Breaking the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spanish football is something that few have managed to come close to in recent times, with the main contender over the last 15 years certainly Valencia CF.
The Mestalla outfit have gone toe-to-toe with the Clásico powerhouses, and on a much smaller budget battled their way to success against the odds.
La Liga champions in 2001-02 and 2003-04, Los Che have been generally acknowledged as ‘the best of rest’ in recent times as Barca and Madrid regain their grip on Spanish football.
An immensely talented Valencia side was also on the cusp of becoming European victors, falling at the last hurdle in both 2000 and 2001 as beaten finalists in the Champions League.
Today, the Mestalla faithful would love to be able to call on the mercurial talents of superstars of yesteryear, with Gaizka Mendieta, Rubén Baraja and Kily González just a handful of top-quality players to step out for Valencia in the not-so distant memory.
In recent seasons the club has been weighed down by burgeoning finances, and has been forced to sell its best players consistently over the last five years. Had the likes of David Villa, Juan Mata, David Silva, Jordi Alba, Isco and Roberto Soldado remained at the Mestalla, Los Che would surely be still challenging for major honours.
Once one of the fortresses of Spanish football, the fear factor that teams had in travelling to the Mestalla has been lost slightly, while on the pitch Valencia’s current charges are failing to live up to the heady heights of their predecessors.
Last term Valencia finished outside the top four in La Liga for the first time in four seasons, with Real Sociedad beating them to the all-illusive final Champions League qualification spot.
Without participation in Europe’s top tournament and a restricted budget due to an impending financial crisis, the depleted Valencia squad have struggled to compete with the best sides in the Spanish top flight this season.
After 13 games of the new campaign, five victories sees the Mestalla outfit sitting in ninth place, 20 points off top spot already. Defeat to the likes of Barcelona is understandable given the disparity in comparative resources, but a number of poor results, especially at home, have taken the wind out of the club’s sails.
Losing 3-0 to Swansea in the Europa League, in Spain, gave an indication of the demise of Valencia on the continent. In La Liga, home defeats to modest opponents such as Almería and a misfiring Sociedad have been compounded by the fact that only five clubs in the division have conceded more goals than Los Che.
Manager Miroslav Đukić has a modest 22-man first-team squad at his disposal currently, with international players such as Adil Rami and Aly Cissokho on loan elsewhere to nullify the debilitating impact of considerable wages.
The latest talent linked with a departure in an effort to balance the books is mercurial playmaker Éver Banega, while the once superstar-laden squad of Valencia is looking light on quality currently.
Financial mismanagement must be accredited as the chief reason for the gradual demise of a once successful football club. Valencia are currently looking to survive on a shoestring budget amid hefty expectations from a Mestalla faithful that has become accustomed to success over the last decade. What the immediate future holds remains to be seen.