Las Fallas leave Valencia burning

lionIt was as if the last Falla burned not at the end of the festival itself, but that somehow it was postponed to one day later. Mestalla was cold and dark after yet another despairing loss. The fans had just erupted in a unison outcry against manager Gary Neville. The whole match was like one long Mascletá where the smallest error from some of the players invoked the fans’ wrath like the early small explosions. And as any good Mascletá, the rhythm intensifies until it erupts into an ear deafening climax. The point of infliction was the decision to take off Paco Alcácer for Negredo. Then the goal, another, and ending in a total collapse where only Mathew Ryan avoided a full-blooded Cremá.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded”] *During the Las Fallas festival in Valencia, artists spend months on building wooden figures (fallas) that are put on every street corner for everyone to view for a week. Then they set fire to them all (cremá) to mark the beginning of spring. During the festival they have a 5-10 minute fireworks bonanza in the middle of the city where more than a ton of powder is blown up (mascletá)[/box] It was the end of a week with 3 matches and 3 faces. A shameful performance at Levante morphed into a classy albeit insufficient victory against Athletic, before a decent 60 minute performance ended in shambles like so many times before this season. One is left wondering just what is wrong. During the week I read, I spoke to journalists and others about the club’s current state. The way it is portrayed, we have the Meriton management distanced, invisible and we have the local representation without power of decision, without direction. The club just seems not to know where to go. There is no common vision.

I am left pondering the dream that was Valencia. It was Amadeo Salvo’s dream that he shared with all levels of the club, with Peter Lim, with the fans. Last season it was as if nothing could hold Valencia back from the Champions League. The dream was too strong, and too dependent on the man that had it first. Once Salvo left, the power of the dream diminished, and by the time we met Monaco, this particular dream took its last breath through Alváro Negredo’s lob. After that the arrows have all pointed downwards in any thinkable and unthinkable way.

Valencia is now at the brink of a relegation battle they are unfit for. A battle they are not prepared for. The Falleros have poured the gasoline on the wooden figure, the audience is gathered and the moment where the fuse is ignited and everything goes up in flames seems close. The fallas are all about burning the old to initiate a new spring. The question is; how big is the fire? And from where will we have to start anew?

MEstallaMany blame Nuno. Others blame Gary Neville. 96% in a recent Superdeporte poll pointed at the players and their attitudes. Media point at everyone and everything depending on the day. It was symptomatic that after the Celta loss there was no players talking to the media, strengthening the impression that the press works on very little information and very much opinions and speculations. It is a flaw of the Meriton model. The Asian style of leadership meets one of the most demanding club environments of the world. This clash of cultures is an interesting track to follow, especially after “Peter go away” was heard for the first time, even if it was rather modestly chanted from the Curva Nord and nobody else really joined in.

Fans and media seem to look for easy explanations. Meriton and Lim have no idea about football. There is no sports management. Gary Neville couldn’t train a youth team. Players do not care. Do we really believe that? Really?

We want it to be a simple problem, because a simple problem often has a simple solution. Complex problems on the other hand require time and often trial and error. Maybe Peter Lim did not realize the sheer complexity of the task he set out to complete by taking a club like Valencia with its intricate history, politics and passionate fans, despite Jorge Mendes reportedly warning him. Maybe he underestimated the importance of Salvo. Maybe he overestimated last year’s performance and became complacent with his decisions. Maybe he made mistakes. The question is; how fast is he and Meriton learning?

During our visit in Valencia I had the pleasure of meeting our president Lay Hoon. Although I did not raise questions about the current state of the club in general, I did have a rather long conversation with her. My impression was that she was genuinely interested in Chescandinavia and what we had to say. This was a meeting set up by the club’s local representatives to show the club’s continued support.

Previously I have met Juan Soler, Manolo Llorete and Amadeo Salvo in similar settings and only the latter showed remotely the same level of interest. Small gestures often tell more than any amount of words. I truly appreciated the meeting, even though as probably anyone else would have, I somehow wish I had made use of the opportunity to ask some questions on Meriton and Peter Lim’s plans and how they see the current situation. How do they plan to get out of it? What have they learned?

Lay HoonWe who write and opinionate about the club continue to point at everything that is wrong seemingly looking for the short time satisfaction of getting yet another manager fired or want this or those players to leave or be benched. We want action and someone to blame. I expect that the club, Meriton, Peter Lim and his advisors are constantly looking for solutions. I hope they feel the pain of this situation as much as we do. I do believe they are as concerned as us, even though if you judge by Spanish standards they are not showing it.

Meanwhile it will be up to Gary Neville and the players to pull enough point-gathering performances together to avoid that final cremá. And it is our job to put aside our disagreement with the choice of manager, the sports management model, whether Lim or Lay Hoon speaks or this or that substitution. In the end it is still more important that Valencia is a Primera División team than being right.

Let’s burn the Falla, but let’s not pour gasoline on the house next to it.

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