Valencia's ambition is to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid – but has their cost cutting allowed the chasing pack to close in? Can they ever truly break into the top two and what does the future hold?
Despite their financial woes over the past few years, Valencia have managed to maintain their status as 'the pretenders’ – they always show the potential to challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona at the summit of La Liga, but fail to prove it on a regular basis.
Three consecutive third place finishes ultimately cost Unai Emery his job at the end of the last season, as the Valencia board decided it was time for change in their pursuit of the top two.
Emery's work under severe financial constraints, though, was admirable. The 2008-09 season was supposed to be the final stand for Estadio Mestalla, their home for over 80 years, prompting a move to a newly built Nou Mestalla, that would hold 75,000 fans. Unfortunately, building work had to be scrapped, leaving the site half finished and with no end date in sight.
The now Spartak Moscow Coach had to cope with player sales as a result – under his tenure he lost stars such as David Silva, David Villa and Juan Mata, but managed to adequately replace them with cheaper signings – just look at how Roberto Soldado has filled the void left by Villa.
Emery's failure in European competition brought the end of his reign, with the dawn of a bright new era this summer starting under ex-Valencia defender Mauricio Pellegrino.
Pellegrino, 40, is entering his first ever managerial role, having cut his coaching teeth under Rafael Benitez at Liverpool and Inter. The situation hasn't changed much from Emery's stint, though, as star left-back Jordi Alba has departed to Barcelona for €14m.
New recruits have been added however, in the shape of Portuguese right back Joao Pereira, winger Andres Guardado from Deportivo La Coruna and the supremely talented playmaker Jonathan Viera from Las Palmas. Valencia are still looking to give the Pellegrini era a kick-start – but will they be able to? The race for the fourth and final Champions League spot was so close last season and may well be again. Valencia finished third but the competition for the two remaining spots is heating up.
Malaga, though they are going through a sticky patch financially, still have players of great quality and an albeit diminishing sense of ambition, whilst Atletico Madrid are similar to Valencia in the sense that they always promise so much, but the delivery is somewhat different – but they have the goal machine Radamel Falcao and a Coach who rejuvenated the team last year, Diego Simeone.
Throw Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla into the mix and you start to wonder – all these years we've been thinking Valencia are getting closer to Madrid and Barca, are the rest catching up to Valencia faster?
This observation really does cement the idea that it was time for Emery to go. He's a maverick, ‘marmite’ kind of technician who could either be tactically brilliant or downright bizarre. They've been sat in third place for three years now, safely lining up continental trips, but this year was just too close for comfort. Valencia had reached the end of their tether with his bravado and decided to give Pellegrini his chance.
Their most successful spell in recent times came under Benitez and the hope is that Pellegrini will have learnt enough from his master to bring the glory days back to the east coast of Spain. But for a rookie Coach, the pressure that comes with being at Valencia could prove to be just too much. Champions League qualification is once again the aim, but greater things need to be on the horizon for Los Che.