With the 2022-23 season being literally filled with football, most fans will focus on the main events, like the World Cup and the Champions League. This is quite a good thing for Valencia, as their disastrous season has gone somewhat under the radar. They currently sit in the 19th position in the La Liga table, having scraped together 20 points from 22 games. However, some of you may ask, what the big deal is. Let me tell you why this is a huge deal.
In terms of overall trophy count, Valencia are the fifth most successful club in Spain, having won six league titles and eight Copa del Rey trophies. Their first “golden years” came during the 40s, with the club continuing to be an important part of Spanish football all the way up to the 80s. After one relegation and a rebuild during the 90s, the club became very successful at the turn of the millennium.
Two La Liga titles, two Champions League finals and one UEFA Cup were won under the tenure of Rafa Benitez, with the club boasting talents such as Pablo Aimar and Roberto Ayala. Despite the success of the period, all was not right behind the scenes, as Benitez left in 2004 citing unhappiness with his bosses. In 2006, plans were unveiled for a new 80000-seater stadium, called the Nou Mestalla and work began in 2007.
As a mark of the financial mismanagement of the club, the construction of the stadium was replanned several times since then, with the capacity being reduced time after time, and it is still unfinished. The scale of Valencia’s financial troubles became evident when reports emerged of the 400 million Euro debt the club was in.
Several key players, like David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata moved away from the club, with their departures not really having a significant impact on the size of the debt. In 2014, with the club effectively being controlled by Bankia, its main creditor, Valencia’s potential saviour appeared on the horizon. Peter Lim, a Singaporean businessman, who made a profit from investing in a palm oil company bought a 70% stake in the club.
The company in question, Wilmar, has been accused over the years of a frankly disgusting list of crimes. From deforestation and starting forest fires that caused toxic smog, all the way to the displacement of local communities, child labour, forced labour, exposure to toxic chemicals and violation of national reserves and lands belonging to farming communities. Still, it has managed to win the 2015 Special Recognition Award at the Singapore Apex CSR Awards.
With investment in such a company, it seems that Lim is not exactly the best person to own a football club, but his start was actually quite promising, making substantial investments in the club and wiping off a portion of the debt. One of his conditions for taking over the club was the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager.
This decision would act as a foreshadowing of the relationship the club would have with Jorge Mendes, who is a long-time business partner of Lim. One year later, another managerial appointment would be handed out to one of Lim’s business partners, this time Gary Neville. Lim has multiple ties to Neville’s property developments, as well as other businesses of Manchester United’s class of 92.
During and after Neville’s disastrous season, fans became increasingly vocal towards Mendes’ ever-increasing influence over the club and the appointments of several key figures with no footballing experience. A managerial merry-go-round followed until in 2017 when they struck gold with the appointment of Marcelino.
Under his tutelage, Valencia qualified for the Champions League and won the Copa del Rey in 2019. Immediately afterwards, he was sacked, with reports citing his criticism of Lim as the cause, whilst others have speculated that the actual cause was winning the Copa del Rey. As insane as that sounds, apparently Lim had instructed Marcelino to ignore the competition, and focus on securing Champions League football, which the team failed, finishing 5th.
The next season, citing the financial hit from the pandemic, the club saw the departures of 6 important players. Ferran Torres was sold to Manchester City for well below market value, reports stating this was Lim’s way to curry favour with City’s owners, a similar accusation being leveled at Lim for the sale of Otamendi. Francis Coquelin and club legend Dani Parejo were also sold for a pittance, this time to local rivals Villareal, whilst stalwart Ezequiel Garay left on a free.
This prompted protest from the Valencia fans, to which Lim’s daughter responded with an Instagram story that read “The club is ours and we can do anything we want with it and no one can say anything”. This disaster was followed up with another series of managerial sackings, until Pepe Bordalas came in and stabilized the club. He also managed to guide the club to the 2022 Copa del Rey final, losing to Real Betis on penalties.
Once again, they decided not to keep the manager who had brought them back to some kind of stability, in addition to that, the club sold Carlos Soler and Goncalo Guedes last summer. With no notable signings, apart from free transfers and loans, Gennaro Gattuso took charge at the start of this season.
He was sacked in January, with Salvador González, better known as “Voro”, taking interim charge for the sixth time during Lim’s ownership. He lasted only three matches, which Valencia lost, before he was replaced with current boss Ruben Baraja. Whether Valencia escape relegation this year, one thing is clear, the slimy palm oil merchant needs to go.
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Pressinphoto / Icon Sport