Pitchside Europe

Valencia keep paying price for continued instability


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Valencia's coach Mauricio Pellegrino

It was a year ago today and Valencia coach Unai Emery didn't want to answer a simple question about his side's forthcoming Champions League game against Chelsea.

I was in Spain's third biggest city to interview Pablo Hernandez. The winger wasn't happy at the club and keen to speak to an English journalist because he had half an eye on playing in the Premier League. He got his wish and is now with Swansea City.

After the interview, Emery was giving a press conference and I was encouraged to go by Valencia's media people. I inadvertently walked into a civil war, where the local media were at loggerheads with their coach of four years. Emery didn't answer my question, but at least he didn't eyeball me like he did with others. Valencia's press officer apologised afterwards as he explained that all wasn't well.

It was hard to fathom why. Emery, at 38 the youngest coach in the league with Pep Guardiola when he was appointed in 2008, had led his side to successive third place finishes and was on his way to another. Valencia had finished 10th the season before he took over.

Given the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, he could do no more, he'd hit the glass ceiling. He was effectively winning the league every season, a league which Valencia had actually won in 2002 and 2004 before the dynamics of Spanish football helped the big two get bigger. Barcelona and Real Madrid get far more than any English team from their domestic TV deal; Valencia receive less than any Premier League team.

Emery may have been miserable too often and his naturally long face often looked longer, but he was studious in his detail and his sides played good football.

"Despite losing players, we still play good football," said Hernandez in the interview. "We try to dominate games and be quick in attack. We've maintained a great togetherness in the squad, despite all the changes."

Emery excelled against a backdrop of two financial implosions which threatened the existence of the club. The economics meant Valencia had to sell their best players: David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba. Imagine how good Valencia would be had they kept those players?

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Unai Emery

There was further instability off the pitch, but the player sales helped Valencia reduce their debts by a third to a still massive €330 million. While Emery tried to coach, an incredible new 75,000 capacity stadium rose on the northern outskirts of the city. That didn't go to plan either as the economic crisis meant Valencia couldn't sell their Mestalla home, located in one of the most desirable neighbourhoods of the city, to fund the new ground. With banks stopping loaning money too, work ceased on the half built new stadium in 2010.

Emery left Valencia at the end of last season. His relationship had run its course in a city where coaches don't last long. Run its course with several players, who didn't appreciate his hard line on indiscipline, yet Emery was right to take players spotted in nightclubs at 6am to task.

Emery was Valencia's longest-serving coach since Alfredo di Stefano 40 years ago, but he couldn't please fans. They'd seen their side be Champions League finalists in successive years in 2000 and 2001, with one of the finest teams in Europe. They wanted more of the same, booed every coach who couldn't deliver the impossible and few in Valencia were sad to see the Basque leave for Spartak Moscow. He was replaced by former defender Mauricio Pellegrino, the Argentine who was twice a title winner with Valencia in the noughties.

Pellegrino lost his job after Valencia were beaten 5-2 at home on Saturday by a very good Real Sociedad performance. It was their first home league defeat of the season, but their solid home form contrasts with a winless away campaign so far. Under Pellegrino, Valencia drew two and lost five of their seven away games, scoring just twice. It's the worst record in the league and their last road trip saw them destroyed 4-0 in Malaga. A year ago, Valencia had the second best away record in Spain and occupied what had become their usual third position. Today they sit 12th, with less than half of the points of leaders Barça after 14 games. In mitigation, Pellegrino had led them out of their Champions League group stage, something Emery couldn't manage last season.

Pellegrino, assistant to Rafa Benitez at Inter Milan, called his dismissal an "unfair decision" which had been taken "in the heat of the moment", but the fans' ire was reserved for club president Manolo Llorente, a man who has long stood by his coaches when supporters turned against them. Pellegrino's sacking came after the coach had started to receive abuse. Llorente passed the buck.

Ernesto Valverde is Pellegrino's replacement and has signed a contract until the end of the season. The 48-year-old was a forward for clubs like Barcelona, Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao. He coached at the latter two, plus Villarreal and Olympiakos, whom he twice led to the Greek title before returning to Spain this April for family reasons. Valverde's last job in Spain was at Villarreal, where he replaced Madrid bound Manuel Pellegrini. He didn't do well and was sacked after just 7 wins in 20 games. There will be less reason to mix up your Pellegrini, Pellegrinos and Pochettinos in future as the latter two have been dismissed in recent weeks, Pochettino losing his job at bottom of the table Espanyol.

If Valverde does well then few questions will be asked. If not, then Emery, who was sacked by Moscow last month and is currently unemployed, won't seem quite as bad as his detractors would have you believe.

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