After nearly two decades at Valencia, David Albelda is calling time on his career at Mestalla. When he leaves in the summer, he is likely to be missed for his influence both on and off the pitch.
A Valencian born and bred, it was under Hector Cuper that Albelda first established himself as a regular with the first team following a loan spell across town at Villarreal. Competing for places with the likes of Francisco Farinos, Gerard and Gaizka Mendieta, Albelda served a valuable apprenticeship but had to settle for a place on the bench in the 2000 and 2001 Champions League Finals.
Upon Mendieta’s departure in 2001, Albelda took over both the talisman’s armband and his tigerish role in midfield. It was one of the first decisions of Benitez's three-year reign at Mestalla and a legacy-building act in establishing a leader from the heart of midfield. Continuing the high standards of the Cuper era, Albelda struck up a formidable partnership with Ruben Baraja in central midfield. Together they provided the platform for Valencia to reinforce their position as the most consistent team in Spain, winning two Primera titles and the UEFA Cup.
Never a goalscoring threat as six goals in 17 seasons testify – aside from the occasional howitzer from range – Albelda carried out the ugly work and afforded his defence unparalleled protection. While over in Madrid and London fellow midfield anchor Claude Makelele saw a position named after him, Albelda quietly and effectively went about his business. It was no coincidence that during his first five seasons as a regular at Mestalla, Valencia boasted the tightest defensive record in La Liga four times.
However, as the club lost its place at the top table in Spanish football, Albelda almost left Los Che during the turbulent reign of Ronald Koeman and President Juan Soler. In building a team under his own identity, Koeman viewed Santiago Canizares, Miguel Angel Angulo and Albelda as remnants of the old guard and made the trio available for transfer. A tearful Press conference from the Valencian showed the impact of Koeman’s decision and he turned down a short-term offer from Chelsea.
As it emerged that Soler had extended his catastrophic influence from the boardroom to the dressing room, a protracted legal battle with the club followed. It was a spell during which the club “managed to throw everything we had done together over eight or nine years.” However, the Dutch Coach was sacked in April 2008 and Albelda was quickly restored to the first team to play an important role in Valencia steering clear of relegation in the final weeks of the season.
The loss of first-team football did come at a price and signalled the end of Albelda’s international career. As part of the squads for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and Euro 2004, he had played regularly since 2001. It was his misfortune that his spell out of the team coincided with La Rioja finally fulfilling their longstanding potential and achieving in the international arena. With a new wave of mobile midfielders ushered in under Luis Aragones, and at the wrong side of 30, Albelda, like others of his generation such as Raul and Juan Carlos Valeron, could only sit on the sidelines and watch the success of their younger colleagues.
Despite his advancing years and a regular turnover of Coaches that has seen an influx of new midfielders of the calibre of Edu, Ever Banega and Manuel Fernandes brought in, Albelda has maintained a regular position in the first team. Yet, it is only now at the age of 35 that Albelda has finally decided to call time on his Valencia career. Although he featured less frequently under Coach Mauricio Pellegrino earlier this campaign, the club captain was nevertheless wholly positive about the sacked Coach describing him as a ‘phenomanal choice’ who did a ‘fantastic job’. Such testaments were typical of Albelda who, much like Roy Keane for example, chided teammates for passing the buck when times were tough and demanded greater collective responsibility.
It is only fair to draw comparisons with other midfield leaders such as Keane and Makelele when reviewing Albelda’s impact on Valencia. As he moves on, Los Che will lose not only their leader from the previous 12 years, but a pivotal anchor to their midfield who has done much to bring both success and stability to the club.