Valencia CF: Finally ready to fly in La Liga?
Keeping Valencia's turbulent past in recent memory, are they finally ready to scale the heights they promised they would?
Valencia Club de Fútbol, a somewhat forgotten football club in modern history, has been renowned for winning a league where teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated for years together.
Valencia have won La Liga just two times in the last twenty years. With the most recent title win coming in the 2003-04 season, where, under the tactical astuteness of a certain Rafael Benitez, they also won the UEFA Europa League, formerly known as The UEFA Cup.
Ask any football club fan, the joy of winning two trophies in a single season is unparalleled. So, it goes without saying how much the fans still adore him.
Although that remains their only major European conquest, make no mistake, the Els Taronges which translates to The Oranges, have been a mainstay in the European competitions.
They have appeared in the premier European competitions for a combined sixteen times in the last twenty years. This is a glowing indictment as to why they are considered one of the top European clubs over the years.
And in all those years, they have not participated in the competition just to make the numbers up, with two consecutive UEFA Champions League final appearances under Héctor Raúl Cúper in the 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons, who presently manages the Egyptian National Team.
Another feather was added to the much-respected Argentine's cap just recently, having helped Egypt secure their first World Cup qualification since 1990.
Trouble in paradise?
The period from 1999-2004 was considered a golden age for the Los Che. They reached the UEFA Champions League Final for the first time in their club's history and made consecutive appearances in the finals of the 1999-00 and 2000-01 UCL seasons under Cuper.
A long wait of thirty-one years finally came to an end in 2002, when they won the Spanish League under Benitez. They repeated the feat again in the 2003-04 season, which is one of the most cherished memories for any Valencia fan because it constituted a part of the famous double under Benitez, which earned him a move to the Premier League giants, Liverpool.
But, once Rafa left and went on to conquer the seemingly impossible at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, with that memorable comeback win for Liverpool against AC Milan, Valencia seemed to have lost their magic.
The club had reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League only once since then, in 2006-07, under Quique Sánchez Flores. But, after a string of poor results, Quique was eventually replaced by Ronald Koeman, in what seemed to be a turbulent period for the Los Murciélagos.
Reports of massive internal debts exceeding €400 million ensured the departure of top talents like David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata in orderto balance the books.
Unai Emery was appointed the new Valencia manager at the start of 2008-09 season. The Basque manager was a promising young manager who was supposed to overturn the misfortunes of the club and he did deliver.
After an absence of two years from Europe's premier competition, Unai Emery's men clinched qualification by finishing third in the 2009-10 season. However, due to the plight of their financial operations, David Silva and David Villa were sold to Manchester City and Barcelona respectively.
In the following summer of 2011, Juan Mata made his way to the Premier League runners-up, Chelsea, where he won the UEFA Champions League, defeating Bayern Munich.
Peter Lim's tenure
Singaporean businessman Peter Lim's acquisition of the club in 2014 was supposed to be the ushering of a new dawn after the financial ordeal that the club had to suffer in recent years. The fans had seen top talents like Jordi Alba join their rivals in order to ensure that the club can sustain itself.
The connections with Super Agent Jorge Mendes were also supposed to be the beginning of the revival of the Spanish club, but it went on to become a torrid period where they witnessed a managerial merry-go-round with no sort of stability. After the sacking of Nuno Santo, the club saw four managerial changes from November 2015 to September 2016.
This was a disaster waiting to happen. Evidently, the poor results followed on the pitch. The fans slowly turned on the owner, asking him to sell the club, owing to the fact that he put his personal relationships ahead of the club’s interests.
Especially the appointment of Gary Neville, the former Manchester United defender, who found it extremely difficult to settle down, as there was a visible disjoint between the players and the staff. Also, the football world still ponders how was he appointed in the first place as he had only served as the England National Team's assistant with no sort of managerial experience at club level.
However, despite the hard times, it appears that he has tried to right the wrongs in his tenure by appointing Marcelino, the former Villarreal manager at the start of 2017-18 season.
2017-18 season so far
Fast forward to the present 2017-18 season. Marcelino Garcia Toral was appointed the manager of Valencia CF. After a seemingly shocking exit from the Villarreal team, following a fallout with the board, who he had guided with limited resources, he joined Valencia at the start of 2017-18 season.
However, previously, a torrid 2012-13 saw Villarreal relegated to the Segunda Division, but they won back promotion in the next season and Marcelino took charge, leading the team to an impressive sixth-place finish, earning a direct qualification to the Europa League for The Yellow Submarines.
In the 2015-16 season, the world took notice of Marcelino as he led this team to a top-four finish and to the semifinals of the UEFA Europa League, where they were eventually knocked out by Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool at Anfield.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
Of all the things that Valencia Football Club has gone through in the last 10 years, there seems to be no more perfect a fit than Marcelino. Although, it’s too early, yet the Spanish manager has set the foot in right direction as his side is one of the three unbeaten sides in La Liga, along with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Los Che have not had a kind fixture list either. Having already faced Real Madrid away from home and Atletico Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium, they have managed to deny all three points to both the Madrid giants. With the other draw coming from the Valencia derby against Levante who have been equally impressive after securing promotion this season.
The transformation has not been easy. In a world where fifty or sixty millions Euros for a quality player is the going rate, this Valencia side is a team of relative outcasts. Anyone acquainted with the Premier League would know how badly Simone Zaza would want to forget his Euro 2016 penalty miss and the subsequent stint at the London Stadium, but he has proved to be a revelation.
With eight goals from nine games, he has been brilliant alongside Rodrigo and the impressive Santi Mina who is just 21 years old. He is second only behind Lionel Messi in the Liga top scorers list this season.
Geoffrey Kondogbia was a huge prospect when he played for Monaco and he was sought after by numerous top European teams. A player with strength, drive and a brilliant passing range. But, his growth seemed to have stalled under Roberto Mancini. However, he, too, seem to have rediscovered his mojo this season.
He has been deployed as a solid double pivot in the middle of the park with Dani Parejo, the Spanish midfielder who is in charge of set-piece duties. The pair of Kondogbia and Parejo is a joy to watch. Calm, composed and controlled. The three C's which any football coach would want in a midfield duo, be it in a seemingly easy game at home or in a raucous atmosphere away from home at the Bernabeu.
Wings; They do indeed make you fly
Goncalo Guedes and Carlos Soler have been revelations for the Spanish side. Soler, a bright young star, has had a steady start to the season and has regularly featured in this impressive Valencia side on the right wing. With a very low centre of gravity, he is a bag full of tricks, has an eye for a pass and is really technical.
A direct player with Spanish technique? Premier clubs need to keep a watch. Guedes, an impressive Portuguese on loan from PSG, has started brilliantly. Out on the left wing, he has beaten competition from Andres Pereira, to stake a claim in the starting eleven. The young starlet has scored three goals, against Sociedad at the Anoeta, against Betis and against Sevilla who they thrashed 4-0.
He's not oblivious to screamers from outside the box as well. It is no surprise that this side has scored 25 goals this season already, only one behind Barcelona. The attack is well drilled and trained. Happy times, indeed, for Valencia fans, who have seen Munir being their top-scorer with 6 goals for an entire season, in the not so distant past.
As previously mentioned, the team is a collection of relative outcasts who have been loaned, with their previous employers not seeing them centric to their plans in their teams.
Jeison Murillo is another such player from Inter, who has featured in their back four alongside Ezequiel Garay and Gabriel Paulista, from Arsenal, who has worked with Marcelino at their time together in Villarreal.
Martin Montoya and Jose Gaya, the full-backs, have been instrumental in their attacks. Montoya, another player who has found it difficult to settle down after stints at Inter and Betis, has made six appearances for the Los Che this campaign already.
Even though it is really early to say that they will scale the glorious heights of the days under Hector Cuper or Benitez, the signs are definitely exciting, and if you're a football fan who grew up in the early 2000s, you'd surely want to see them become the force that they once were.
And, if Marcelino does achieve that, he should be regarded as one of the top managers around who knows how to work with limited resources.