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 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 to the present day. With debts reported to be over €450m, construction having stopped on the new stadium and forced to sell their star assets merely to stay afloat, Valencia are a club in crisis. How could things go so badly wrong in such a short period of time?
However, despite all of the off-the-pitch problems at the club, including being stuck with two stadiums, the team are giving fans hope that all is not lost.
Having surprisingly hung on to their star assets, David Villa and David Silva, last season, they surpassed expectations as they finished third behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. This secured a return to the Champions League, and the financial boost that this brings.
Finally, this summer, they could hold onto their star duo no longer. Villa completed his expected €40m move to Barcelona, whilst Manchester City paid €30m for Silva.
They also lost Carlos Marchena, who had made 230 appearances for the club over almost 10 years, as well as holding the record of 56 international appearances without defeat, as he signed for Villarreal.
The loss of three Spanish internationals would be a major blow for any side to cope with.
They were also faced with the retirement of former captain, Rubén Baraja, as well as the sale of other squad players, such as Nikola Zigic and Alexis. Their summer sales totalled almost €90m.
Despite all this, they still face debts of over €500m today. David Albelda refused the captain’s armband this season.
One of their big summer signings, Sofiane Feghouli, was relegated in France last season. Against this background, expectations were low this season.
However, one of the major assets that the club still has is its manager. Unai Emery is fast becoming regarded as one of the most talented young managers in European football, and the most likely replacement for Vicente Del Bosque when the Spain coach steps down after Euro 2012, as is expected.
He has had great success at every club he has managed, and it was a huge boost for Valencia that he decided to remain at the club over the summer.
On the pitch, they have an experienced keeper in César. They have plenty of attacking options in the form of Juan Mata, Pablo Hernandez, Arturo Aduriz, Roberto Soldado, as well as Joaquin and Alejandro Domínguez.
However, the real star of the team is Ever Banega. After a poor start, where he was almost sold to Everton, he finally came good last season, proving himself to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
They currently top the table after five games, with 13 points from a possible 15, as well as a 4-0 victory in Turkey to start their Champions League campaign.
Whilst it has not been the most challenging start, they will be happy with how they have performed. Even so, the good performances on the pitch are still struggling to mask the problems off it.
As an example of how not to run a football club, the past six 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.
In the 2008/09 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 Feb. 25, 2009, 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 that 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 they couldn’t sell and one 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 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.
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 is doing a magnificent job on a very limited budget; he has taken the club from finishing in the lower half to the Champions League, virtually without spending any money whatsoever.
This season has begun well, despite the loss of €90m worth of talent over the summer.
Despite being top of the table, nobody is suggesting that they will be realistic challengers to the big two this season. However, if they can secure Champions League football again, the money will continue to flow into the club.
A restart on the construction of the Nuevo Mestalla does not look to be on the cards in the near future though. It will remain as a monument to the financial mismanagement of the past.