Ole, ole, ole……?
Some people take a lot of pleasing. Peter Lim came into Valencia, took a financially failing club out of the hands of a bank and the local council, established a plan to finish construction on a new stadium and handed out cash for a transfer kitty. Even Super Agent Jorge Mendes is in the club’s camp doing the wheeling and dealing.
A promising, talented manager was given the security of a three-year deal. The squad have beaten both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid this season playing some vibrant, attacking football and they look good for a return to the Champions League after a three-year absence. Yet still Valencia supporters continue to boo their own team and coach, forcing the club president to do the rounds of fan club groups to beg for their support in Sunday’s game against Sevilla.
The default setting for a Valencia supporter is to be disgruntled. In fairness, many have had reasons to be upset over the past decade, as the club has trasnformed from Champions League finalists to one that was almost on the brink of economic oblivion with an unsustainable debt. There is a great mess of an unbuilt ground in the middle of the city, and the club recently had to undergo the scandal of one former president allegedly planning to kidnap another. Even by the Liga’s high standards, they were a particularly wacky case.
Those Valencia followers of a more sympathetic leaning could at least be rational over the fact that it was never going to be possible to fight for the title again, due to the financial leg up that Barcelona and Real Madrid receive in terms of TV money. But then Atlético Madrid came along and completely blew that theory out of the water.
Protesting is a deeply-loved hobby for Valencia fans. Any opportunity for some hankie-waving in disgust is grasped as tightly as the rag itself. It was this hankie-waving that forced Unai Emery from the club in 2012 despite guiding Valencia into third place three seasons in a row. It probably rankled the same fans that it was Unai Emery’s Sevilla that defeated Valencia in the Europa League final last season.
Since Emery departed, the club has worked its way through five managers. The latest is the wonderfully named Nuno Hernalder Simoes Espiritu Santo, brought in from Rio Ave in the Portuguese League. Last week, Nuno had his contract his extended to 2017, as a sign of the confidence in which the manager his held by the new owner. A day later, his side were knocked out of the Copa del Rey, leaving Valencia without any realistic chance of silverware this season.
That was the signal for more fan fury, with sections of supporters booing the team as they entered the pitch during last weekend’s home win against Almería. “[The critics] push us on,” said Nuno, trying to put a positive spin on an unfortunate event. The following days saw club president, Amadeo Salva working to get doubting supporters on board and behind the team for Sunday’s Sevilla clash.
The game is of huge significance for Valencia, facing the side that occupy fourth spot, a target that must be met without fail. The clash has also fallen into the grudge match category due to the whole Europa League issue, although everyone has been very careful of using the “R” word. “We don’t have the spirit of revenge as it can make you blind,” warned Nuno, with such calming words echoed by his president, who soothed that “revenge does not exist in football.”
As well as wanting to steer the Valencia supporters away from the kinds of chants that are now being monitored by those running the game in Spain, the aim of both is to create a rare positive vibe in Messalla, to harness what can be a powerful emotive force at times.
After a lost decade, Valencia has finally got its act together off the pitch with a genuinely positive, stable future. Things are also looking positive on the pitch too, with a young, talented squad being created. However, the old traditions in the stands are going to be a lot harder to fix. Whilst many at the club are beavering away and looking to the future, too many supporters are still looking to the past.