Rumblings at Valencia

Valencia coach Nuno Santo is being blamed for the team's woes just a month into the season.
Valencia coach Nuno Santo is being blamed for the team's woes just a month into the season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Weak start has fans criticising signings, backroom moves

VALENCIA • Valencia's fans are known to be among the most demanding in Spain: loud, committed and not afraid to turn.

Unfortunately for Valencia manager Nuno Santo, it has taken the Mestalla faithful just four La Liga games to turn on him this season.

Valencia travelled to Espanyol yesterday desperately needing to win the game as well as win back their supporters. The wave of discontent comes less than a month after Valencia celebrated their return to the Champions League after a two-year absence.

But they began the group stage of Europe's elite club competition with a home defeat by Zenit St Petersburg. That result was sandwiched between two home draws - a 1-1 draw against Deportivo La Coruna and Saturday's goal-less affair with 10-man Real Betis.

After their third consecutive home match without victory, the Valencian sports daily Super Deporte ran the headline "Mestalla against Nuno", handily drawing on "estalla" which also means "erupt".

The Mestalla certainly erupted with whistles towards Nuno on Saturday. "Nuno, vete ya!" or "Nuno, go now!" was the cry.

Valencia are unbeaten this season in the league prior to the Espanyol clash and have lost just once in 21 La Liga games.

But expectations are higher this season, and the conditions for complaint were already in place. Defender Nicolas Otamendi departed and Diego Alves is injured. The assistant coach Ian Cathro has left too. And although Valencia officially spent more money than anyone else in Spain this summer, that figure is misleading. Of their total €137 million (S$217.2 million) outlay, €74 million was spent on buying players they had already brought in last summer on loan but with compulsory purchase deals.

This was the second summer backed by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim's financial muscle and fans wanted stars. They got three 19- year-olds in wingers Santi Mina and Zakaria Bakkali as well as defensive midfielder Danilo. They are exciting players understandably presented as a sign that the club were building for the future but not the players some supporters demanded.

There were movements in the backroom too. This summer, the president Amadeo Salvo left and so did the sporting director Francisco Rufete and his scout Roberto Fabian Ayala. Salvo was replaced as president by Chan Lay Hoon, no one took over from Rufete, all of which helped to underline that their roles had always been limited. It is understood that real executive power is concentrated largely in the hands of Lim and partner Jorge Mendes.

Nuno, a former goalkeeper who was Mendes' first client, has always been seen as Lim's manager.

When Valencia sacked Juan Antonio Pizzi, Salvo admitted that there was no point in keeping him on only for the incoming owner to sack him when the purchase went through a few months later.

Earlier this month, Mario Kempes, arguably the most important player in Valencia's history and a man who has an ambassadorial role at the club, suggested that Nuno had accumulated too much power.

"You can't take a corner and head it in yourself: Nuno did well last season, when he was only the coach," he said.

Former Valencia goalkeeper Santi Canizares said there were three types of people calling for Nuno to go: Those that blamed him for Salvo being pushed out, those who thought he was never that good in the first place, and those who always want someone to blame.

That someone has become Nuno.

"The fans show their discontent and they express it towards the person responsible for the team and that's me," the 41-year-old said. "If that is what the criticism is, I accept it and I assume that responsibility."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'RUMBLINGS AT VALENCIA'. Print Edition | Subscribe