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Valencia follow the Arsenal model, but is success around the corner?
- Updated: 29 November, 2012
It’s been a frustrating few years for followers of English Premier League side Arsenal. In fact the North London club find themselves in a fairly unique struggle – behind only two or three teams in the battle for domestic honours, yet still quite a way from them in terms of both success and finances. Arsenal fans cannot hope any time soon to loosen Manchester’s grip on the top prizes, but at the same time they are not in much danger of slipping out of the crucial Champions League places.
After years of arguably over-achieving, with a self-sustaining model bringing success under Arsene Wenger, this now feels like under-achieving, even though they now have more than just Manchester United to think about; they have the big money of Chelsea and Manchester City, as well as a much-improved Tottenham Hotspur. This weekend the fans reacted with a surprisingly high level of hostility to a 0-0 with Aston Villa – hardly the end of the world I think you’ll agree, especially when comparing the club’s current fortunes with the closest equivalent in Spain’s La Liga: Valencia CF.
On the same weekend, los Che were unceremoniously brushed aside 4-0 by Malaga at La Rosaleda, a rising force in La Liga (like Chelsea and City in England, with the aid of rich owners). Valencia find themselves in 11th place, with five defeats already. The manner of the defeat is likely to cause alarm, but if they do find themselves out of the top four at the end of the season, perhaps it wouldn’t be harsh to say it’s been coming for a while.
Like Arsenal, Valencia have had to sell their top players for a number of years now. While in recent times the Gunners have parted with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, Valencia have lost David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba to bigger and richer teams. Even Pablo Hernandez was sold to Swansea, and while he’s hardly a big name in the category of those mentioned above, he has certainly impressed viewers in the Premier League with his displays so far.
Similar to Alex Song’s departure to Barcelona during the summer, Hernandez is not exactly an irreplaceable talent, however having a settled squad with players around who know the club is usually a key factor to success; this is becoming a luxury that the likes of Arsenal and Valencia seemingly can’t afford, with the clubs all too happy to sell when any offers come in.
For Arsenal, this trend started with a move to their new stadium, a move Valencia themselves will be making in 2013. Like the Emirates, the 75,000-seater Nou Mestalla is expected to be a move towards long-term success. In the short term, however, I must warn Valencia fans to expect more of the same. I speak from experience.
Looking over at this situation in the East of Spain, I can take some perspective in Arsenal’s ‘plight’. Perhaps we have had to deal with trading experienced quality for untried youth at times, but we have been fortunate to retain our loyal manager Arsene Wenger, who continues to get the best out of the limited squad he has.
Valencia have not been so lucky, losing Unai Emery in the summer to Spartak Moscow. Emery may not have been a fan favourite at the Mestalla but he did manage to guide los Che to third place in three successive seasons (even if they finished a full 39 points behind champions Real Madrid last term). Wenger himself has been targetted by clubs like Real Madrid in the past, but has stayed true to his mission to do his best for Arsenal with minimal resources.
As a result of Emery’s departure – ironically he has since been relieved of his duties in Moscow, Valencia have turned to a youthful coach in the shape of former player Mauricio Pellegrino. Unlike Arsenal, who have inexperienced players, los Che now now have an inexperienced coach, who in taking the job has taken his first senior coaching role, having previously only worked as an assistant at Liverpool and Inter Milan – both times, coinicdentally, under former Valencia boss Rafael Benitez, whom he also played under in his days as a player with the club.
In recent times, we have seen a great deal of success from clubs hiring young coaches and club legends – none more so than Pep Guardiola with Barcelona, but also with Roberto Di Matteo in his short time at Chelsea, and Antonio Conte at Juventus. It is a romantic model to try and follow, but the difference is these coaches inherited already vastly talented squads, and did not have to deal immediately with selling key players. Pellegrino has certainly taken up a big challenge for his first job in football, one that so far is not looking like ending well.
So far, Arsenal have ridden the storm; they have held onto their most valuable asset – an experienced manager. One also feels that as the stadium debt is paid off, the good times may once again be just around the corner. I don’t have quite the same optimism for Valencia.