Inside La Liga: Tempers rise at Mestalla

The locals are very restless at Valencia, as fans and pundits now realise what it’s like supporting a club controlled by Singapore businessman Peter Lim and Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes.

Valencia have not started the new season well. A 3-2 defeat at home to Zenit Saint Petersburg in their opening Champions League group opener a fortnight ago was followed by a 0-0 draw at home to 10-man Real Betis, bringing chants of ‘Nuno must go’ directed at coach Nuno Espirito Santo.

Last Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Espanyol meant an expensively assembled team had scored just twice in their first five La Liga games, during their worst start to a season since 1997.

Nuno was popular among fans and pundits when Valencia were doing well last season, but is now the chief target as the most visible element of Lim’s ‘project’.

The former Porto goalkeeper and Rio Ave coach was a surprise choice when appointed in summer 2014, with many claiming his close relationship with Mendes had been a decisive factor.

People assume a lot about Mendes, who represents leading figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao and Jose Mourinho.

On Thursday, US business magazine Forbes ranked the former DJ at second on its list of the world’s ‘most powerful sports agents’. “The soccer-crazy European market, coupled with uncapped commission rates and rapidly escalating league transfer fees, has allowed Mendes to negotiate more than $950 million in active player deals, bringing him at least $95 million in commissions,” the Forbes report said.

One of Mendes’ biggest deals last summer was Argentina defender Nicolas Otamendi’s €45 million move from Valencia to Manchester City. Otamendi’s aggression and leadership have been hugely missed so far this season at Mestalla. His replacement was €10 million Tunisian Aymen Abdennour from Monaco, who has failed to impress.

Valencia have spent over €150 million on players linked to Mendes since Lim controversially won control of the club with the help of former president Amadeo Salvo in October 2014. Many of the arrivals were previously unknowns — such as expensive and unproven young Portuguese players Ruben Vezo, Joao Cancelo and Danilo Barbosa.

The case of Danilo, who had a shocker against Espanyol last week, is startling. The midfielder, 19, arrived from Portuguese club Braga last summer in a deal which mandates an initial one year on loan then a compulsory €15m purchase. Superdeporte claim Mendes’ company actually owns most of Danilo’s ‘rights’ — so they will get €14m when the full move is completed next year. Right-back Cancelo arrived in a similarly structured deal 12 months ago. This ‘third party investment’ money would appear to be on top of the ‘commissions’ Forbes has calculated.

Such dealings were tolerated at Mestalla when the team were doing well — and qualification for the Champions League last season was seen by many as vindication of Lim and Mendes’ policies.

But not any more. A fans group called ‘Marea Valencianista’ (Valencian Tide) on Thursday presented a legal complaint to the local authorities regarding the club’s transfer dealings.

“Our aim is to defend Valencia football club to ensure its future viability within football’s elite, to monitor compliance of commitments made, to prevent the looting of the club and to see the departure of Peter Lim by repurchasing shares to democratise the club,” said spokesperson Miguel Zorio, a former Valencia vice-president, last week. Valencia quickly reacted by issuing a statement denying “baseless accusations”.

A nervy 1-0 win at home to Granada last Friday lifted some of the pressure. “We have shown that we believe a lot in what we are doing,” Nuno said afterwards. “We are united by confidence and friendship, and that union is the base for everything. It was fundamental to win today. We knew how to suffer, but we came through.” That union could again be tested away at Ligue 1 side Lyon in the Champions League tomorrow night. Nuno’s two-decade long relationship with Mendes means he’s probably safe for now.

But the issues at Valencia go a lot further than their coach.


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