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Valencia’s grim fairytale, by the Brothers Neville

Photo courtesy: The Independent
Photo courtesy: The Independent
Photo courtesy: The Independent

Gary Neville has been named Valencia’s new manager. Phil Neville is assistant manager.

Yes. You read that right.

But before you go all “Say what?” about the news – and you reserve the right to that reaction – here’s why we think this is an excellent move for the struggling Spanish side.

Let’s set the stage first.

The first character we would like you to meet is Peter Lim, the Singaporean owner of Valencia CF. Lim is business partners with with the two stars of this drama – Gary Neville and brother Phil. Lim also owns half of Salford City, the football club founded by the famed Manchester United Class of ’92, of which the Brothers Neville are decorated graduates.

Naturally, this association extended into Spain as well at the beginning of this season, when Lim apppointed Phil Neville as assistant manager to the fourth man in our saga, head coach and manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

(There’s a fifth man in all of this, too, but more on that later.)

Valencia had great 2014-15 season. They finished 4th on the La Liga table, one solitary point behind the 3rd-placed Atletico Madrid. They were eligible to a play-off in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round. They had beaten Real Madrid 2-1 at home and had drawn with them 2-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu. And all of this in Nuno Espirito Santo’s maiden season in charge of the Spanish club, who was given an extension that would keep him at the helm until 2018.

Out on a Lim

Peter Lim, controversial owner of Valencia Football Club. Photo courtesy: The Guardian
Peter Lim, controversial owner of Valencia Football Club. Photo courtesy: The Guardian

When Peter Lim took over the club last summer, the Valencia faithful could sense a revival in the fortunes of the iconic club. But one of Lim’s first actions – sacking president Amadeo Salvo and sporting director Rufete – triggered a growing sense of unease at the club.

These off-field developments seemed peripheral positive when Valencia began the 2015-16 season with great promise – they beat Monaco in the qualifiers to enter the group stages of the Champions League. However, things soon began spiralling out of control.

The truth was, despite delivering results, Nuno could never really boast of having the backing of the fans, and even worse, his team.

He was the 13th manager in 10 years of instability at Valencia. Remember, Valencia is a club with two stadiums: one they tried unsuccessfully to sell, and another they tried unsuccessfully to build.

Supporters wanted to know what Lim’s plans for the club were. And then they asked questions of Jorge Mendes’ role.

Character No. 5: the Silent Partner

Super Agent Jorge Mendes seems to control the goings-on at Valencia. Photo courtesy: newmoney.gr
Super Agent Jorge Mendes seems to control the goings-on at Valencia. Photo courtesy: newmoney.gr

Meet Jorge Mendes: Football’s super agent, the man who represents the biggest players in the world, and the man who brokered the deal that brought Lim to Valencia. And in a strange coincidence, it was Nuno who was Mendes first client when the Valencia manager was a player.

With Nuno’s links with Mendes established, players and fans quickly put two and two together, and came to one conclusion: Jorge Mendes was the man who was silently running the club, and Nuno was “his man”.

Soon, Nuno began making decisions that would only cement this fact. He left Alvaro Negredo out of the squad, for “sporting reasons”. When Negredo complained about the lack of opportunities, Nuno told him he would offer an explanation, but only in private. And not just Negredo, the departure of Nicolas Otamendi and the arrivals of Aymen Abdennor and Adrelan were points of contention. Lately, when the untested 19-yer-old Rafa Mir was promoted to the Champions League squad, the fault lines were truly opened. Because everyone knew Mir was a Mendes man.

Clamours of “Nuno go now” became more and more vociferous with every passing game. And they finally had the desired effect: This week, Nuno announced his decision to resign from his post. And a day later, he was unceremoniously sacked.

Speaking at the post-match conference after a defeat at Sevilla, which saw Valencia record zero shots on target, admitted to “social, not sporting” issues that forced his hand.

He was wrong, however. Every football fan knows positive results can paper over cracks; they also know poor results split them wide open. And Valencia have not turned in the positive results that could have hidden the problems. Despite a promising start to their campaign, Valencia are 9th on the table with ony 5 wins in 13 games.

Gary Neville, the unlikely Messiah

Gary Neville will be helped by his brother Phil, who has already been at the club for half a year now. Photo courtesy: The Daily Mail
Gary Neville will be helped by his brother Phil, who has already been at the club for half a year now. Photo courtesy: The Daily Mail

And this is the mess that Gary Neville must inherit, and hope to mould into success.

Gary, though, isn’t walking into Mestalla a blind man. His relationship with Lim and the fact that his closest friend and confidante – brother Phil – is already at the club would mean the former Manchester United defender is well aware of what needs to be done.

And Valencia need someone like him, too: a no-nonsense type of manager with a determinedly British school of thought, especially one moulded by the great Alex Ferguson and who follows Sir Alex’s Guide to Managing Football Teams.

But will the club accept the man who has public ties with owner Lim, who himself is a Mendes man? Time will tell.

Politics aside, Valencia need a man of Gary Neville’s credentials. A¬†team man who knows what it takes to win.

Knowledge and astuteness go hand in hand when Gary Neville is concerned. When he left Manchester United after his playing days were done, no one expected the right back would take to television. However, Gary has proved to be a remarkable analyst of the game with a steadily growing legion of fans. His analysis of games and performances are direct, insightful and quite often turn seemingly innocuous incidents on the pitch into potential game changers.

It is this out-of-the-box approach to football that Valencia need.

In his playing days, Manchester United midfielders and forwards could often depend on Gary Neville to blot out marauding oppostion runs down the flanks; the defender usually never let anyone past him, always keeping the situation under control.

Neville will be put in charge of a young team that finished fourth last season. A young team with undeniable talent; they only need guidance. And guidance is something that the new manager is a master of.

For the now at least, Valencia supporters will hope they can just “Leave it to Gary”.

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