The infamously impatient Mestalla fans were waving their familiar white hankies long before the final whistle of a third consecutive league defeat, while local sports paper ‘Superdeporte’ screamed ‘Djukic you must go’ from its cover on Thursday morning.
The Serbian manager put a brave face on things during his post-game press conference. “You feel sad for having lost,” Djukic said. “In this moment we are very weak, but I feel I have the strength to continue, to do things, although it is not all up to me. The team were not good, that is obvious, but I feel capable of getting us out of this.”
The axe still seemed certain, but the club offered what seemed an honestly intentioned vote of confidence on Thursday evening. This was partly perhaps as it seemed unfair to sack former Los Che player Djukic after just four months in the job, but mostly because there is little point in hiring a fourth manager in little over 18 months when the club’s issues go a lot deeper than who sits on its bench.
In 2007, Valencia’s then board, egged on by its banks and an ambitious regional government, decided to gamble on the then buoyant local property market.
A plan was hatched to sell its existing city-centre situated Mestalla ground for development, while building a newer, shinier stadium on cheaper land further out.
A site was identified, construction started, and ‘Nou Mestalla’ was scheduled to open for the start the 2010/11 season. But by 2009, with Spain’s property bubble burst, nobody would lend the club any more money to pay the builders. The new ground now sits half-finished, while the team continue to play at the ‘old’ Mestalla (which is now worth much less as land values have plummeted).
The debacle left the club with debts of €450m, even with Spanish internationals David Villa, Raul Albiol, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba sold to help pay the bills.
With fewer stars on the pitch, season ticket sales dropped from 45,000 to 32,000 in just three years. Failure to qualify for this season’s Champions League was another financial disaster. Last summer was supposed to herald a fresh dawn, with a new president, Amadeo Salvo, and the arrival Djukic — who won the 2002 La Liga title, and featured in the 2000 and 2001 Champions League finals, as a Valencia player.
“Valencia is a sleeping giant and I am coming to wake it up,” he said at his presentation in June. “I want to put Valencia back where it should be, among the best teams in Europe.”
That sounded ambitious at the time, especially when captain and best player Roberto Soldado was soon sold to Tottenham for €30m.
And so it has proven to be. Soldado’s cut-price replacement, Portugal international Helder Postiga, has not scored in his last nine club games, while a lack of quality, spirit and confidence throughout the squad is evident.
Meanwhile Salvo and his fellow directors have other worries.
The club president missed Wednesday’s game as he was travelling to China and the Middle East to meet potential investors or sponsors about the €100m required to finish the Nou Mestalla. He needs to raise money quickly as Bankia (a Valencia-based bank formed out of a number of insolvent local lenders in 2010), which has received billions in EU bailout funds, would reportedly sell the club tomorrow if it could find a buyer.
Sunday lunchtime brought some respite with 1-0 win at Getafe, but Valencia remain mid-table, and things could well get worse before they get better. But Djukic’s job still looks safe — if only because not even Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Josep Guardiola together could wake Valencia from its current nightmare.
All sports media hell broke loose this week when a video emerged of FIFA president Sepp Blatter impersonating Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘commander’ strut and joking he spent a lot of cash at the hairdresser.
Given Blatter’s tendency for gaffes on issues including corruption, sexism and gay rights, this seemed small potatoes. But coming off a painful ‘el clasico’ loss to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Ronaldo decided to take offence.
Madrid president Florentino Perez wrote a strongly worded letter to FIFA, while Ronaldo’s Twitter and Facebook accounts saw this as proof of a Blatter-led conspiracy against him, his club and his country.
“Much is explained now,” Ronaldo social-media-ed. “I wish Mr Blatter health and a long life, with the certainty that he will continue to witness, as he deserves, the successes of his favourite teams and players.”
Spanish sports paper Marca labelled the tiff an ‘international incident’ and interviewed former international winger Paulo Futre who warned Blatter against visiting Portugal any time soon. On Wednesday Ronaldo celebrated a goal in his team’s 7-3 win over Sevilla with a mock military salute. On Thursday he launched his own underwear range — posing for photographers in front of a 60 foot tall photo of himself in just his smalls. “I thought you’d be cleverer than to ask me about that,” CR7 told hacks asking his views on Blatter. “I thought you would ask me about my knickers.”