Bats are unique creatures; the only mammals with the natural capability of sustained flight. For the longest while, the bat, a part of Valencia Club de Futbol’s logo, was emblematic of the team’s fortunes and ability to punch above its weight to title-winning success in Spain and Europe.
Now, after four coaching changes in the last 11 months and a bevy of financial issues, the La Liga outfit is no longer soaring to the heights we’re accustomed to seeing them achieve, currently sitting in the relegation zone after seven rounds in the league this season and staring at an uncertain future.
At the start of the millennium, Valencia were proving their worth among Europe’s elite, winning the La Liga title in the 2001/02 season, doing the La Liga and UEFA Cup double in the 2003/04 campaign and reaching the 2000 and 2001 UEFA Champions League finals, losing to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively. Since then, trophies have been few and far between – their last being the Copa Del Rey in the 2007/08 season – but the club still consistently qualified for European competition while unearthing a few great young talents along the way. David Villa, the Spanish national team’s all-time leading scorer, Juan Mata and David Silva chief among them.
Fast forward to 2016/17 and, despite possessing a few promising players such as João Cancelo, José Luis Gayà and Santi Mina, the six-time La Liga champs are now a team full of castoffs, from Nani to Munir El Haddadi (on loan from Barcelona) to Eliaquim Mangala (on loan from Manchester City). This after Financial Fair Play regulations forced the team to sell a number of star players in the summer such as highly-rated defender, Shkodran Mustafi to Arsenal as well Portuguese midfielder, André Gomes and Spanish striker, Paco Alcácer to Barcelona, reeling in over 100 million pounds in transfer fees for the trio.
Where did it all go wrong for Los Che? First off, the debt issue Valencia CF has had for quite some time is a microcosm of the cash-strapped city it plays in, at times having to rely on austerity programs for local health and education services since the turn of the decade, while having to delay the official opening of the Castellón–Costa Azahar Airport due to growing costs.
The club was as deep as €547 million in debt as of August 2007 – according to a 2010 report by The Guardian – as work on a new stadium, the Nou Mestalla, got underway. Construction of the Nou Mestalla has been halted on several occasions due to financial complications as it remains a half-built concrete wasteland in the heart of downtown Valencia.
At one point, the local government had to take hold of the club and there were legitimate fears the club might end up in financial administration. But in spite of the growing mess and angst, Valencia continued to put up more than respectable on-field results, in large part due to a young, innovative manager by the name of Unai Emery.
Hired in 2008, Emery led the team to three consecutive Champions League appearances, with two coming after the sales of Villa and Silva to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively in 2010, while Mata was shipped off to Chelsea the following year. His up-tempo style of play and ability to get the most out of young players gave the club hope there would be a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, proving to be a rare source of stability during a highly turbulent period.
In 2012, all his good work turned out to be in vain as he and the club parted ways, partly due to growing rifts within the club and amidst fan unrest regarding their constant third place finishes in La Liga and his allegedly intense personality. In hindsight, this move looks ridiculously foolish, with Emery going on to take charge of fellow La Liga side Sevilla and turning them back into a European juggernaut, winning three consecutive Europa League titles before heading to France where he looks to guide Paris St. Germain to Champions League glory after two consecutive domestic trebles.
Since Emery’s departure, Valencia has enjoyed the prestige and huge financial gain that comes with Champions League football just once, during the 2015-16 season. But the man who led them there, Nuno Espírito Santo, resigned last December after a string of bad results.
During Santo’s tenure, there was concern regarding the growing influence his representative and renowned super-agent, Jorge Mendes was having on the club. Mendes was seen by observers as a de facto director of football at the club, with several of his clients signing there since 2014, including the aforementioned Gomes, Cancelo and Nani as well as ex-Benfica midfielder, Enzo Perez. Santo arrived with a limited coaching resume, boasting just a two season reign at small Portuguese league outfit, Rio Ave. Plus, when Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim secured a 70.4% stake in Valencia to become majority owner in the fall of 2014, it was Mendes who first introduced him to the club and suggested he purchase it.
Lim’s decision making has been somewhat perplexing since taking over, hiring friend and former Manchester United star, Gary Neville straight off his Sky Sports analyst’s chair to take over, having had no prior managerial experience. The Englishman’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster to say the least, with just 14 points from 16 league games, early exits in the Champions League and Europa League, as well as a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey. His replacement, Pako Ayestarán, did not fare much better and new man, Cesare Prandelli was last seen in Turkey during a very underwhelming 16-match stint with Galatasaray, months after the Italian national team nosedived in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup under his stead.
Even though Lim’s multi-million dollar investment has kept the club afloat, the level of anger and confusion among the fan base is at an all-time high as they openly ponder what his true intentions for the club are. The squad looks more apt for a mid-table finish than making any realistic challenge for a European spot and the lack of clarity on a leadership front on and off the field is highly concerning for a club of traditionally high stature.
Things, for a lack of a better term, are bat crazy – PG version of the full term – at Valencia right now. Once stability is returned to the team both on the field and their balance sheets, Los Murciélagos (The Bats) will again have sustained flight in domestic and continental competition. Just how and when they will get their wings again remains a mystery.