Two years ago Valencia were a laughing stock.
Thrashed 7-0 by Barcelona at the Nou Camp, owner Peter Lim’s experiment of giving his business partner Gary Neville his first taste of management was quickly turning from divisive to disastrous.
The former Manchester United captain had no top-flight coaching experience, did not speak Spanish and had taken charge of a club notoriously difficult to manage – ex-England and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker described the Valencia job as “brutally difficult”.
That period was a nadir for Valencia. A club which reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 raced through four managers in one season.
But now, under Marcelino – their 12th manager since 2012 – something has changed. Valencia are back in the Champions League for the first time in three seasons and, despite a difficult start to their La Liga campaign in which they have won just one match in seven attempts, they face Manchester United on Tuesday as a club on an upward trajectory.
BBC World Football Show’s Mani Djazmi met Valencia president Anil Murthy, who discusses the “chaos” of recent seasons, the pursuit of stability and their hopes for the future.
The dark days: ‘Singaporeans go home’
In October 2014, Singapore businessman Lim took over Valencia for €100m, with the club’s debt standing at €230m. They finished fourth that season under current Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo but the following year brought turmoil.
Portuguese Santo’s resignation in November 2015 meant he was one of four coaches that season, along with Neville, former Liverpool assistant Pako Ayestaran and caretaker Voro.
Neville’s troubled four-month spell, in which he won just 10 of his 28 games between December 2015 and March 2016, included that infamous Copa del Rey thrashing by Barcelona and a return of only 14 points from 16 league games.
Murthy, who was appointed in July 2017: “I wasn’t here then but if I look at it from the outside, I have heard many stories from Gary’s time here. There are a few factors and you must remember it was a chaotic time.
“After him we had a few more coaches who did not have success either. Gary’s period here could be misleading but he is good friends with Peter and came in at a time when the team was looking for a coach.
“The friendship could be one of the factors for his appointment but he was someone he could trust. If you want to be a competitive team in La Liga, you need to have a coach who knows the league and its particular style of play. You need to speak Spanish in the dressing room.
“We went through an Italian coach who did not speak Spanish – Cesare Prandelli taking over for 10 games at the end of 2016 – and that was not successful either. We learn from these episodes.
“We found Marcelino, who knows the league well and took us from 12th to the Champions League. I hope he has the same success this year. Speaking Spanish is very important. If you don’t speak the language, how are you going to get a message across?
“Some people threw stones at the bus when Prandelli was the boss, but they are not fans, they are just thugs. I call them fake fans. Different groups were reacting in different ways – some were purely causing damage to the club and others were genuinely frustrated.
“That is understandable when your team is not doing well. Overall, it was a moment of chaos and the club needed to calm down. Now we have found our place.
“Everywhere in the world, it is not easy coming in as a foreigner. If you dig deeper, the majority of the people at Valencia have absolutely no problem that owner Peter Lim is from Singapore and I am from Singapore.
“Many of them are happy we are from the outside because the club has been previously run by people from here who had taken advantage of the club.
“What we hear from the minority happens everywhere in the world. You will hear racist comments like ‘Singaporeans go home, you don’t respect our history and values’.
“The key in management and staying stable is to know who your real fans are, who is behind you even in times of difficulty when things are not going well and who is actually supporting you. That is what we want to focus on.
“We talk to the fans directly, tell them what we want to do and how we are feeling and we hear from them directly. Now we know who they are.”
Back to the top: ‘Great excitement’ facing Manchester United
Valencia were a European powerhouse at the turn of the century, beaten by Real Madrid in the 2000 Champions League final and Bayern Munich the following year.
They also won two La Liga titles in three years between 2001 and 2004 under Rafael Benitez, but their last major honour came in the 2008 Copa del Rey.
After a 12th-place finish in 2016-17, ex-Sevilla and Villarreal head coach Marcelino was appointed as boss and he led Valencia to fourth in his first campaign last term.
Murthy: “Did we expect to qualify for the Champions League? Absolutely not. Not so quickly. Last year, before the season started, we performed a revolution in football in the sense that we cleaned out a significant part of the team, took on a few losses and put in a new coach who is stable with us now.
“We made changes off the pitch in the management side – practically every head of department is new. We have established what our DNA is as a club and defined all these important changes in ‘Valencia’s football revolution’ and it may require more time to reach stability and success every year.
“The objective is to be in the Champions League every year but we did not expect it to work so fast.
“It is great we are playing Manchester United – they are one of the big clubs in Europe. Today the team we put together can take on any team, including Juventus, although unfortunately we lost our opening game against them.
“Playing United, for those of us from Singapore, takes on more significance because half of Singapore supports Manchester United. Everyone is going to be following Valencia and I hope they are rooting for us to win. There is great excitement about the game and in Asia most people follow the Premier League.”
Looking to the future: Building not buying
If Valencia are to replicate their feats of the early 2000s by reaching the latter stages of the Champions League, they will have to do it the hard way. While they will be favourites to beat Swiss minnows Young Boys, Manchester United and Juventus are fearsome opponents with a different level of financial power.
Juve paid a Serie A record £99.2m to bring in Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in the summer, while United spent around £67m on midfielder Fred and full-back Diogo Dalot, having previously held the world transfer record when signing Paul Pogba.
Valencia spent money themselves – in excess of £100m on players including Goncalo Guedes from Paris St-Germain, Geoffrey Kondogbia from Inter Milan and Kevin Gameiro from Atletico Madrid – but their longer-term aim is to do things differently.
They hope to move to the Nou Mestalla, a stadium that is partially built after work began in 2007 but was halted for financial reasons. The original plans have subsequently been reworked and the club hope to make the move in three years’ time.
Murthy: “It is important that Valencia does not enter into this race of spending hundreds of millions. We can’t and we don’t want to. What we are doing in a very constructed manner is to build our academy. We had the likes of Juan Mata and David Silva come through, both of whom are playing in the Premier League now.
“We are building an academy of players who are good enough to play in the top division. Last season we made it into the Champions League and had a 17-year-old, Ferran Torres, playing on the right wing. We were the youngest team in La Liga with an average age of 24.
“This year it is slightly older but we maintain a young team. The academy is the future of the club, we want to maintain the wages and keep the purse under control but compete at the highest level with a young team.
“We play at the Mestalla but the other stadium was not built as a football stadium, it was built as an Olympic-style stadium with a running track, very flat and 75,000 seats. We need to make significant changes, with £150m investment to convert it into a football stadium. Our plan is still to move there for the 2021-22 season.
“You need to have a fantastic feeling at the new stadium. We get that at the moment in our current stadium and we should not lose that when we move.
“I am a realist, there is no such thing in football as calm and serenity. Marcelino is a great coach, I am not sure how long he will be with us because nothing is guaranteed in football. What we need to do and be clear about is the strategy and where we want to go.
“We have eight points after the first seven league games – we did not expect that because we built a strong team. We must push ahead in this direction. We need to make Valencia a reference club in La Liga and in Europe.”