Spanish Inquisition: The Returning Valour Of Valencia’s Cyrus C. Malek profiles a resurgent Valencia team who are quietly staking a claim to the Liga elite…

Traditionally, when the average football fan thinks of La Liga, without a doubt Barcelona and Real Madrid readily come to mind. This season particularly, with Barcelona coming off winning an unprecedented treble and Real Madrid having spent €254 million in order to challenge their bitter rivals, the Blaugrana and Blancos have taken centre stage as La Liga’s liaisons to the rest of the world. 

But contrary to the popular belief of those who favour the Premier League or Serie A, there are a host of talented teams who race alongside the two larger horses and the gulf between the two superpowers and the rest of the pack is not as great as those uneducated in the flourishes of Liga football would have you believe. 

Since the days of Juande Ramos, Sevilla have broken into La Liga’s elite, consistently recording commendable results on the domestic front as well as in European competition. This year the Andalucians are enjoying great success in the Champions League and have already secured passage to the knockout stage of the competition, much to the chagrin of envious Real Betis fans whose team are languishing in the Segunda Division after being relegated last season. 

Deportivo La Coruna are beginning to regain the form that saw them earn the nickname Super Depor during the mid-nineties, Mallorca are securing good results with refreshing consistency, Athletic Bilbao are looking stronger and stronger as the weeks progress, and after throwing away the first two and a half months of their season, Atletico Madrid are finally realising that they have world-class talent on their team. 

But another team that looks well on the path to achieving real success and making the Liga race more than just Barcelona and Real Madrid garden party is Valencia

Bats Out Of Hell 

Over the past two years, few teams have been subjected to the sort of drama that Valencia have been made to suffer. After current-Atletico-coach Quique Sanchez Flores was deposed for one too many losses, Ronald Koeman was brought in to bring some bite back to Los Che.  

Instead, Valencia could not climb their way out of the biting cold of the Liga basement and only narrowly avoided being relegated under the Dutch trainer. Contrastingly, in a Jekyll and Hyde-like season, Los Che were a different side altogether in the Copa del Rey and ended up superbly winning the trophy in that campaign.  

Nonetheless, strife in the dressing room coupled with a dismal 5-1 defeat to Athletic Bilbao would seal the fate of the Dutchman and Valencia would begin the new season with a fresh start under the highly rated Unai Emery. 

Miracle worker Emery working his magic

Unfortunately, even best manager on the planet would have been helpless in preventing the much bigger problems that Valencia would face in the 2008/2009 season. In an epic collapse that was only foreseen by a few senior executives at AIG, Goldman Sachs, and the United States Federal Reserve Bank as well as the infamous Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, the global financial crisis struck Valencia hard and deep.  

The ability to secure credit became scarce, which meant that Valencia’s timing in building a new stadium could not have been worse. The club began to take on a mountain of debt, construction of the new stadium stopped, and the club’s balance sheet became so inundated with liabilities that for over a month Valencia were unable to pay the wages of their own players. 

Despite the tumult, Emery was still somehow able to keep his side motivated, so much so that Valencia secured a sixth place finish in La Liga and a Europa League berth. In the meantime, new club president Manuel Llorente was able to secure enough investment to (at least temporarily) relieve Valencia’s debts and to allow the club to, at the very least, pay off their players. Nonetheless, it was highly anticipated that during the summer transfer window, Los Che would be forced into selling off their top stars like David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata. 

In the end, the Mestalla outfit only were made to part with Spanish international Raul Albiol, prised away to step into the Real Madrid central defence. Choosing a plan that involved investing in the team rather than selling off the fan-favourites, Valencia hope to generate enough revenue through favourable results to make up for their financial troubles and so far the gamble seems to be paying off.  

With an attack that features three regular Spanish internationals (including La Roja’s second all-time leading scorer), David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata comprise an offence that is among the best in La Liga. The fast improving right-winger Pablo Hernandez completes the attack and with the young Spaniard also beginning to break into the national side, Valencia boast an attacking foursome of Furia Rojas that is truly exceptional.  

Three of Los Che's four horsemen

As if those Spanish internationals were not enough, Carlos Marchena continues to captain the squad while former internationals David Albelda and Joaquin provide savvy veteran leadership as well. Miguel, Manuel Fernandes, Ever Banega, and the young Michel are just a few of the other notable talents that round out the team. 

With such a star-studded squad and having surmounted (at least for now) their financial fiasco, Valencia are beginning to show their class. They beat Sevilla in the first match of the season and drew against Barcelona at home in a match that they could have  - and some say should have - won by more than one goal had their finishing been cleaner.

And after Sevilla stumbled at home again over the weekend while Valencia beat Athletic Bilbao in San Mames, Los Che are now up to third spot in the standings, just three points behind Real Madrid as this weekend’s tantalising face-off against Los Blancos approaches.  

It seems as if Unai Emery’s quality as coach is now in full bloom and after coming out of one of the most hellish situations a professional sports club can find themselves in, Valencia look to be real contenders in La Liga’s title race and in the bid for a Champions League berth next season.  

Having claimed top spot in their Europa League group, Los Che are now showing all the signs of reclaiming their place as one of Spain’s best teams; should they continue on the same track, it will not just be Barcelona and Real Madrid who need to watch out, but the rest of Europe as well. The bats are back in business. 

Cyrus C. Malek,