So many of the great club sides have had it. That special relationship between the Coach and a certain player, a trusted lieutenant, someone he can rely upon to be an on-field version of himself, to embody his principles and inspire others. For Rafa Benitez's Valencia, who won two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup between 2002 and 2004, that player was Mauricio Pellegrino.
Even though the Argentine centre-back was often second choice to Carlos Marchena in the latter days of his time at Mestalla, a strong bond was forged between him and Benitez, who subsequently brought the 33-year-old Pellegrino to Liverpool in 2005. Then – after his first experience of coaching with Valencia’s youth team – Pellegrino was invited by Benitez to act as his assistant at Anfield, doing so for two years before following his mentor to Italy for a disastrously brief spell with Inter.
With a pleasing sense of symmetry Pellegrino, still aged just 40, has now returned to the Costa del Azahar to serve as Valencia boss, beginning his management career proper with the club he gave so much to as a player. And already he seems to have discovered within the Los Che ranks his own trusted lieutenant, someone to perform the same function that he did for Benitez. David Albelda.
The former Spain international has, other than a couple of years on loan at Villarreal, spent his entire career at Mestalla. Despite playing alongside his new boss for six years, and being only six years younger than him, Albelda has no qualms about taking orders from a former teammate. Quite the contrary.
“For me it’s a phenomenal choice,” the veteran midfielder enthused when Pellegrino's appointment as Unai Emery's successor was confirmed in May. “He knows what our objectives are and that we should be in the Champions League at a minimum, and just because he was a defender doesn't mean the team is going to be ultra-defensive. He has some fantastic building blocks with which to make a good team and achieve good results.”
Working closely alongside Pellegrino and taking a more prominent role in training at the club's Paterna base does not mean the man who made 19 La Liga starts last season will meekly surrender his place in the team, despite increased competition in the shape of €3.5m new boy Fernando Gago.
“In Valencia you cannot pretend not to have competition. We are all fighting for the same goal but we are partners, not rivals. I welcome Gago. I wish him well and hope all our new signings have opportunities to give their best.”
As someone who knows the club inside out and commands the respect of his fellow players, Albelda will be an invaluable ally for Pellegrino as he tries to maintain Valencia's grip on third place and make the sort of incursion into the latter stages of the Champions League that was done with such regularity when the duo were first team mainstays together.
Who knows? In a few years’ time it might be Pellegrino sat on the bench at a big Premier League club and Albelda on the bench at Mestalla.