If all goes to plan the last few days of the window, Valencia will have sent back from loan, released, loaned out or sold 28 out of 35 players with official playing time last season and with that changed the very foundations of the the team. At the same time the club has been immersed in the Peter Lim takeover negotiations. The aim of this article is to explain how Valencia have been able to strengthen the team, and why they have had to settle for relatively affordable options and loan deals.
Already in January we saw clear signs that Rufete and Juan Antonio Pizzi was all but pleased with the shape of the squad. The issue was not so much about the quality of football it could offer as it was about the style, lack of ambition, unity and determination. Unai Emery ended a search for a new identity for a Valencia team that had seen it’s best days under Rafa Benitez’ defensively compact and transition play focused system. He did so by introducing a set of players oriented towards possession and with the individual flair to create chances. His teams were rarely in possession of great speed and always struggled when play transitioned from attack to defence. This changed the face of Valencia, taking it closer to a Barcelona style than Benitez’ ideas. Ever since Emery left the club’s various managers have tried either to replicate that but without the players who could create, or they have tried to use the same players in a totally different system. The club mainly went backwards with few notable exceptions such as Valverde.
Braulio is a much debated figure as sporting director. It was his responsibility to find the right players for the club under the conditions he had. From the outside it seems he based his scouting only on pure footballing ability. As Rufete would tell you any day of the week, that is only one of many parts you should consider. Not only once, but several times we have heard the new Sporting Director say something like “we only want players that really want to come to Valencia. Players have to believe in the project and be ambitious.” When Rufete took the job, he quickly found two main flaws with the squad; it’s abilities football wise were not adapted to the style of football they wanted for Valencia and the squad had grown unambitious and many had attitudes to football that worked against the hunger they wanted to see. Evil tongues would claim some had a larger hunger for burgers than titles.
The evidence for this we saw during the final days of the January window. Pizzi with his focus on compact defence and counter attacks was consistently overrun in midfield and struggled to keep the ball going forward. The then manager sat down with Rufete and ironed out a plan that saw several players leave and 5 players join. They were players with work ethic and often known to be strong when play turns, like Keita and Vargas. Others were acquired mostly based on their influence on the dressing room, like Senderos. It was to add an atmosphere of professionalism, to change the dynamic of the team. What we see this summer is a continuation of this plan to change the very fabric of the team.
Missing out on Europe, and awaiting Meriton’s takeover, Valencia was also forced to ensure an income of 25 million euros before last season’s budget results were to be settled. The sales of Juan Bernat, who refused to enter into talks over a new contract, and Mathieu solved that issue. The failure to realize either of the two preconditions for really spending this summer (Europe and Meriton takeover), Valencia’s budgetary situation was no different from what it had been the last years. This created two problems; very limited transfer funds and Financial Fair Play rules. Basically, the only money Valencia had available for transfers were those received from sales and FFP stops the club from increasing the total wage bill.
Although many players have been let go because either the club do not believe in them or that they do not believe in the club’s project, some have been victims to the circumstances. The acquisitions of Mustafi, Orban and De Paul are the only real outlays, totalling around 16 million euros. Yoel arrived on loan which will be made permanent next summer. Cancelo, Andre Gomes and Rodrigo have arrived at the hand of Meriton with Valencia only to pay salary. Faced with necessity to add more talent of a certain quality, the option of Bruno Zuculini was always the best possible. With a relatively low salary, he has footballing skills rarely available at that prize. He is, as the long desired Enzo Perez, a player who is considered very strong in transitions and is equally apt defensively as in attack. to be able to afford even this beneficial loan deals, Valencia had to slash the existing wage bill.
But, wait a minute…isn’t Valencia rich now? The easy answer is no, they’re not. Although most have noted that Meriton will be the owner of the club, it is still the fact that not any of the 4 contracts necessary to realize the takeover has been signed yet. And until that happens, Meriton can have as much money as they want – it will not help Valencia. This is also why Valencia have so many players on loan from Benfica. Rodrigo and Andre Gomes belongs to Meriton financially, but the licence to play can only be held by a club, and these rights are what Benfica has ceased to Valencia. Once Meriton officially take over, the deal is that the financial and the licence will both pass to Valencia. For Joao Cancelo the deal is a bit different. Meriton has an agreement to buy the right back along with his former team mates Ivan Cavaleiro (currently on loan at Deportivo) and Bruno Silva (loan at Monaco) for 45 million euros in 2015. Valencia does not possess an option to buy either, nor does Meriton, which means Benfica speaks the truth when denying the existence of such.
In sum, these means that while still in a pretty tight financial situation, Valencia have managed to revamp the entire squad and at least on paper raise the overall quality both on the first team and in depth. Rufete have spoken to all the 9 players brought in about the project, and has felt he has gotten responses that have convinced him of their determination and will to succeed at Valencia. Mustafi and Orban adds strength and determination to the defence along with Otamendi. Gomes, Zuculini and De Paul adds great quality and love for football. Rodrigo adds sheer quality the club has not seen since Juan Mata left. They are all players with a winner’s mentality. Hopefully we will see a more competitive Valencia this season with players adapted to Nuno’s system which seems very much aligned with what Rufete has wanted; Benitez’ Valencia reborn, but modernized.