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Spanish Inquisition: Valencia's Fall From Spain's Big Three

Legend has it (it would be imprudent to represent it as historical fact) that when the Moor stronghold in Valencia was re-conquered by the Spanish King James I of Aragon during the first half of the 13th century, that as His Majesty rode into the city, a solitary bat alighted on the top of the King’s flag. Interpreting this strange occurrence as a good omen, the bat was added to the city of Valencia’s coat of arms. Seven hundred years later (in 1919 to be precise), Valencia CF was founded and the same bat sits atop the club’s crest.

Valencia are one of the most successful clubs in the world and in Spain they are the third most prominent behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, often hailed as the club that completes Spain’s ‘Big Three’. In their illustrious history, Valencia have won six La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey trophies, one UEFA Cup, two Fairs Cups (predecessor to the UEFA Cup), one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, two UEFA Super Cups and two Spanish Super Cups.

Even in their recent history, Valencia reached two UEFA Champions League finals in a row, losing to La Liga giants Real Madrid in 2000 and German club Bayern Munich in 2001. In total, Valencia have reached seven major European finals, winning four of them. In 2000, the club became members of the G-14 group of leading European football clubs (an organization founded by 14 leading clubs to provide a unified voice in negotiations with UEFA and FIFA).

Valencia remained one of Spain’s strongest sides as recently as the 2003-2004 season, but since being knocked out of the Champions League in the 2006-2007 season when Quique Sanchez Flores was still at the helm, the club has been marred by turmoil.

Last year under Ronald Koeman, Valencia dropped points by the handful to fall to 15th position in La Liga, just two points above the relegation zone — hardly a position tolerated at a club of los Che’s pedigree. And, although Valencia secured their seventh Copa title by lifting the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 victory over Getafe at the Vicente Calderon, four days later they were defeated 5-1 in a Liga encounter against Athletic Bilbao. Koeman was unceremoniously dismissed from his managerial duties.

Valencia would eventually drag themselves out of the dangers of relegation and, by season’s end, finished in tenth place in the table. Last summer, the highly touted Unai Emery was announced as the new Che manager. It looked as if Valencia’s disastrous season would be swept under the carpet and their painful bout with misfortune would come to an end.

If you happen to own a football club, closely heed the following advice: do not to be caught building a stadium during the largest economic collapse in over 50 years. Valencia were expected to move into the 75,000-seat Nou Mestalla in the north west of the city at the opening of the 2009-2010 season, but due to financial problems Valencia will be forced to call their current 55,000-capacity Mestalla home for at least another year.

Many football clubs were hurt by the economic downturn, but the global financial crisis was an especially severe blow for Valencia. In February of this year Valencia went for weeks without being able to pay their players and on February 26, 2009 construction on the Nou Mestalla was halted, putting Valencia in a very tight position, dreadfully strapped for cash and drowning in a deep sea of debt (which had been very publicly advertised as upwards of €739 million).

The club suffered in all facets and on the pitch, Valencia failed to secure a win in six weeks of Liga play, losing to some of La Liga’s lowest clubs in Osasuna, Numancia, and Recreativo Huelva. To add insult to injury, los Che were also dumped from the UEFA Cup as well.

Luckily, in early April Valencia were able to secure a €50 million loan from local business group Fomento Urbano de Castellon, slightly easing the financial pressure and at least allowing the club to pay its players. But Valencia’s woes are far from behind them and this summer may see los Che forced to sell off some of their biggest stars in order to raise capital.

Unable to catch even the slightest of breaks, Valencia’s troubles were further compounded this past weekend as a loss to rivals Villarreal effectively forced them out of the opportunity for a Champions League berth. While the UEFA Cup still remains a desirable competition, Spain’s third most successful club—with the many stars on their roster, a number of whom have competed at the highest level with the Spanish national team—has come to expect more from itself.

With superstar striker David Villa declaring not a week ago that he would play in Europe’s prestigious competition next year, ‘El Guaje’ may have foretold his exit from his long-time club. Although Valencia fans will be heartbroken to see him leave, the Valencia organisation would view his sale as a welcome opportunity to recoup some of the club’s financial standing. Stars David Silva, Juan Mata and Joaquin could also be put on the transfer market as some of Europe’s biggest clubs have had a keen eye on them for some time. Even and up-and-coming Valencia youth products Raul Albiol and Pablo Hernandez are not expendable and could be put up for sale — a steal for any team that has a half-decent scouting staff.

While the past two seasons have been wholly disastrous for one of Spain’s — and for that matter, one of Europe’s — most historic clubs, it will likely be next season that will be the pivotal campaign that will shape Valencia’s future for years to come. If los Che are unable to pull themselves out of the nosedive that has seen the very foundations of the club crack and crumble, this could be one of the final seasons we are able to enjoy the club with the peculiar bat on its crest in the top flight of La Primera and Spain’s third most successful club could have only history to show for it.

Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com