Football

Valencia's glory days could be just around the corner

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The Champions League group stage draw could be used as Exhibit A in any disgruntled fan's attempt to show how football has moved away from its roots.

It's very much a mix of vacant choreographed interviews and corporate show-reels in front of an audience of boat-owning oligarchs in fine suits. It's not your average crowd.

But it also provides an insight into how Europe's premier club competition will shape up for the next four months. The super-clubs nervously hope they avoid each other and climatically-challenging trips to Eastern Europe while the newcomers are usually just happy to be there.

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However, that's not the case with Valencia.

A confident 4-3 aggregate play-off win over last year's quarter-finalists Monaco assured Los Che returned to the footballing top table for the first time in two years. It also means Spain will have a record-breaking five teams in the competition. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid claimed automatic berths while Sevilla booked their presence by winning last season's Europa League.

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History is something that's not lost on most Valencia fans. In 2000 and 2001, they were finalists in the competition before crippling financial problems reportedly to the tune of £300 million led to the sale of the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata and David Villa, with the ensuing chronic lack of investment leading to faded on-field performance.

Valencia are now writing a new chapter in their history. Bankrolled by entrepreneurial Singapore billionaire Peter Lim and buoyed by his close ties to super-agent Jorge Mendes, Els Taronges arrive at the group stages with a great deal of optimism.

In Nuno Espirito Santo, they have a manager whose keen attention to detail and clear ideals have enabled his richly technically-skilled squad to begin to bear fruit. The likes of one-time Bolton loanee Rodrigo, Sofiane Feghouli and Real Madrid-linked defender Shkodran Mustafi complement a system based on relentless work ethic supported by quick passing interchanges reminiscent of previous glory days.

The Champions League draw paired Valencia with Zenit St. Petersburg, Lyon and Gent in a favourable-looking Group H. Taking into account the burgeoning end product of a youthful team, the Espirito Santo will no doubt be orchestrating a plan for a return to the lofty knock out stages.

And the planning will have to begin in earnest. Star centre-back Nicolas Otamendi left for Manchester City in a £32 million deal meaning the demands of elite-level European football will force the Valencia hierarchy to reinvest before the transfer window closes on September 1.

The recently trusted tactic of buying young talent to then mould them to their system is likely to be on display again, but the dangling carrot of Champions League progress may tempt Lim and friends to open the cheque book for players coming into their peak.

It's difficult to forecast how Valencia's season will pan out, but their rise seems more a question of when rather than if.

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Topics:
Football
European News
Valencia
Spain Football

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