Soundtrack suggestion - Ennio Morricone: The Hateful Eight - L'Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock
It's a cold January evening. The snow & fog makes it special, yet eerie. The Nordic climate and darkness couldn't have represented the sentiment better. When the Chescandinavia board discusses the state of things at the club, the sun is but a faint memory of seasons past.
So guys, just how bad is the season so far?
Pål: "Like a youth that got laid last year, but has totally lost his/her mojo, experiencing that the more the person tries, the further the self esteem deteriorates. At times (and I’m very sorry for the analogy) even masturbation seems hard. The analogy is not off, though, as I’ve felt that midfield control was there in the beginning despite not generating many breakthroughs. Lately, even that has been lost. For all the great moments last season; beating the big shots, qualifying for the Champions League, solid defence, blitzkrieg counter attacks… Now I just hum to my favorite Faith No More tune: “Everything’s ruined”"
Eirik: "Yeah, so far this season has been a mess. It started pretty bad with a squad that didn´t believe in the head coach. Players where picked to the starting eleven for the wrong reasons, as it seemed Nuno picked the clients of Jorge Mendes over the other players. There was also a dispute between the head coach and one of the major signings from last season, Negredo who found himself left out in the cold, a conflict that split the squad."
Daniel: "Long are the days since Valencia CF gave us reason to be calm and contempt. Not many matches have been memorable, save a handful."
Michael: "Well, I'd say the season began promising with UCL qualification at Monaco. You could however already here see some problems from the poor and turbulent sports planning during summer: The defense lacked leaders, while the attack lacked delivery into the box".
Hans: "It's really been rough although I'd go even further back with Salvo leaving and the following whistles at Nuno during the Trofeo Naranja presentation match. From that moment on it was apparent that it was headed towards Nuno's end. And so it was. On the way there we lost too many points. We had some isolated good performances, but never played as, nor looked like, a team".
Michael: "Yes, the fans wanted Nuno out during the presentation, and he never really seemed to win back Mestalla despite 4 home wins in a row after the defeat to Zenit. Valencia were still a solid team but only 4 goals in the first 6 league matches will not get you another round of Champions League."
Eirik: "The performances on the pitch reflected the issues outside of the pitch, as the players struggled to glue together to a team, as Hans said. The points picked was due to individual performances rather than a team working together to get goals. The lack of experience in the young squad let us down. This was very visible against FK Zenit St. Petersburg as Hulk won the two games for the Russian team on his own. It was a huge setback for the club to not advance to the knockout phases, as the teams in our group wasn't the strongest."
Michael: "And Gary Neville has never been the needed revelation in terms of results even if he has made the play more digestible. Our wing-play is starting to find the box with at least 2 goals a game in 5 of his last 7 matches. Valencia now have a decent +4 goalscorer, which you wouldn’t expect from a 11th placed team."
Eirik: "Neville was a big surprise for all of us, and I have to say I started to doubt Peter Lim´s intentions. I took some time for me personally to get used to the thought of Gary as head coach. That said, I get more and more positive about the appointment. Today I support him, and I have faith in him to turn the situation around. I don´t wish to judge him yet, as it is to soon in my opinion. I like some of the ideas the Englishman brought with him. The pace in the attack, the willingness to try to hit the opponent on the counters are more suitable for our players. Gary´s main challenge is to glue the players together and make a team."
Hans: "Picking up on that Lim comment, I must admit I have felt a distance to what goes on at the club that I haven't experienced for a long time. Fortunately, it seems that the board has realized where they were heading, and become more transparent, spent more time informing the media (and us) and increased direct communication with the fans. Small improvements, but important improvements."
Michael: "Summed up; Champions League was a fiasco, as Valencia paved the way for the smallest team still alive in it. The young squad is not cynical enough in both ends. Copa del Rey has been the only “breathing hole” in a difficult season, but despite comfortable wins you still see the personal errors in defense. If these are limited, Valencia actually will be a quite decent team that could even win a cup title."
Hans: "True, an almost impeccable second half of the season is required to be anywhere near that coveted 4th place."
-Let's get some positivity in here; Which player has not fallen into the general pit of drab performances and put a rare happy look on your faces?
Eirik: "When Matthew Ryan suffered a knee problem we all believed it was going to be a weak point, but Jaume Domènech surprised us all. Jaume has saved many points for the club almost on his own, and I am sure Neville will have a proper headache when Diego Alves also returns fully fit."
Daniel: "You are right, there's no doubt; Jaume Domenech. He has grabbed our hearts and saved our souls more than once already. Apart from him, few players inspire at the moment. I could mention Andre Gomes and Piatti, but so many others fail to deliver now when it is desperately needed."
Hans: "Yeah, what is Neville, Lim and the others going to do? Because who are they to go for in the future? Diego Alves, last year's world beater? Jaume, this seasons revelations? Or Ryan, the most expensive goalkeeper in the history of the club and probably the one with the highest potential of the three?"
Eirik: "Even if Jaume have been brilliant for us so far, I am not sure about his level. I suspect he have been over performing the last months"
Michael: "Jaume is the obvious choice, as you simply shouldn’t be able to rise from 4th to 1st goalie within a year! I'd say Cancelo deserves a mention though. Not only does he perform but professionally on different positions from the left-back to the right-wing. Rodrigo is another player that is starting to pay off. Somehow ironic, because both players were meant for the Portugal-based Nuno project."
Pål: "Jaume, yes.. But I’d like to add Bakkali, as he looks to me to be a player that really upsets the opposition defence. Speedy and erratic, moving in Brownian motions like a grain in warm liquid, you never know what’ll happen. He’s not been a regular starter, neither under Nuno nor Gary Neville. That is a bit odd, and actually worrying. Maybe it’s down to defensive limitations. But hopefully not permanent fitness ones (lactate tolerance levels), which will make him a useless signing."
Too much positivity, we must keep it proportional to the season....what in the world went so wrong?
Hans: "Well, what didn't? As I already touched upon in the first question, the unravelling seemed to start as Amadeo Salvo left. It was the sheer force of his vision and belief that kept the team floating. The players believed it, the fans believed it and Lim also believed it. Nuno on the other hand seemed to have been wanting a stronger voice of his own. Given it, he failed in so many aspects. "
Pål: "First of all, last season was a massive overperformance, which of course raised the bar far above the reasonable with such a young squad."
Michael: "As I wrote in the season-preview, something is fundamentally wrong in the sporting set-up. Expensive signings without merit, strangely prioritized renewals, and in general poorly covered squad positions. While lots of players indeed have been signed to broaden the squad, these have mainly lacked experience and quality – as Hans says, not a single starting position has been strengthened compared to last season. Lacking a sports-director is a part of the problem, but I feel that it has become an excuse for deeper issues that go farer back than last summer where Rufete left the job."
Eirik: "I also think the departure of Salvo and Rufete started the issues that we did see the first half of the season. And I also think it’s a bit more complex than that.
Pål: "Most of all the departure of Rufete, in my eyes. I’ve said it before how important his role was at the training grounds. He was the omnipresent motivator, both for squad members to give it all, and for decent arrivals to be convinced of the project. The reason for his departure was of course the (too) close ties Peter Lim had with Jorge Mendes, demonstrating that the Singaporean actually didn’t realize that Valencia fans aims for much more than in example Espanyol or Sporting Gijón, but politically (even if much more locally) more like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona."
Eirik: "An example of the players reacting negatively to Nuno´s man management was when he forced Negredo out of the team, after Negredo went public with his opinion of Nuno´s system and playing style. This caused a bigger split in the squad and the situation was unmanageable for Nuno, who in the end lost the fight against the squad, the club and most importantly the fans, who used Negredo as their mascot to bring Nuno down."
Hans: "Yes, Nuno's man management was seemingly non-existent. Also, the team hardly trained tactics. There was no improvement of the team in the summer. The squad shattered into clicks. Finally, fans never forgave him triggering Salvo and Rufete's goodbye. Basically, all the factors that drove the team to a heroic 4th place last year disappeared as a fire in vacuum."
Pål: "The grandest mistakes were building a squad so young, changing it so much in a limited time (why did João Pereira have to go?!), and cutting valuable links to the relatively cheap and good market of South America (and especially Argentina). Money can’t buy you love, Mr.Lim!"
Daniel: "Maybe our expectations were too high. All our hopes and promises were attached to Salvo and the team’s progress, then came Lim, Mendes, Nuno and big promises. They were made of investments in players, the renaissance of Nou Mestalla and the glory to come. Yet on the pitch we have seen a stroke of mediocrity from a team without spirit. Mind you, we have not seen the worst nor the best of the Lim dynasty yet, but I refuse to live in despair. My hope lie in so many of us keeping the blanquinegre passion alive!"
Michael: "That said, Valencia are starting to pick up the pieces. Not signing anyone in January may be better than restricting oneself to Mendes clients, as Valencia are too far off UCL spots anyway. I can’t emphasize the importance of lowering the Mendes involvement, as his hunt for profit-maximization forever will prevent Valencia from signing undiscovered youngsters and retaining proven profiles. Ultimately, harming our academy “red thread” and creating cliques in the 1st. Players coming to a culturally and now economically rich Valencia should not see it as a stepping-stone, and thus play for their own chances, but as part of an ambitious team. This mentality starts with the upper-management…"
Nuno was collectively blown out of Mestalla by the fans' whistling, but what are your thoughts on the pundit turned manager, Mr. Neville? How long before....his end?
Hans: "Even though Gary has been highly thought of in the English game for some time, I have to admit that I was, and still am, somewhat ambivalent to his appointment. One thing is because of his lack of previous managerial experience. Everyone who has seen a bit of SkySports football knows no-one would even dream of questioning his football knowledge, but it is a long way between either side of the television screen. Secondly there is the issue of the language. He is making a fantastic effort to understand the language and culture, but channelling his own messages to the players with the precise idea, is something he recently admitted himself was challenging. It seems they are finding ways around it though, especially with the contribution of Angulo."
Pål: "Lack of experience is one thing. But having practically none whatsoever is what really bothers me. Many of today’s great coaches started out as assistants, and later failed at small clubs. I have nothing against Gary. He seems to me to radiate excellent work ethics, intelligence and motivation. By time I’ll think he can become a great coach, perhaps one of England’s finest. But Valencia is not Rotherham or Girona. And I fear inexperience along with a language barrier will prove too much for Gary in the end. To be honest, I don’t see him leading Valencia next season unless results changes fast. The question is how much a coach and his motivations skills, tactics, etc means, and how much is on the players. Can anyone at all make gold of this squad right now? Gary is not the main problem here."
Michael: "He is very engaged and committed, despite what seems to be an interim job. I always praise the few English coaches that seek out of the Anglophile comfort-zone as the center of modern football. Not only does he look like the great Unai Emery but they also share the analytic and thorough approach by affording time to media and environment in talking about their passion football. One way is his collective training that includes all players, whereas Nuno was more individualistic and closed. Gary loves the game and manages to canalize this passion out to his surroundings."
Daniel: "Mr. Neville gives the impression of being passionate about football, passionate about his job and about Valencia more than a team. I appreciate those traits in a person key to our success. But results have been weak so far. If there is no Top 5 position at the end of the season, I reckon Gary Neville will be sacked. The Lim administration had placed too much faith in Nuno and Mendes, now they will not afford the same generous patience."
Michael: "Passion is not always enough as a coach. Without further comparisons to David Moyes, Neville also emphasizes wing-play with loads of early crosses into the box, where time maybe will allow him to dare more effort in the attacking play. Valencia need to play higher on the field, which has been difficult with the slow and less technical Abdennour in the back-line (Gary has already identified this problem as the Tunisian is left out of the squad against Rayo and seems to be leaving Valencia soon)."
Eirik: "I am sure will get until the summer to prove his worth, if he succeeds I believe he will be offered a new contract. As the England job also will be available I am not 100% sure he will extend his contract in Valencia, but I really hope so. Stability will be key to future progress."
Hans: "If he's staying, what kind of contract will he receive next time? An Emery style 1+1+1+1? Or a risky 3 year deal like Nuno? Will he want to stay? Will any success send 10 English clubs to his doorstep? Is the Valencia project enough if Manchester United ask?"
Is there hope? Or has the bat been beaten into submission? Any predictions?
Pål: "One thing is what I think will happen. Another what I hope. The thing is that the pressure is quite immense in the capital of Turia to sustain a long term project with serious bumps in the road. Too many reforms at the same time makes it difficult to measure the effect of each one, and usually creates as much chaos and uncertainty as it is meant to avoid. What I hope is that we, the fans, are patient while Peter Lim learns very quickly (oxymoron, I know) how to run a club like this in modern football in a sporting way more than as a business. Because the latter will ultimately be bad if you fail in the former. "
Eirik: "As I said earlier, I believe the most important now is to glue the team together. We already see that some players are performing slightly better under Gary Neville than they did under Nuno. Santi Mina, Rodrigo, Rodrigo De Paul, Danilo and Álvaro Negredo got the new start they needed, and I think that will expand across the squad in the next months. I believe Gary and Phil will mange to create a team that will work better as a unit. He already managed to do that with our players in the attacking department and some of the midfielders. The defense is really broken and need some more work, I will not be surprised to see some of our defensive players being subject for a transfer in January."
Hans: "The talent and potential in our current squad is probably higher than it has ever been. The challenge is to make all the youngsters believe and confide in their abilities, to play together as a team, and to understand and be able to put into action the manager's tactics and plans. What concerns me most is the lack of true leadership in the squad. Mustafi is trying, and it is always better with him there, but somehow it is not enough. If we could get in one or two players in the window that could provide some experience and leadership, I believe we would be in a stronger position."
Michael: "Champions League is out of the question unless Valencia win Europa League. Maybe a bit bombastic but I would almost write off league-qualification to Europa league if Valencia don’t defeat Rayo tomorrow. This does not suggest that Valencia should bet all on the two cups, as they are riskier ways to Europe, but Valencia can’t afford to give up on any competition just yet. There is plenty in play for the next six months."
Eirik: "My prediction will be that we will grab a spot to play Europa League next season, as the Champions League is out of reach. In the Europa League I think we will reach semi finals, but that will depend on what team we will face. I believe the squad is to young to win the competition, but with some luck and the right opponents we could be able to snatch a European trophy."
Michael: "In a season-preview for the online media Curva Espana, I predicted that Valencia wouldn’t succeed in Champions League nor La Liga. Instead, Valencia should go all on the probably EL-giving Copa final, with Las Palmas drawn in quarter-finals, since Valencia have a broad squad suiting the cups that may function as a “breathing hole” during the turbulent every day in the league."
Pål: "Historically Valencia has hit real success and titles only as exceptions. Those were built on blood, sweat, toil and tears. And good, sound planning. Just like everyone else. Valencia just need a little luck, and try the best to to be a little better in every detail than everyone else. Inventing the wheel all over again is not the best way to do that, in my opinion. Mid table is my expectation when we flip the calendar to May."
Daniel: "My heart says “we'll make it”, and we may even see a sweet trophy victory in the Copa del Rey! But my brain hurts. It slowly speaks of utter humiliations, such as exit from the EL, CdR and a league table spot outside the Euro zones. The worst apocalyptic thoughts whisper of the vile hell of the Segunda Division. Those thoughts are of course not very likely to become reality. Not to worry, this prediction will as per usual with all my VCF predictions, be all wrong. Pretty soon it will be forgotten, in the shadows of upcoming European Cup, and then a new hope is born for a new season. My team is Valencia, always."
A rather grim outlook with a small chance for sun mañana it seems....Feel free to participate in the discussion with us on twitter (@chescandinavia), Facebook or in the comment field.