Cantera Special – A short history of VCF Mestalla

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The first team understandably gets most of the attention. But Valencia’s B team, the ‘cantera’, also generate substantial interest among fans, of whom many attend their home matches at the club’s training ground, despite the latter being outside the city proper, suffering from not having a  metro station nearby and hardly any bus correspondence. Valencia fans love their local youngsters, and the club has a long tradition in producing world class players from its ranks. Most known in the last few years are the seemingly never ending conveyor belt of left backs like Jordi Alba, Juan Bernat and José Luis Gayá, along with striker Paco Alcácer. But the ‘filial’, as Spanish B teams are also called, have delivered world class players for more than half a century. It was actually more common back then, as there weren’t many foreigners in Spanish football, and most teams based their first team around local players. The first Spanish international from Valencia who came up through the ranks was club legend Antonio Puchades, of whom the pitch VCF Mestalla play their home matches is now named after, while the Claramunt brothers, both influential in filling the club’s trophy cabinet, followed up. Later we’ve seen heroes like Fernando Giner and David Albelda emerge and excel, and current stars like Isco Alarcón and David Silva have also passed through the academy before football stardom.

Valencia had their proper youth teams already from the foundation in 1919. (It curiously also had a team called Tonelada FC (litteraly ‘Tonnage Football Club) made up of former players with ‘peso’, which mean they were significant ones in their heyday. ‘Peso’ means weight, however, something these former stars now had a bit much of. Despite being experienced, they were hardly the material to strengthen the new first team. There’s even a report mentioning its goalkeeper Rodríguez Lizandra scoring an own goal on purpose as the team had sold the match to the other team for “…a tomato omelet and a slice of meat with potatoes”). But that was an ‘Infantil’ team (now in the age class of ‘Juvenil’, which is up to 16 years of age), and not anything like the VCF Mestalla we know today. Instead, the club went by fine picking talents from the many smaller clubs in and around the city. They had an especially good relationship with Athletic Club in this regard (not the Basque club, but a local one also known as Athletic Club Catalá), since they shared the ground at Algirós. That ended in 1926, however, as Athletic fused with Sagunto F.C. In the next couple of decades, there wasn’t any fixed club or youth team to supplement the ranks of the first team, and Valencia had to fight on equal terms for raw talents along with city rivals Levante UD and Gimnástico FC, which back then were bigger clubs than Valencia.

The statutes are read aloud at the foundation of CD Mestalla at Bar Aparicio.
The statutes are read aloud at the foundation of CD Mestalla at Bar Aparicio.

This was not a problem since Valencia slowly rose from being one of many provincial clubs to become fairly known on a national level, even if not nearly as much as in later years. This meant the club was able to snatch talents from outside the region to keep growing. But the civil war would become the catalyst which forced Valencia to form their own youth team as there was a general lack of young talents since many had fallen or gotten injured on the battlefields, fled the country, or been imprisoned by Franco’s henchmen. This was a general problem in Spain, and most teams had to field teams with quite old players. Valencia put ex-player Leopoldo “Rino” Costa to remedy the situation. Rino, an excellent scout, was also a coach and president for the modest Club Deportivo Cuenca. After some impressive seasons in the regional league, Rino proposed that Cuenca became Valencia’s permanent B team. Valencia’s president Luis Casanova didn’t warm too much to the idea at first, but was eventually persuaded by general secretary Luis Colina. And just like the mother club, VCF Mestalla was born in a bar. Aparicio was its name, located in the neighborhood of Ruzafa, and there representatives from both clubs signed the agreement in the hot summer of 1944, naming the new entity Club Deportivo Mestalla. As a curiosity, CD Mestalla played its first years not with an all white kit (like Valencia’s first team did as well), but with vertical green stripes on white, similar to Real Betis’. The reason was that the club still used the shirts of CD Cuenca, only replacing its badge.

How Mestalla's kit has developed over the years.
How Mestalla’s kit has developed over the years.
The colours are also reflected in these beautiful crests.
The colours are also reflected in these beautiful crests.

Success didn’t wait. Several straight promotions from the initial season of 1944-45 catapulted them to the national third division, where Antonio Puchades was among the protagonists, and then won an eight team play-off league to rise to the second in 1947-48. In the next they went back down missing just one point to save themselves, but an amplification of the second division in the subsequent season put them back up. During these years CD Mestalla became an ever increasing factory for the first team, all the while impressing themselves. Under coach Carlos Iturraspe, still Mestalla’s most successful coach, they actually won promotion to Primera in 1951-52, against all odds. To participate there, however, Mestalla had to separate itself from its mother club, and the Valencia board figured it wasn’t beneficial to neither club, and ceded the spot to Racing Santander. President Don Luis Casanova (of which Mestalla stadium was named when it was renovated for the 1982 World Cup) gave the following statement on the decision:

-CD Mestalla has reached their objective which was to win promotion to Primera. However, this will in effect make Valencia’s first team potentially start the league with a four point advantage, something which is foul play, and we can’t permit that the honor of Valencia to be questioned in such a way. Our feelings go out to the players, officials and fans who have given so much!

The team had many players, initially very mad at the club’s decision, who didn’t stay in the second division, however, having earned their chance in the first team. Amongst them was Paco Sendra, who sadly passed away at the time of writing. Some also made the national team later on. One can only wonder how they would have fared in Primera with such a prodigious squad.

VCF Mestalla before a derby match with city rivals Levante.
VCF Mestalla before a derby match with city rivals Levante.

The following seasons weren’t that successful, where they fluctuated between the second and the third division (Third tier, now called Segunda B, while Tercera(third) is fourth tier). The sixties again saw Mestalla establishing themselves in Segunda, and a 4th spot in 1963-64 was impressive where the youngsters competed against many proper first teams from around Spain. But at the end of the decade saw them relegated again after a lackluster 1968-69 campaign. The next season they missed out on a promotion spot ending second, four points shy of Villarreal CF. Promotion was finally gained in 1970-71, but since Segunda now had one single group compared to two before, survival became ever harder for a club that constantly lacked experience and physique, all the while bleeding players to the first team. Relegation to Tercera again in 1973-74 led to another disaster as an 18th spot in 1975-76 sent them down to the Preferente league, and out of the national league system. They returned the next season thanks to another league system restructuring, but it was generally crisis years for Mestalla as very few players had the quality to become first team players during this period.

And as they entered the eighties, another restructuring of the league system meant they now were in the fourth tier, as the Segunda B level now squeezed in between Segunda and Tercera. Mestalla fought hard to get up there in the early eighties. But despite winning their league both in 1982-83 (drawing level on points with Levante UD) and in 1984-85, they lost out in the promotion playoffs to SC Arosa and Córdoba respectively. Promotion was finally won in 1986-87, but only thanks to yet another change to the league system format, as Segunda B was amplified with lots more teams. But it was shrunk the following season to four groups with a total of eighty teams (which is the current format), and ending up as the team with the lowest number of points among the 16th placed in each group, Mestalla was again relegated in 1987-88.

The nineties started better, as they both won their group and the subsequent and very though ‘liguilla’ to earn a spot in Segunda B again in 1991-92. By then Club Deportivo Mestalla changed their official name as the new sports law, Ley de Deporte 10/1990, forced Valencia to register as a stock company, and make all their youth teams an integral part of the organization. CD Mestalla, which since its foundation in reality had its own board and president (although in reality little changed), was renamed Valencia Club de Fútbol S.A.D. “B”. Understandably, nobody cared what the club’s official name was, and everyone instantly used VCF Mestalla instead.

The team mostly ended up in the mid to lower half of the table in this decade. Apart from a couple of exceptions; in 1994-95 and in 1995-96 they entered the four team playoff league for promotion, and came especially close in their first try, ending second only a point short of Almería and Segunda proper. It was no coincidence as players such as Andrés Palop, David Albelda and Javi Navarro gave valencianistas the first demonstrations of what they were capable of before taking the step up to elite level.

Paco Alcácer celebrating a goal for VCF Mestalla.
Paco Alcácer celebrating a goal for VCF Mestalla.

Around the corner of the millenium, however, waited another disappointment, as VCF Mestalla was relegated in 1999-00 after ending 17th in the league. Back to Tercera it was. Amazingly, the club escaped the quagmire after just one season, and in 2001-02 they again came within a hair’s width of promotion to Segunda, only beaten in the playoff by SD Compostela. History repeated itself, however, and as key players like David Navarro and Miguel Albiol went senior, VCF Mestalla was again relegated in 2003-04. They now needed two attempts to return, and after losing promotion playoff the following season, they managed it in 2005-06 after winning two agonizing double legs against Pinatar and Vilanova.

Again it was for nothing. Another playoff followed, but this time for survival in Segunda B. Over two legs against Real Valladolid’s B team, Mestalla came out short. A small consolation was won, however, as the Spanish federation heard Valencia’s petition to allow the club’s historic name, and the ‘filial’ could now officially call themselves VCF Mestalla.

They would again win promotion in 2007-08, but in this league bungee jumping, the cord snapped in 2009-10 as Mestalla hardly managed to earn a point during the entire campaign, assuring relegation several rounds before the league ended. It didn’t just mean another relegation. It was a result of hard times for the club as a whole as instability, bad management and a dire financial situation hit Valencia hard. President Manuel Llorente cut any expense possible, and few felt it as much as the ‘cantera’. Despite still churning out players to the first team such as Jordi Alba and Vicente Guaita, a gem like Isco Alarcón left. It was mostly because he never won the trust he thought him due from first team coach Unai Emery. But there were also tales of spent lightbulbs unchanged and no hot water in the showers in the dressing room for the youth players, preferring going home instead to get clean after practice sessions. Clearly something had to be done, but until the financial mess was solved, and a lengthy sale process finalized, not much could be.

Miguel Tendillo(to the right), legend both for Valencia, Real Madrid and Spain played for Mestalla. Later his son Alberto(left) did the same.
Miguel Tendillo(to the right), legend both for Valencia, Real Madrid and Spain played for Mestalla. Later his son Alberto(left) did the same.

Still, the scouts did their job well, and Mestalla got promoted back to Segunda B in 2010-11 after winning their group and beating Alcobendas 3-0 over two matches in the playoff. At the same time, when Manuel Llorente stepped down after not being able to solve the debt, and with deteriorating results on the pitch after selling one star player after another, Amadeo Salvo took over. The local entrepeneur was backed by the eventual owner Peter Lim, and quickly became hugely popular. Hope was lit among fans that their club now would step into a modern era where success on the pitch would be made possible with fresh money. Still, as the sales process dragged on for what seemed an eternity, Salvo still modernized the organization with what he had. Pivotal in this project, dubbed ‘GloVal’, was the youth system. Former Valencia star Rufete got the job to supervise this department, using philosophy learned from his time at the La Masia academy in Barcelona. There were to be no more exodus of unripe talent as when Pedro Chirivella left for Liverpool, and until money arrived to raise release clauses and improve contracts, Rufete aimed at making the project attractive enough for the youth players to stay. Their stadium at Paterna also got a facelift, renamed after Antonio Puchades, and with motivational slogans surrounding the pitch. Apart from modernizing facilities and pep talks, a more or less uniform playing style was implemented in all the categories from smallest kids to the first team. VCF Mestalla saw a host of new players coming in, and Nico Estévez, handpicked from neighborhood club Huracán, was hired to lead them.

Estévez didn’t last long. Mestalla barely avoided relegation, and Rufete’s former team mate at Valencia, Curro Torres, took over. Curro, so passionate on the sideline that he’s often been sent to the stands by the referee, took time to turn the ship. A tense playoff win against Algeciras was needed to survive in 2013-14 (where Curro duly was sent off at Mestalla after an outburst). Lately, however, things have brightened. More, and seemingly better newcomers, along with a more mature and coherent squad, led the team to an 8th spot last season; their best since managing 6th in the halcyon days of 2002-03.

Currently, the team has kept doing well in the ongoing season, lying in a 5th position before the derby clash with Atlético Levante, Levante UD’s B team , Sunday the 20th. Several players show signs that they’ll soon be ready for first team action. Most noteworthy are Toni Lato, Fran Villalba, Carlos Solér and Rafa Mir.

Many former Valencia players have become Mestalla coaches after their playing career. Now it's Currot Torres' at the helm.
Many former Valencia players have become Mestalla coaches after their playing career. Now it’s Currot Torres’ at the helm.

Amadeo Salvo and Rufete left after Rodrigo Caio-gate, while former Valencia legend and successful Juvenil coach Ruben Baraja recently departed to save Rayo Vallecano. Hopefully there’s enough left of their legacy to have hope for the future. Spanish talent now seems to want to come – and stay – at Valencia until they take the last step to elite football. Home grown players have always been essential for all of Valencia’s titles in the past. And when giant clubs have given an offer Valencia couldn’t refuse, they have brought vital capital into the club’s bank account. VCF Mestalla and the first team have been mutually dependent on each other since the meeting at Bar Aparicio. Young talents motivated by being close to fulfilling their dream – playing in front of the passionate crowd at Mestalla. The club itself, and its identity, is hard to imagine without the first team’s little brother. Sevilla became the first Spanish club to field only foreigners earlier this season. For the Mestalla crowd it would be unthinkable if the first team ran onto the pitch without someone who’ve fallen close to the trunk of one of the thousands of orange trees which dominate the Valencia region.

Antonio Puchades, one of the first real stars to come out of the cantera. Now VCF Mestalla's stadium is named after him.
Antonio Puchades, one of the first real stars to come out of the cantera. Now VCF Mestalla’s stadium is named after him.

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