Valencia’s leading players will be sold this summer as the club’s financial crisis deepens.
By Sid Lowe in Madrid
“International footballer for hire. Available for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Children’s parties a speciality. Call Valencia CF and ask for David.”
Has it really come to this? In a word, yes. Very nearly at least. They may not have been asked to twist balloons into animal shapes to delight squealing kids, but Valencia really have announced that their players are available for hire. Just like their pitch is. Fancy a kick-about at Mestalla? Now, for a few thousand Euros, you can.
The reason is simple: Valencia are a club in crisis, saddled with an estimated £500million debt. Their very survival is under threat and they have now gone into a process that is essentially administration without the administrators. What can be sold, rented or exploited for cash, must be. So bad have Valencia’s financial troubles become that they cannot allow any revenue stream – however minor, however absurd – to slip through their fingers.
It is time for the asset-stripping to begin. What that means above all, of course, is that their best players will depart. Valencia will have to squeeze David Silva, David Villa, Joaquin, Juan Mata, Raul Albiol and the rest dry…and then sell them at the end of the season. And even that may not be sufficient to secure survival.
Valencia will have to sell their players because they could not sell their stadium. The world economic crisis has hit Spain harder than most, and the Spanish construction and housing market – two markets Valencia were depending upon – harder yet. Throw in incompetent management from majority shareholder Juan Soler and his successors, and the net result is an unmitigated disaster with no apparent solution.
Players went two months without being paid until a short-term loan was agreed with local businesses. The president no longer controls the club and the owner does not want to own it. Nor is there a saviour on the horizon.
“We have,” admitted coach Unai Emery, “reached rock bottom.”
When Soler made himself president in October 2004, Valencia had enjoyed four glorious years, reaching two Champions League Finals, and winning two league titles and the Uefa Cup. Four years later, they’d gone through five sporting directors, three director generals, three medical chiefs, three ostracised footballers and the club captain taking the president to court.
Money was wasted at an alarming rate, with the club’s debt rising from £125m to well over £400m. It is now believed to be in excess of £500m.
Something in the region of £17m each was spent on Nikola Zigic, Manuel Fernandes, and Ever Banega – three players who never had significant roles in the side – and over £30m went on severance payments alone for coaches Claudio Ranieri, Quique Sanchez Flores and Ronald Koeman.
The solution was to sell the land upon which Mestalla stands and build a new stadium. And so Valencia began work on a wonderful new arena while preparing to sell their old one. They planned to repeat the trick with their Paterna training ground.
But the property bubble burst and they could not find a buyer for either Mestalla or Paterna. Nor could they find the money to pay for the building work on the new stadium.
Soler sold his shares to Vicente Soriano, who promised to pay him £80m and find a buyer for Mestalla at £300m, but things went from bad to worse as Soriano broke both promises and the shirt sponsors dropped the club…as did the regional government.
With Valencia owing £14m to the companies building the new stadium, and a further £15m to their players, they ground to a halt. The players went unpaid and promptly stopped winning, and work stopped on the new stadium, which lies unfinished as a monument to mismanagement and megalomania.
That was when Bancaja – Valencia’s main creditor, who are owed some £240m – took over, imposing an austerity package on the club. “We must,” said Javier Gomez, the new executive director, “cut costs and raise money.”
In other words, with the stadium having morphed from a golden goose into an albatross round the neck, they have to exploit the few real assets they have: the players.
And so it’s auction time this summer, with everyone from Manchester United to Liverpool, Real Madrid to Barcelona, Juventus to Milan invited.
Anyone need a couple of midfielders, a reserve goalkeeper and a left-back?