2016-17 Season Preview: Valencia

Coach: Pako Ayestaran

Key signings: Luis Nani, Martin Montoya, Mario Suarez

Key sales: Andre Gomes, Alvaro Negredo, Sofiane Feghouli

Last season: 12th

This season (predicted finish): 9th

Having finished the 2014-15 campaign as Spain’s fourth-best team, only the plug being pulled on the disastrous reign of television-pundit-turned-Coach Gary Neville distanced Valencia from the possibility of relegation last season. But, judging by their business over the summer months, they seem to be closer to the latter than the former.

That’s not to say second-tier football will be served up at Mestalla any time soon, but Valencia’s level of ambition for 16-17 quickly became apparent when Pako Ayestaran was announced as Neville’s permanent successor.

The assistant to Rafa Benitez when the latter led Los Che to two successive La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup between 2002 and 2004, Ayestaran initially arrived to support the ailing Neville, until the club turned to him in their hour of need. He duly responded by achieving safety via a 12th-place finish in La Liga.

Valencia, however, marks the 53-year-old’s first managerial position in Spain, and their work in the transfer market suggests he will find it just as difficult to shake off his reputation as ‘a safe pair of hands’ as he will in taking the team to anywhere near Champions League contention.

The club’s struggles to stay in line with Financial Fair Play has seen their preparations for the new season hampered by a €30m debt, which owner Peter Lim has chosen to offset by selling some of his most prized assets, including Portuguese midfielder and Euro 2016 winner Andre Gomes to Barcelona for a potential €55m.

Elsewhere, Middlesbrough have taken on Alvaro Negredo and his €7m salary for the season, Sofiane Feghouli has joined West Ham United for nothing, experienced trio Pablo Piatti, Javi Fuego and Antonio Barragan have exited for a combined fee of potentially just over €6m and Rodrigo de Paul has gone to Udinese.

The exodus may not stop there as Shkodran Mustafi and Aymen Abdennour are said to be in talks with Arsenal and Everton respectively, while Paco Alcacer and Diego Alves have been heavily linked to Barcelona. The idea of Alcacer leaving is particularly concerning, given he is both a ‘valencianista’ and ‘valencianismo’.

Los Che could be loaned Munir El Haddadi and Sergi Samper in return for Alcacer, however the pair were promoted to the Catalans’ first team earlier in the summer and risk seeing their developments harmed by the vociferous Mestalla crowd.

Then there is the matter of Dani Parejo. The Valencia captain was the subject of a €10m bid from Sevilla, which the club flatly rejected, prompting the midfielder to kick up a fuss behind the scenes. In doing so, he forced the club to publicly criticise his behaviour and alienated supporters, who showed their contempt in a recent friendly against Fiorentina.

A difficult summer, but Valencia have bought well enough in right-back Martin Montoya, who arrives on a free transfer to replace Barragan, midfield talent Alvaro Medran from Real Madrid and their marquee signing so far, former Manchester United winger and Gomes’ Portugal colleague Luis Nani. Atletico Madrid title winner Mario Suarez has also joined on loan with a point to prove after two disappointing spells with Fiorentina and Watford.

Still, time is ticking for Ayestaran’s side to bring in at least one new centre-back, thought to be any of Sidnei, Fabian Schar and former player Raul Albiol, a creative midfielder in the ilk of Hernanes and striker if Alcacer indeed moves on.

Even then, however, three new faces will not rectify the other issue of squad depth, and for as long as the likes of Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao continue to trump them in both player recruitment and youth development, a Copa del Rey run looks like being Valencia’s best bet for success on the pitch.