By Enis Koylu
David Villa. Juan Mata. David Silva. Roberto Soldado. Jordi Alba. The list of stars who have left Valencia in recent years reads like a who’s who of some of Spanish football’s biggest names, yet los Che remain competitive as they go in search of Europa League glory.
Of course, their stock has taken a hit in recent years. The loss of key players, coupled with instability among the coaching staff saw the club miss out on Champions League qualification last term for the first time in an age.
Financial constraints meant the sales were enforced as they look to move to a Nou Mestalla and Valencia were unable to use the money they earned to buy experienced reinforcements, instead having to rely on youngsters.
So, can the new crop of stars replace those who have moved on?
Valencia’s biggest weak point this season has been in front of goal. Though Soldado continues to struggle at Tottenham, his record with the Liga club speaks for itself and his influence in the final third has been missed.
However, in Paco Alcacer, they have one of Spain’s brightest forward prospects. A loan spell at Getafe last term gave him some valuable first team experience and acted as his finishing school. This term he has shown signs of his true promise, scoring 11 goals in all competitions.
At 5’8”, he lacks aerial prowess, though he is an instinctive finisher in the penalty box and announced himself to the world with a brilliant winner at Camp Nou earlier this season.
The 20-year-old has represented his country at every youth level and starred alongside the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Jese Rodriguez as Spain's Under-19s won the European Championship in 2012.
Valencia have shown faith in Paco and have high hopes for his future in the game, his progress this season certainly pointing to a player with plenty of potential.
Such was his form this season that Pizzi even suggested that he could be behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. “Compare him to any player in the world and only Messi and Cristiano are scoring more freely right now. It's invaluable to have a player in that kind of form."
One player who looks set to join Paco in the first team for years to come is Argentine youngster Fede. The 21-year-old is in his first full season in the club’s senior team and has shown glimpses of his potential, particularly in the Europa League run.
The Argentine, who was brought to Spain from his homeland back in 2006, has started to come into great form since the turn of the year and was instrumental in both legs of the last-16 win over Ludogorets.
With a deft touch, a diminutive frame, a strong left foot and noticeable comfort on the ball, he has been nicknamed Fede Messi after his compatriot and fellow Rosario native.
His talents have not gone unnoticed in his homeland, with 1978 World Cup winner Mario Kempes saying in October: “He surprised me with his ability, he takes players on and he always cuts inside, either to pass the ball or to keep running. He is young and needs more games, but he'll be an important player for Valencia in the future.”
One player now alongside the real Messi at Barcelona is Jordi Alba, who returned to Camp Nou after a five-year stint at Valencia back in 2012.
However, in Juan Bernat they have a player in a similar mould who looks capable of stepping into the Spain international’s shoes at left-back.
A converted winger by trade, the 21-year-old came through the ranks at Mestalla and is a local boy, spending his childhood just south of the city of Valencia.
Of the three youngsters, he has the most experience of first-team football, having made his debut back in 2011. Unsurprisingly, he thrives going forward like Alba thanks to his considerable turn of pace and is perhaps his country’s best new hope as a full-back.
Unlike Alba, he looks set to commit his future to the club and sign a new deal - his current contract expires in 2015 - despite reported interest from Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan and Inter. Club president Amadeo Salvo is determined to tie down his star asset and avoid losing another fine prospect.
"We're happy with Bernat and we are working hard on it (his renewal). We don't want another situation like we had with Jordi Alba."
The road back to the top will be long and arduous for Valencia, but they certainly have enough talent coming through the ranks to give fans cause for hope.