Vultures circle to pick over the bones of Valencia's rotting carcass

Vultures circle to pick over the bones of Valencia’s rotting carcass

Sid Lowe

With a team in freefall the coach says a once-proud club have hit rock bottom, but the slide towards oblivion has barely begun

The man in the hard hat put his fingers to his lips and whistled. “All right, lads,” he shouted, “down tools.” Newspapers were ditched, trousers hitched back up over gaping cracks, and cigarettes stubbed out. The cranes that towered over the half-built arena, a gigantic white elephant seating 75,000, ceased swinging and the men in blue pants stopped what they were doing. Ten kilometres inland at Paterna, you could be forgiven for thinking that the men in the grey training kits had already done likewise. The twenty-fifth of February and Valencia admitted that work had stopped on their new stadium. Barely a fortnight later and their coach admitted that his team had hit “rock bottom”.

It is no coincidence. The same crisis that stopped Valencia building their new stadium had already stopped them paying their players. And since Valencia’s players stopped getting paid, they’ve stopped winning matches.

At the start of the year Valencia were second having just defeated an Atltico Madrid side who were unbeaten in nine. Nine games later, they’re out of Europe and unlikely to get back into it too.

Down in eighth, the same number of points separate them from relegation as the top and they’ve won just once in their last nine matches, not at all since payments ceased six weeks ago. Yesterday, second bottom Numancia, a team who had scored two goals in eight matches scored two more in 12 minutes to beat them 21. In just over a month, they’ve been defeated by Numancia, Mallorca and Osasuna three of the bottom four.

And yet Unai Emery was wrong. The most depressing thing about Valencia is that they could yet fall further and not just because David Villa, scorer of almost 50% of their goals, is injured. That’s merely the latest, seemingly inevitable setback for a club in crisis. After all, as the Spanish phrase has it, all a skinny dog attracts is fleas. And Valencia are one mangy mutt. With an eejit for an owner.

Valencia CF should be one of Spain’s great institutions. Instead, it is a football club that hasn’t hit the self-destruct button so much as bludgeoned it into submission with a sledgehammer. Between 2000 and 2004, Valencia reached two Champions League finals, won two league titles and the Uefa Cup. Then along came Juan Bautista Soler, football’s very own Brian Potter. Four years later, Valencia had boasted five sporting directors, three director generals, three medical chiefs, three ostracised footballers, a day in court against their own captain, and no trophies. The club’s debt had risen from 125m to over 400m, 17m each had gone on Nikola Zigic, Manuel Fernandes, and Ever Banega and over 30m was spent paying off Claudio Ranieri, Quique Snchez Flores and Ronald Koeman. But there was always the pelotazo develop the land upon which the training ground and Mestalla stood. Valencia would sell up, move somewhere better, and make a fortune. “We’re going to be the envy of Spain,” Soler said.

There was just one tiny flaw in the plan: it was rubbish. The property bubble that propped up the Spanish economy burst; economic crisis hit harder than anywhere else, leaving three million unemployed, two million new homes empty, hundreds of thousands of buildings half-finished, and Spanish football clubs owing the taxman over 600m. Soler had little choice but to walk; as if to prove a point, Valencia won the Copa del Rey within a month of his departure.

Liberation came at a price. Valencia hadn’t so much been left with an albatross round their necks as a whole bunch of the beaky blighters. If embargoed Atltico Madrid thought they had it tough when they only received half the fee for Fernando Torres, Valencia are completely screwed saddled with a bloated squad, a midfield with an average age of 72, two training grounds and two stadiums, one they couldn’t sell and one they couldn’t afford to build. It wasn’t just the albatrosses either, there was a circle of vultures too. Since Soler’s departure Valencia have had four new presidents, each as bad as the last. In six months they’ve had six sporting directors. Within three weeks of becoming coach, Emery had worked under more bosses than in his entire career.

First came Agustn Morera, a figurehead appointed by Soler. Then it was Juan Villalonga, former prime minister Jos Mara Aznar’s bosom buddy and the man who helped make Telefnica what it is today the world’s most useless institution. He claimed that being president of Valencia was his destiny which is why he’s going to run for the presidency at Real Madrid and promised the world. He also promised to buy Soler’s shares for 76m, sack Emery, bring in Luis Aragons and sign loads of stars. Sixteen days later he departed clutching the 10m fee Soler paid him for a fortnight running the club.

Next up was the club’s second largest shareholder Vicente Soriano, who promised to pay 80m for Soler’s shares and find someone to take Mestalla for 300m. He did neither. Soler threatened to take the club back, only he doesn’t really want it. A 50m a year television deal with Medipro followed but it was a drop in the ocean. The fleas leapt on board. Nike abandoned them and so did the regional government; Bancaja refused to extend their credit. The debt spiralled. Valencia owed 14m to FCC and Bertoln, the companies constructing the new stadium, and 14m to the players. Eventually, Soriano admitted that he couldn’t pay. “It’s been lie after lie,” complained Edu.

Last week, Bancaja decided they’d had enough. Owed 240m, they took over the club with the backing of Soler (still the majority shareholder), appointing Javier Gmez as executive director and going over the head of Soriano, whose 10% share package leaves him impotent and soon to be replaced. Gmez has already announced a policy of austerity. In short, administration without the administrators. Cutbacks and sales are guaranteed; payment for the players still are not forthcoming and nor is a buyer for either stadium. Far from hitting rock bottom last night, Valencia’s troubles might have only just begun. Losing Villa for three weeks is no big deal; losing him for good most certainly is. And even that might not be enough for them to win their fight for survival.

Results: Barcelona 20 Athletic [Barcelona should have got 15 against Athletic’s boys most of whom were still drunk from Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey semi-final success.], Real Madrid 11 Atltico [And Atltico really should have ended their 10-year wait for a derby win], Villarreal 10 Espanyol, Mallorca 33 Betis [from 3-0 down, Mallorca get a draw], Osasuna 12 Sporting, Deportivo 53 Racing. [How the hell did that happen? “The two dullest sides in Spain meet, 0-0 guaranteed”.], Numancia 21 Valencia, Sevilla 21 Almera, Getafe 12 Mlaga [Vctor Muoz in trouble].