It’s unfair to call it the Gary Neville era, but Valencia’s ‘chaotic’ period appears to have ended.
Twice Champions League runners-up at the turn of the century, Valencia’s “revolution” has returned the club to the competition faster than it dared dream following a divisive period that featured two 12th-place finishes in La Liga that cut them adrift of Europe’s elite. Neville arguably presided over the nadir — a 7-0 drubbing by Barcelona — and the club went through four managers in one season.
Current boss Marcelino García Tora — the club’s 12th manager since 2012 — took charge at the beginning of last season, having achieved three top-six finishes with Villarreal. And his demanding 4-4-2 system and mix of hungry players with a point to prove took the club to fourth.
“Did we expect to qualify for the Champions League? Absolutely not,” Valencia president Anil Murthy told the BBC World Football Show this week.
Not so quickly. Last year, before the season started, we performed a revolution in football in the sense that we cleaned out a significant part of the team, took on a few losses and put in a new coach who is stable with us now.
“We made changes off the pitch in the management side — practically every head of department is new. We have established what our DNA is as a club and defined all these important changes in Valencia’s football revolution and it may require more time to reach stability and success every year.
“The objective is to be in the Champions League every year but we did not expect it to work so fast.”
Murthy is Singaporean, like club owner Peter Lim, who brought in his friend Neville as manager in December 2015. Neville has since admitted the language barrier was one of his chief hurdles in a disappointing four-month spell that brought just 14 points from 16 La Liga games.
Murthy agrees that a Spanish-speaking manager should be an integral part of that Valencia DNA.
“I wasn’t here then but if I look at it from the outside, I have heard many stories from Gary’s time here. There are a few factors and you must remember it was a chaotic time.
“After him we had a few more coaches who did not have success either. Gary’s period here could be misleading but he is good friends with Peter and came in at a time when the team was looking for a coach.
“If you want to be a competitive team in La Liga, you need to have a coach who knows the league and its particular style of play. You need to speak Spanish in the dressing room. If you don’t speak the language, how are you going to get a message across?
“We went through an Italian coach who did not speak Spanish — Cesare Prandelli taking over for 10 games at the end of 2016 — and that was not successful either. We learn from these episodes.
We found Marcelino, who knows the league well and took us from 12th to the Champions League.
On-loan Chelsea striker Mitchy Batshuay and in-form Kevin Gameiro will probably lead Marcelino’s 4-4-2 tonight. Russia’s World Cup hero Denis Cheryshev will likely play on the right, with Carlos Soler drifting inside from the left. But rather than identify itself by tactics or systems, the club that produced the likes of David Silva, David Albelda, Gaizka Mendieta, Juan Mata, Isco, Jordi Alba wants to restore its reputation as a hothouse for outstanding Spanish talent.
“It is important that Valencia does not enter into this race of spending hundreds of millions,” Murthy said.
“We can’t and we don’t want to. What we are doing in a very constructed manner is to build our academy. We are building an academy of players who are good enough to play in the top division. Last season we made it into the Champions League and had a 17-year-old, Ferran Torres, playing on the right wing. We were the youngest team in La Liga with an average age of 24.
This year it is slightly older but we maintain a young team. The academy is the future of the club, we want to maintain the wages and keep the purse under control but compete at the highest level with a young team.
They were beaten at home by Juventus on their return to the Champions League and a poor start to the La Liga season sees them languish in 14th, though their first win — over Real Sociedad — came at the weekend.
“I am a realist, there is no such thing in football as calm and serenity,” Murthy accepts. “Marcelino is a great coach, I am not sure how long he will be with us because nothing is guaranteed in football. What we need to do and be clear about is the strategy and where we want to go.
“We have eight points after the first seven league games — we did not expect that because we built a strong team. We must push ahead in this direction. We need to make Valencia a reference club in La Liga and in Europe.”