[dropcap]A[/dropcap] hard-fought 3-2 win away to Almeria at the weekend confirmed Valencia’s return to Champions League football next season, with the Mestalla outfit finishing fourth in La Liga – one point ahead of high-flying Sevilla.
Nuno’s men have been bolstered by investment from new owner Peter Lim, which has the potential to fire the club back towards the glory days of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
However, a crucial piece in the Los Che puzzle is accomplished Argentine defender Nicolás Otamendi, with keeping the centre-half at the club a key objective for the ambitious La Liga outfit this summer.
The 27-year-old has been a integral part of a team that has pushed on since the start of the year, with the no-nonsense South American finally living up to his billing and looking like a real leader of men.
For Otamendi, getting to an elite level at the European game’s pinnacle has taken time and dedication, but he can currently be adjudged as one of the best in the business in his position.
After starring for boyhood club Velez Sarsfield, the versatile defender ended up in Europe with shrewd Portuguese outfit Porto in 2010, where he spent four years in and out of the first-team.
At times eclipsed by others, such as Eliaquim Mangala and Rolando, Valencia acquired the Argentine’s services in 2014, ending the defender’s hot and cold stint at the Estádio do Dragão.
However, with Los Che not having the facility for more non EU players last season, Otamendi was immediately sent out on a six-month loan to Brazilian side Atlético Mineiro.
This season the Argentine defender has been a rock at the back for Nuno’s side and has shown not only dedicated defending but that he has the ability to be a talisman for his side.
Arguably his best performance of the campaign saw the enforcer spearhead Valencia’s comeback 2-1 win over Real Madrid at the Mestalla in the first match of the year in January.
A comprehensive showing saw Otamendi foil the capital city giants time and again, before going up the other end to head the winner and end Madrid’s club record 22-match winning streak.
The South American also got on the scoresheet in the crucial last day victory over Almeria and has put in performances reminiscent of fellow Argentine Roberto Ayala, who bossed the Los Che backline for seven years in the 2000’s.
Otamendi has been a driving force in a Valencia side that looks like it will only get better with added investment.
With Valencia looking to rid themselves of the ‘selling club’ moniker, the recent contract extension of promising left-back José Luis Gayà, amid reported interest from Real Madrid, was a telling step in the right direction for Los Che.
However, media reports in Spain suggest that Otamendi is unlikely to show the same level of dedication to the Mestalla cause.
The player’s agent has stated that the Argentine has told the club of his ambitions to leave, despite Champions League qualification, with the defender seemingly eyeing up a move to more glamorous surrounds.
Valencia president Amadeo Salvo has since retorted that the South American battler is free to leave the Mestalla, but only if a bid in the region of €50 million reaches his desk.
Manchester United have been the team most commonly linked with Otamendi, with the historic Old Trafford outfit looking to rebuild and needing a defensive leader.
The 27-year-old’s physical presence and never-say-die attitude on the pitch look ideal for the Premier League side, with Louis van Gaal’s men lacking defensive grit since the departure of Nemanja Vidić.
United, like Valencia, will return to European football’s elite competition again next season and as such it appears that the strong centre-half is caught between two transitional clubs on the upward trajectory.
The Copa America is next on the agenda for Otamendi, who will hope to play a considerable role for his nation after missing out on the World Cup.
Whether it is following in the footsteps of compatriot Ayala at Valencia or as United’s new defensive fulcrum, Otamendi looks set to be a dominant figure in the 2015-16 European season.
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