Valencia Back in the Big Time

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If disgruntled Manchester United fans had been forced to endure what poor old Valencia supporters have been through in recent years, then they would probably have gone to even more extraordinary measures to rage against the machine than changing the colour of their scarves.

Heck, they may even have sported silly hats to games. Or refused to change their socks between matches to force a chastened gaggle of Glazers out of town.

The Mestalla club’s debt still lies in the region of four to five hundred million euros and there is giant, stadium-sized lump of crumbling concrete in the city which is supposed to be a new ground, but which has not had any work done on it for a year-and-a-half now and unlikely to have anything done to it anytime soon, according to current club president, Manuel Llorente, who says that cash flow is still a bit of an issue at the club.

Over the past couple of years, Valencia have survived almost going bankrupt after a consortium of fans and the local council secured the club’s shares from some dodgy characters who previously owned them and kept them out of the hands of other very iffy interested parties, including one group whose address turned out to be false and who photocopied a picture from a children ’s colouring book to use as their logo.

But Valencia fans are starting to think that maybe, just maybe better times are around the corner.

It is true that nearly €100 million of players have been flogged over the past two summers including Raúl Albiol, David Villa, David Silva, Carlos Marchena, and Nikola Zigic.

However, a third place finish last season - still light years behind Barcelona and Real Madrid, mind - and a decent start to the current campaign where Valencia are unbeaten and top of the table no less, means that a generally grumpy mob in Mestalla is of a fairly chirpy bent, these days.

The visit of Manchester United is a bit of a symbolic one and shows that Valencia are back where they are belong in the Champions League after two seasons away. It’s also a bit of a boon for the local bars, says one local journalist, who claims that beer has been very much in demand in the east coast city.

Speaking from his living room sometime past midnight on Spanish radio on Tuesday night - managers aren’t allowed to go to bed in this football-crazed nation - Valencia coach, Unai Emery, fended off suggestions that the visitors would be bit easier to handle without the injured Wayne Rooney on Wednesday night.

Poor Unai then started to sound a tad concerned at the presenter's suggestion that choosing to not lock his players up in a hotel the night before a match was not the best of decisions with footballers doing what footballers are.

However, party-popper Ever Banega being out of the squad with injury helped ease the Valencia manager’s mind a bit, along with the fact that none of his players are English.

Valencia are expected to line-up against Manchester United in a good, old-fashioned 4-4-2 formation with the rumbustious Roberto Soldado and Ariz Aduritz up front flanked by two inside winger type things - oh yes, LLL has read a bit of a tactics book - in the form of Pablo Hernández and Juan Mata. Then again, they might not.

The game is set to be the Big One in Spain, on Wednesday night, simply because Barcelona are playing a couple of hours earlier in the city of Rubin. Or is it Kazan? Or maybe even Rubin Kazan?

On Tuesday night Real Madrid came away from Auxerre with a 1-0 win that was remarkable to the extend that it was wholly unremarkable with one of the few comments in the media coming from AS editor, Alfredo Relaño, who noted that “as I said on Tuesday, the press conferences here are fun here. The matches are something else.”

There hasn’t been too much other reaction elsewhere as Wednesday is General Strike day in Spain. Which probably means that the picket-line crossing, scab La Liga Loca should stop writing now.

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