League champions to laughing stock

In 2004 it was all smiles around Valencia. They had Rafael Benitez at the helm and Mista banging in the goals. In midfield they had the brilliant Pablo Aimar pulling all the strings and they finished the season with the League trophy and the UEFA Cup being paraded around the city.

It was supposed to be the start of something big but it was to be a false dawn. Benitez and Aimar are long gone. Mista’s career took a dive and he retired at the age of 32 after failing to impress in the MLS. Since 2004, they have only won two trophies, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercup in 2008.  Just when things appeared as if they couldn’t get any worse, this week things became really absurd.

When Benitez left, the club tried to continue and build on its success. Money was spent – some would say wasted. When the property bubble burst, Valencia felt the pinch. They were in the process of building a new ground when recession hit and the ground is still uncompleted. They can’t sell the current Mestalla and can’t afford to complete the new one.

Coming to the end of the decade that started so brightly, Valencia were forced to start selling key players to balance the books. David Silva, David Villa and Juan Mata are just a few of the names that were sold to pay debts. Ronald Koeman won the Copa del Rey and was sacked. Valencia didn’t even wait until the end of the season.

Unai Emery was appointed, an up and coming Coach making a lot of waves in La Liga. The first season he struggled but eventually got the ball rolling yet three successive third place finishes later, he was deemed surplus to requirements and left the club. No tears were shed then. Maybe a few are now.

For years the Spanish Tax Authority turned a blind eye towards football tax debt but as the unemployment rate rose, they had to make a stand. Bankia, one of Spain’s banks, were owed millions by Valencia too and so with both organisations putting the squeeze on the club, more players had to be sold. Wages were also cut.

After maybe taking a look at the work that Diego Simeone had done at Atletico Madrid on a limited budget and hoping for a similar effect, the club decided to sign an ex player as Coach and they did so twice and it failed both times. Then in January there was a ray of light.

It was announced that Peter Lim, a Singaporean businessman, was interested in buying the club. He set a deadline for his offer to be accepted but the club let it go. Lim is still around though, with another six potential investors. Bankia are taking their time mulling over everything on the table, trying to get as much back of their €220m as possible. Just when things looked to be on the up, this week an allegation that can only be described as bizarre emerged.

Juan Soler, President of the club from 2004 to 2008, was arrested this week in connection with an alleged kidnapping plot. The target was another ex-President, Vicente Soriano, who purchased Soler’s shares of the club in 2009.

Soler felt he wasn’t paid a fair price and so is being accused of organising the kidnapping to try and recoup some of his money. The police warned Soriano and foiled the plot before it could happen. Soler is now on bail, which strict conditions. Whilst neither man has any connection to Valencia now, it hasn’t stopped people asking the club for a statement and stirring up a media circus.

The hope for Valencia is that a new buyer will be found soon and badly needed investment both on and off the pitch will finally happen. For fans it has been a horrid time and just when it seems things can’t get worse, they do. The storming win over Basel was welcome relief.

In the League, this season has been a disaster. Trailing bitter rivals Villarreal, they also have Levante close behind them in La Liga. The days of Benitez, Mista and Aimar are a distant memory now but fans can’t be blamed if they chose to be nostalgic now and again. More nights like Thursday are badly needed.