely disliked at the Mestalla. His was an easy sacking for Llorente, but Pellegrino was not so much. With the club’s form in malaise, fans were vocal in their disapproval of the president who had continued to oversee the club through such crippling debt. Llorente had no other choice but to sack Pellegrino, who had began to show signs of producing some good football from his side, and reach aimlessly for Valverde, the coach who had enjoyed a successful exile with Olympiacos in Greece after his 2010 sacking at Villarreal. His decision has been vindicated but Llorente is now no more.
“A month ago I promised to talk to them and I expressed my willingness” said Valverde on the topic of a new deal, “it’s a matter of reaching an agreement and that’s it”. Yet, given the positivity emanating from the manager, there is a feeling that his stint is designed to be temporary. His reputation as a possession-based coach has earned him links with other clubs, notably Manchester City and Barcelona, whilst the nature of Valencia’s troubles means that his plans are likely to be undermined in the summer; this is a club that needs to sell and sell some more in order to keep ebbing away at the mammoth debt.
It is an emphasis on short passing and possession that has contributed to Valencia’s up-turn in form, the team averaging an 80% pass success rate in a 4-2-3-1 system that relies on the experience of David Albelda or the vision of Ever Banega alongside regular Tino Costa at the heart of the side. It is a midfield fully comfortable on the ball, aiming to feed the impressive attacking trio of Jonas, who now has 11 goals (he got Valencia’s second in Barcelona on Saturday) and 3 assists to his name, Sofiane Feghouli, 3 goals and 4 assists, and main striker Roberto Soldado, whose goal at Espanyol hit the 20 mark for the season.
On the left, Mexican Andres Guadardo offers strength and balance to the quartet, which mainly operates narrowly, allowing Aly Cissokho and Joao Pereira to fly forwards from their full-back station to provide width. In turn, that permits Tino Costa to drop deeper to launch attacks and keep the ball moving, boasting a passing completion rate of 82% and a total of 41 chances created for his team-mates. Most of Valencia’s attacking creation comes through him and Brazilian Jonas, who has taken advantage of the foil afforded to him by centre-forward Soldado in order to cut-in from the wing to achieve his impressive goal haul.
Goals have not flowed with ease however, despite the form of Soldado and Jonas. After their respective totals of 15 and 11, next are Nelson Valdez and then Feghouli on three. Valverde has created a well-drilled side that sticks to the system and keeps possession comfortably, but hasn’t quite managed to achieve the fluidity that ensures goals flow freely throughout the team. However, they do possess a strong threat from set pieces, Tino Costa’s wicked delivery accounting for 18 of their total 44 goals in this campaign.
Jonas and Soldado will be saleable assets for Valencia in the summer as they seek to further reduce the debts, while Adil Rami, despite struggling for form at the back alongside Victor Ruiz, remains a regular French international. The creative talent of Costa will also appear attractive to potential suitors while David Albelda is winding down his career at the tender age of 35. Algerian play-maker Feghouli, though not at his best this campaign, is still a tricky winger with lightning pace, interesting Liverpool to the tune of a cut-price £9 million.
It is the tight measures that have reduced the playing staff to just 22 players and Valverde, if he gets his wish of an extended deal, will face a huge task to rebuild the squad at the mercy of such tight financial restriction.
Valencia have lost just once in their last ten games and will continue to pursue Real Sociedad in the race for the Champions League, but it remains irrelevant to the off-field problems that are engulfing the club. Arguments over shares, debts, no president, no permanent manager don’t seem like ending, yet an in-form team with a rejuvenated manager are doing the unexpected.
It is true to Valencia form, “there is always something happening”, as Valverde would put it.Modified 19 Dec 2019, 21:43 IST