We continue our review of the season with Michael (@VCF_Nordic) from Denmark, Daniel Cervera (@Cerverone) from Sweden, Eirik (@EirikSPedersen) and Hans (@mulu83) from Norway and Pål (@paalpot75).
I am not sure about Rufete’s impact by identifying players to buy, but I think he have done an important job when it comes to the final signature on the contract. He is good at convincing players that Valencia is the right club to join. I also think he is superb at convincing players to sign new contracts. Paco Alcácer and Gàya just signed new deals with our club even they had interest from some of the best clubs in Europe. Rufete also plays an important role when making young players from our own cantera to first team players.
I think few people realize how key Rufete has been to Valencia’s ascendancy. He helps Nuno a lot by motivating players in the squad, as well as convincing potential newcomers about the club’s project. It has been debated how much influence he really has with Jorge Mendes being so close to the top brass. But I don’t think he would have continued if he didn’t believe Nuno would have fitted Valencia’s style of play. Rufo was the one who persuaded Salvo that it was essential to set a distinct playing style from all the youth teams and up to the first team, and in general his signings have been success stories. You can’t say the same about the players that have come directly from Mendes/Lim. I’m certain we’re still to see the best from his projects.
Rufo is sympathetic, but I am not a big fan of his role or work so far. No secret that Ayala has carried him through several windows, starting with fellow-Argentinians Otamendi, Orban & De Paul who have impressed in this season. Zuculini did flop, but it was a cheap one. With Jorge Mendes entering the picture, Rufete will have even less influence on transfer activity, as it was illustrated with our activity in Benfica and Rio Ave. Rufete should be the head of the academy, which he illustrated in that famous Kiko Femenia video. He just has this friendly, down-to-earth appearance on the youngsters. Too laid-back for a top management position.
I believe Rufete’s contribution to the club is immense, and not just when it comes to transfers. He is a decisive figure also around the club’s academy which has been professionalized in record time since he joined. Rufete showed his ability to negotiate and his work rate already with Pizzi at his side, something he maintained by securing players like De Paul and Mustafi.
When I only mention those to it is because the circumstances around the “Lim players” seem a bit different, but rest assured, Rufete would have been part of the discussions also around those. I think we will continue to see Valencia adding talent to the squad both the Rufete/Ayala way and the Lim/Mendes way. Since you plan to ask; No Mendes is not directly involved in Valencia planning and transfers, but he does advise the club and share what opportunities exist based on what is needed. His friendship with Lim and now Salvo is real. Lim and him actually backpacked in Asia, so…
Don’t forget also that Rufete has been the main man in deciding who stays and who leaves and no-one can take away from him that it was he that insisted we’d give Gayá the chance.
I think he has found a very good balance, between a Lim(!)ited budget, wishes/demands from Nuno, wheeling and dealing with player’s agents, nurturing young cantera talents (Gayà for one) etc., whilst keeping a low profile for himself. He initiated a clean-out of the crowded squad and managed to do so well. And he has managed to assemble a very competitive squad from quite young players. This is quite an impressive piece of work, with a lot more precision and navigation through politics and opinions than meets the eye.
Hard and elegant workers who deserve more sunshine include Mustafi and Gomes. Special recognition also goes out to Javi Fuego. However choosing only one, I’ll pick Piatti, who has gone to lengths and grown as a player (serious puns intended!). I love his attitude, he gives his heart on the pitch.
Difficult question, because there are so many players with key contributions (ref the “team” comment above). It feels almost unfair singling out one. If I had to choose though I’d go with Diego Alves for two reasons. Firstly he has improved greatly the last two seasons and especially on his weaker areas such as crosses and one-on-ones. When we have needed it the most, he has been there to save a 100% or a penalty. He also rarely does mistakes, I can only think of one or two (Rayo and Almería).
Secondly, he is the single player that is most difficult to replace in the 11. Honorable mentions to Gayá who creates a different dynamic on the left side, Dani Parejo who has been decisive with his goals and Andre who’s dynamic play and great capacity makes the midfield tick.
For one more in the shadows I have saved a place for Shkodran Mustafi. Otamendi might be the symbol and the presence, but the Weltmeister has been the steady hand beside him, controlling the defensive line. No doubt a partnership we haven’t witnessed since Pellegrino was Ayala’s Mustafi.
Otamendi has been absolutely key. The stats speak for themselves, but his desire and leadership arepriceless for this young team. Ayala found his replacement. Of the old ones, Piatti has been the most valuable one. When he ran into the mandatory injury, ourteam suffered in the attack, and too much pressure was laid upon Gayà. Those two have formed La Liga’s best left-side this season, no doubt.
Diego Alves, Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi is my picks. Diego Alves proving again that he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. This season have been his best since he joined with excellent performance in every match. The Brazilian have been responsible for many of the points picked this season. It is also nice to see that Alves have developed as keeper, this season his presents in the six-yard box has been massive compared to before.
Otamendi have been tremendous this season. He is a real beast that gives it all in every single duel and blocking shots with every part of his body. On the other side on the pitch he have made a great impact by being a threat for the opposition on set pieces and scoring crucial goals. Shkodran Mustafi is maybe not the obvious choice but I think he is doing a very important job by bring balance to the back four. Otamendi is the kind of player that likes to roam form his position to take the war, when you have such a player in the back four it is important to have one player holding back and fill the space that Otamendi leaves behind. They have great understanding for each other and I think Mustafi is a key to Otamendis performance this season, doing the “hidden work”.
The pillar and leader is Otamendi, of course. I still remember following him on my firs match of the season at Mestalla. What struck me then was how quickly he read a situation, and how many duels he wins. If he leaves this summer (those stats make everyone look in his direction), it’ll be a huge blow for the team, no matter how many millions roll in. The key to Valencia’s success this season has been robustness and stability in central defense, and ‘the general’ is the main part of that.
Of the unsung heroes, both Javi Fuego and Antonio Barragán deserves some praise. The former is unspectacular, but has played the Makelele role perfectly, allowing his partner Parejo to take chances (which in previous seasons would have led to a throng of goals against) and become the team’s ‘pichichi’. Barragán has simply been consistently good, and has improved both in defence and offence. He’s still limited in speed and technical abilities, but he has compensated with being a great team player and not overestimating his own skills. He’s Valencia’s Esteban Cambiasso. Of offensive players, Piatti was great until missing form recently, while Feghouli has become a great sub.