Valencia suffering but have quality

Why did they sack their previous manager?

Nuno Espirito Santo may have restored Valencia to the Champions League last year - his first season at the club - but his departure had seemed inevitable for some time. Though they have struggled domestically this campaign, the root of the problem was off the pitch.

Nuno's agent is Jorge Mendes - who also represents Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Valencia's fans had grown concerned over the influence wielded at the club by the Portuguese. The turning point seemed to come this summer, when two popular officials were dismissed, a move that served to bolster Mendes' power base.

So why did they turn to Gary Neville?

There is an acknowledgment in Spain that it is an unlikely appointment. Valencia chairman Chan Lay Hoon specifically said on Monday that Nuno's replacement would need to "understand the club and the community". Even with Phil, his brother, in situ as assistant coach, it would be a stretch to suggest that Gary meets those criteria. The key, then, is his relationship with club owner Peter Lim.

How tough a job will it be?

A challenge, but not impossible. Defeat away to Seville in Nuno's final game left Valencia ninth in La Liga. But they are only five points off Celta Vigo in the fourth Champions League slot.

They can still qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League should they beat Lyon at home and Ghent, the Belgian champions, fail to win against Zenit St Petersburg.

The squad has plenty of quality. Portugal midfielder Andre Gomes is the jewel in the crown.

In Shkodran Mustafi, the German, and Aymen Abdennour, the Tunisian, they have a fine central defence - when fit. Paco Alcacer, the Spain striker, is a reliable source of goals.

What about off the pitch?

That is more complicated.

Mendes remains a powerful figure at the club because of his links to many of the squad - including Gomes - but Lim and Chan seem determined to rid the club of his influence.

Gary will, at least, be able to count on the support of Phil in negotiating tricky waters.

How well supported are they - and what will the fans expect?

Traditionally, Valencia are Spain's third power, behind Real Madrid and Barcelona. They have been overtaken on the pitch since their last title, in 2004, by Atletico Madrid. Mestalla, one of Europe's most evocative grounds, is an incredible source of support when things are going well, and a terrible drain when they are not.

To allay the concerns of the fans, Gary will most likely have to get Valencia back in the Champions League next season.

It would also be helpful to reach the last 16 of the Champions League. Manage both and he can consider his first, seven-month foray into coaching a success.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Valencia suffering but have quality'. Print Edition | Subscribe