Football: The honeymoon is over

From left: Valencia board director Koh Kim Huat, former president Amadeo Salvo, owner Peter Lim and his wife Cherie, and club president Chan Lay Hoon outside the Mestalla Stadium in 2014. Lim was attending his first game after winning the bid to take over
From left: Valencia board director Koh Kim Huat, former president Amadeo Salvo, owner Peter Lim and his wife Cherie, and club president Chan Lay Hoon outside the Mestalla Stadium in 2014. Lim was attending his first game after winning the bid to take over the Spanish football club. PHOTO: LAZARO DE LA PENA, VALENCIA CF

But Lim will not jump ship as Valencia fight relegation with no coach, protesting fans

Ten days ago, after just 91 days and eight matches in charge that yielded one win, Valencia's head coach Cesare Prandelli quit in a huff, citing the club's inability to bring in the signings he wanted.

The Italian was the team's fourth head coach in just over a year, after Nuno Espirito Santo, Gary Neville and Pako Ayestaran.

Stuck in a relegation battle with no permanent coach and protesting fans, it is probably safe to say that Singapore billionaire Peter Lim's honeymoon period with the Spanish La Liga club is over.

In an e-mail interview with The Sunday Times, Valencia's executive director Anil Murthy explained that Prandelli knew the club faced constraints in the transfer market, owing to Uefa's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

 

He said: "From the beginning, before Prandelli arrived in Valencia to sign the contract officially, it had been made very clear to him that the club would support his requests to strengthen the squad. He was confident that he could take our lads to higher places.

"As a reflection of this trust and hope, no limit was set on what we would spend to meet his requests. Full support... but within the limits imposed by FFP rules. He understood this very clearly."

When Valencia were hammered at home 4-1 by Celta Vigo in the King's Cup on Tuesday, the Mestalla turned on Lim, holding banners and chanting for him to leave the club. The hashtag #LimGoHome trended on social media.

It is all a far cry from October 2014, when the same fans hailed him as a saviour, after he paid €420 million (S$605 million) to rescue the debt-ridden side.

TACKLING THE MAIN ISSUE

We are in danger of relegation and that is the main priority. They should support the club, the manager, the owner now. At the end of the season after we are safe, then ask for change and look for responsibility.

CAYETANO ROS, sports editor of Valencia-based newspaper Levante, on why fans should rally around the club.

They even reached the elite Champions League group stages in August 2015, edging Monaco 4-3 on aggregate in the qualifiers.

Yet, it all nosedived from that point on. Sixteen months on, Valencia are battling relegation and fan unrest.

The club's record since the heady days of that Monaco win makes for painful reading for fans. After finishing fourth in La Liga in 2015, they ended up 12th a year later. Today, they are 17th and a spot away from the drop zone.

During the Christmas period, club president Chan Lay Hoon had tried to appease the fans, apologising in Spanish in a video posted on the club's website.

However, with the club management lacking continuity, the first-team squad also suffered, with a constant merry-go-round of player changes.

The sale of quality players like Shkrodan Mustafi (to Arsenal), Paco Alcacer and Andre Gomes (both to Barcelona) have led to growing disenchantment.

This month's transfer window could also see full-backs Joao Cancelo (Barcelona) and Jose Gaya (Arsenal) say adios to the club.

  • Lim's Valencia: A nosedive from heights

  • 2014
    OCTOBER

    After Lim had successfully gained control of the club, he was given a hero's welcome at the Mestalla with thousands of fans lining the streets to chant his name.


    2015
    MAY

    Coach Nuno Espirito Santo led a youthful squad to finish fourth in La Liga to qualify for the Champions League.

    NOVEMBER

    Just six months later, Santo quit when his team struggled in ninth place in La Liga three months into the season.

    DECEMBER

    Lim stunned the football world by naming Gary Neville as the new head coach - the ex-England defender's first managerial appointment.


    2016
    MARCH

    Four months later, Neville was sacked after losing 11 of his 28 games in charge, failing to keep a single clean sheet. Former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran was the replacement.

    SEPTEMBER

    Ayestaran is fired after losing all of Valencia's opening four La Liga games in the new campaign.

    OCTOBER

    Fans are buoyed when renowned Italian coach Cesare Prandelli is named the new man in charge.

    NOVEMBER

    After receiving abusive comments on social media from Valencia fans, Lim's daughter, Kim, blasted the supporters in an Instagram post.

    DECEMBER

    Valencia president Chan Lay Hoon spoke in Spanish and apologised to fans in a video message. By the end of the month, Prandelli quit after eight league games, claiming that the club failed to back him up in the transfer market, which Valencia denied.

Murthy insists Valencia are not organ donors to the rich. The transfers were forced as the club need to comply with the rules which limit spending based on their earnings, otherwise the club will be hit with sanctions.

Lim had smashed the club's transfer record twice to sign Spanish international forwards Rodrigo (€30 million) from Benfica and Alvaro Negredo (€28 million) from Manchester City. But to balance the books, players needed to be sold.

When Valencia exited the Champions League in the 2015-2016 season, Uefa further tightened its FFP control over them, as the lack of European competition meant a drop in television revenue.

This season, their reinforcements came in the shape of former Manchester United winger Luis Nani (£7.2 million from Fenerbahce) and four loanees - Eliaquim Mangala (City), Munir El Haddadi (Barcelona), Mario Suarez (Watford) and Guilherme Sequeira (Atletico Madrid).

Murthy clarified that the controls to prevent the club from racking up an unsustainable debt were already in place even before Lim acquired the club.

"So we had to work within a smaller budget for the winter market," he said, revealing that new signings were close to fruition.

Still, a pall remains over the Mestalla. Cayetano Ros, sports editor of a Valencia-based newspaper called Levante, believes the unhappy fans should rally around the club.

He said: "We are in danger of relegation and that is the main priority. They should support the club, the manager, the owner now.

"At the end of the season after we are safe, then ask for change and look for responsibility."

However, Ros dismissed the notion that Lim is unpopular because he is a foreigner, adding: "Look at the reception when he joined two years ago. People loved him and thought he was the solution.

"But this team won just four times at the Mestalla last year. That's the worst run in 97 years. That's why people are unhappy."

Javier Martinez, a blogger at the18.com, noted that Valencia's fans are notoriously difficult to please.

He wrote: "Valencia fans want the club to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, but they don't realise or can't accept the fact that Valencia doesn't have the players, coaches nor the funds to compete regularly for La Liga and the Champions League."

Nonetheless, Valencia are not letting the fans' unhappiness distract them from the vital task of helping the club survive.

Murthy added: "We have moved on very quickly from Prandelli. Things are unfortunately more complicated now with his sudden departure. We will continue to try to reinforce the team in the market.

"And we still believe in our players. Right now, our focus to bring together all those who love this club to fight."

On Tuesday, Valencia travel to bottom club Osasuna as they resume their La Liga campaign after the winter break.

The honeymoon may be over, but Lim and the Valencia fans will need to summon all the fight they can to push the club back to safety.


  • Additional reporting by Jonathan Wong
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 08, 2017, with the headline 'The honeymoon is over'. Print Edition | Subscribe