When Valencia enter Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos on Saturday 18:30 local time, it is not just about adding three points at the end of a season better than most in recent years. As the final whistle went at Mestalla on Sunday, they had reduced their room for error to the bare minimum. Everything will now hinge at this last game of the season.
Peter Lim’s project has so far been far more successful than anyone would have dared believe possible before the season, despite Lay Hoon stating “Success will not come overnight” when she addressed the press back in December. Last year’s catastrophic season left the team without Europe, portraying a mirror image of past seasons were the catastrophe happened in the board rooms and director’s offices and the team was kept afloat by the results generated. Professionalism, strong players, branding and a blossoming relationship with the club’s fans has catapulted the team consisting of a majority of players who never played for Valencia, nor with each other, into a Champions League spot.
Despite many chances to do so and leave Sevilla to concentrate on their Europa League final, Valencia lost leads and failed to convince in the decisive matches. Players you’d look to for leadership and performance in such situations faltered or got injured. Now it is all down to the 90+ minutes in Almería to ensure the golden ticket to the future. So why is it that it is so important qualifying for Champions League? Well there are several independent but also interrelated reasons. It goes back to the moment about more or less exactly a year ago when Peter Lim’s offer was unanimously voted the winner of the bid process.
Peter Lim and Meriton’s offer won, not because it was the offer that financially provided the highest injection of cash, but because it was a strong project in terms of building a strong and competitive team, the social profile (as seen in the newly confirmed sponsorship of UN Women) and the professionalization of the whole organization. It was also the only offer that had a detailed plan for how everything would be rolled out and what was dependent on which achievements. So far Valencia is ahead of schedule, and to keep it so Champions League is a must.
Income and Financial Fair Play
The first front where Valencia would severely notice the lack of Champions League football is of course financially. When Lay Hoon spoke, she stated “We will always have constraints, we will always have a challenge to work within the budget under the Financial Fair Play”. FFP is probably one of the most used words in the Valencia directors’ offices. To facilitate further success on the pitch it is essential to achieve a better financial position, which in turn demands success on the pitch. The Spanish league also has a FFP of their own, basically limiting expenditure on salaries and transfers based on the club’s income. Champions League football would directly contribute with 22 million euros in added income. In addition comes the money from each draw or victory. A round of 16 would mean 40 million euros. Enough to finance a strong player. Valencia is already at the border line this season with 72 million euros as the FFP limit, something which for example required the loan of Robert Ibañez and the transfer of Joao Pereira to Hannover.
With the success Valencia have had this season and the exciting project under construction it sparks interest from other teams. Both José Luis Gayá, Dani Parejo and Nicolás Otamendi have been subjects to interest from others. Andre Gomes, Enzo Pérez, Rodrigo, Negredo…..all players that joined from Champions League teams and that believe in the project. Will they stay if Valencia does not qualify though? Will they take another season where Europa League is the reality? They very well might, but there is no doubt that Valencia’s position will be severely weakened.
On the team, Lay Hoon commented; “We have a very young team so I think we need to keep encouraging them and motivating them and get them to play together as a team.” No doubt, Nuno has exceeded expectations in the way he has managed and build a team which is the youngest in La Liga. That does not mean however that the squad is strong enough to face European competition and at the same time qualify for Champions League in next year’s league. Valencia therefore have plans to add strong players to lift the quality of the team further. A right back, a right winger and potentially a midfielder are all on the wish list. One thing is the strictly financial side of it; actually affording to add that kind of talent, but the most critical part of having Champions League football is it’s importance in convincing these potential new players to join. Valencia struggled to convince a player like Jackson Martinez without a place in Europe’s foremost competition.
Branding and marketing
From the time when Amadeo Salvo joined the club as it’s president, it has gone through a metamorphoses of sorts to become a modern football business rather than the old Spanish style football club run like a local kiosk (and a rather unsuccessful one at that). Slowly but steadily Salvo and the principle responsible of the are Louis Douwens have built a brand for Valencia through the “GloVal Respect” campaign. The collaboration with Adidas (replacing the modest Joma) as kit sponsor has completely changed the club’s approach in that department. The club’s own online television has grown to be relevant and loved by fans. To address the strong radio culture in Spain, they have also added a VCFRadio to the group. Mestalla has been refurbished and instead of an aspect of a mistreated ruin it is now the pride of the city with the majestic black bat as a clear symbol of who’s home it is. Álvaro Negredo’s signing is another master stroke. It was the talk of the world at the stroke of midnight when the window slammed shut after the summer. The timing, the planning and the visual presentation was impeccable.
That all makes for a good start, however, the big strides are still to be taken. Although there has been several new and renewed sponsorship deals, the most notable still remains unresolved. The main shirt sponsorship is still not settled, something that costs the club several million euros. What is the club doing? Why don’t they just take a couple of million if they can get it? Well, the easy answer is; because they are holding out for a big deal. Salvo and Douwens have long worked to increase the sum collected for the most important sponsorship deal, after Manuel Llorente spent years deteriorating it’s value. In fact, it is said Lim is so sure that Valencia will attract a top notch sponsor with Champions League participation that the club reportedly turned down 5 million euros from Turkish Airlines, already negotiated by Douwens. Champions League is about being seen, about building your brand as a football club. Well, in addition to actually competing at the highest level of course.
To continue growing in this area and get the exposure of the brand the club needs for example in Asia, it is absolutely key to be where eyes are set.
The frailty of the Valencian optimism
The years from Juan Soler to Manuel Llorente were years of conflict, years of division between fans and between fans and the club. By continuously over focusing on cost reduction rather than increasing the value of the club, many of the activities that engaged the fans were discontinued or not started at all. The Valencian pride, belief and optimism was down and injured. With the entry of Amadeo Salvo and Peter Lim, the financial woes are lesser, and the club has become open, involving and aware of how it can best communicate with the fans. When Valencia’s were named the best fans of La Liga this year, it was no surprise because the club has given the fans something to believe in – a sense of identity. The pride is back, the belief is strong and Mestalla has more than once this last year really been the 12th man and decisive to securing positive outcomes. However.
What happens when things are not going above expectations? If it is one thing Valencia’s fans are known for apart from being amazing on the occasion, it is their high expectations to it’s club and players. By performing this well so soon, the team has pushed the bar in front of them, raising it for every step. That bar only moves in one direction; upwards. What if in the end we can’t jump over it? Will the great relationship between club and fans continue? Will it give those critical of the new regime the opportunity to strike back? It is always dangerous (albeit necessary) to construct a dream for your followers. If the dream is not possible to realize, it quickly becomes a nightmare.
AMUNT y A POR CHAMPIONS!