Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The curious case of Norberto Neto (starring Jasper Cillessen)

Various sites are now reporting what has been clear for a week. Jasper Cillessen has signed for Valencia after passing a medical, with Neto going the other way to Barcelona, where he will earn up to three times more.

For Cillessen, the move makes perfect sense. He will earn the same as he did at Barcelona and get a lot more game time than he would as second choice to Ter Stegen, one of the best keepers in the world.

The mystery remains, though, what went through Neto's head to prompt this change? Sure, he will get more money, but the whole point of him joining us in the first place was because he was fed up getting little game time at Juventus. Going to Barcelona seems a bit like Alcacer going there, a backward step in his career.

Neto was the first signing of the Marcelino era and, predictably, it led to a lot of grumbling from our fans, just see the post and the subsequent comments here. His early period didn't dispel that, as he seemed too static with some goals he conceded. but he improved greatly over time to the point of being a key player. If I ever get around to writing player ratings for the season just gone, Neto would certainly have been one of my top three, along with Parejo and Gaya. Some of our fans seem to have an obsession with bringing back past players and coaches, but the name of Diego Alves was quickly forgotten.

The stories doing the rounds are that it all blew up over the Copa del Rey. Marcelino confirmed that Jaume would play the final, as he had every game in the tournament. Having made that call, Marcelino then decided that Jaume should get the last two league games of the season to sharpen him up and get him ready for the cup final. It could all have backfired, with Jaume producing a ropey performance, like the questionable one away at Betis, but it didn't. Good decision from the coach.

It all seems to have gone down badly with Neto, though. There are various stories. One that he was annoyed because that meant that he was not in goal to celebrate either the league 4th place or cup successes. Another that he felt that this cost him a place in the Brazil squad for the Copa America. The last is that he had a fall-out with Marcelino. The last seems plausible. Neto's last game for us saw him concede four goals at home to Arsenal, a bit of a sad way to go out. It's entirely possible that Marcelino, annoyed by that coming after Neto had conceded nine goals in the 4 previous games, decided to bench Neto anyway.

So while it's sad it's ended this way, good luck to Neto. He'll get three times as much money for doing a quarter of the work. Who wouldn't say yes to that?

Unlike in previous cases, the replacement seems perfectly fine.


Cillessen is the same age and actually does better on most metrics than Neto. Does better in the air and better at playing the ball out from his feet. Some of our fans are grumbling as usual and I don't see why. I'd have preferred to keep Neto for continuity reasons but if he wants to go, the club has found a very good replacement.

Another big advantage of the deal is that Valencia gets the cash to clear their accounts by 30 June. If we hadn't done this, we'd have been forced into a big sale, probably of Rodrigo and for a lesser price than the club hoped for. As it is, we can play hardball on Rodrigo until the end of the transfer window.

What do you think of this deal?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Valencia v Barcelona (15 June 2003)

Today is a special anniversary for me. It was exactly 16 years ago that I finally got to visit Mestalla. Valencia at that time had been on a roll. Two unsuccessful Champions league finals in a row in 2000 and 2001 had been followed by the first league title in over 30 years. After all that excitement, the 2002-2003 season was a let down.  In the Champions league, after negotiating the two group stages (this was the last to feature two group stages) Valencia went out in the quarters to Inter Milan on away goals. In the Copa, Valencia's rotations didn't work and after a 3-3 draw at now defunct third level Alicante CF, we lost on penalties in the round of 32.

In La Liga, Valencia had struggled, dropping from third to the fringes of the Champions league places in spring. The biggest problem was one that had been clear the previous season. Even when we won the title, Ruben Baraja had been our top scorer with a risible 7 goals. Strong defence had saved us. (Sound familiar?) This season had been the same, with the team really struggling for goals. At the time of this game, John Carew was the leading scorer, with a disappointing 8 goals.

A 1-2 defeat to Real Madrid in the previous game at Mestalla in the 35th round of games had allowed Celta to overtake us for fourth. So this game, the 37th of the season, was crucial to our Champions league hopes.

Our rivals, Barcelona, had their own issues. The arrival of a certain little Argentinian guy was a few seasons in the future and they had missed out on the top three in the previous three seasons and were languishing in seventh place. With both cup finalists not in the top six, Barca were in serious danger of missing out on Europe altogether. They came into this game hoping to avenge Valencia's 4-2 win at the Camp Nou in January.

The positions at the time of the game were:

1. Sociedad 73 pts
2. R. Madrid 72
3. D. Corunya 69
4. Celta Vigo 58
5. Valencia 57
6. A. Bilbao 52
7. Barcelona 50

Real Sociedad were chasing their first title since 1982 and would ultimately be unsuccessful.

The day of the game itself had been baking hot, the season started a bit later then and went on a month longer, finishing on 22 June with the cup final a week after that. I was looking for work in Valencia at the time so had to settle for the cheaper seats "in the clouds" at 42 euro a go.



Valencia lined up with a 4-2-3-1. Canizares and a defence of Carboni, Marchena, Pellegrino and the on-loan Reveillere. Screening them were Baraja and De Los Santos. The attacking midfield was made up of Kily Gonzalez, Aimar and Rufete, supporting the lone striker, Carew.

Barcelona's line-up was Valdes ; Gabri, Puyol, De Boer, Reiziger ; Enrique, Mendieta, Cocu, Overmars ; Kluivert, Javier Saviola.

Luis Enrique, of course, would go on to manage Barcelona and Spain, while Gaizka Mendieta was making his first return to the Mestalla since his transfer two years earlier.

The game itself proved a baptism of fire for me. Strangely enough, despite it being a relatively unimportant league game in the pre-YouTube era, the full game is online. I only recommend it if any of you are feeling masochistic, though.

The first half saw Barcelona have the better chances and Canizares had to make a couple of saves. The dynamic changed just before half-time. Marchena brought down Mendieta and then Carew lost it a bit, body checking the referee and then getting in his face to get a debatable straight red card. Mendieta scored to make it 1-0.

Those events put Valencia on the back foot for the second half. Juan Sanchez came on for Rufete, with youth player Borja Criado later coming on to make his third and final appearance for the first team. Those attacking changes failed to produce the equaliser and, in the 73rd minute, the first half repeated. Barcelona countered, Luis Enrique dribbled past two of our guys and was brought down by Carboni just before he could shoot. A clear penalty, but the double punishment of a red card for Carboni seemed harsh. 0-2 down, with 9 men and news coming in that Celta were 2 goals up against Sociedad spelled the end of Valencia's Champions league hopes. Marc Overmars added a third for Barcelona before Juan Sanchez gave us a late consolation goal.

Sociedad's defeat at Celta cost them the title. Carew's season had ended on a low note, he was loaned out the following season and never kicked a ball for Valencia again. Mista took over as main forward and produced a better following season.

Valencia went on to finish fifth, qualifying for the UEFA Cup which we won as part of a league and European double. For me, it was a sign of things to come: harsh and dubious refereeing decisions favouring Barcelona and disappointing seasons would feature quite a bit in the next 16 years but those just make the wins even sweeter.

How was your first game at Mestalla?


Monday, June 10, 2019

Valencia's future in European competitions

In this post last year I looked at how Valencia would benefit from European competition financially. The figures for that are almost in. Valencia have so far earned 40.75m from the Champions league (15.25m participation fee, 17.7m from the ten-year ranking, 3m per win and 0.9m per draw.) On top of that, the club gets 5.5m from the Europa league. TV money is yet to come on top of that, I'd guess around 8m, though the figures aren't usually released until mid-October. When you add gate receipts, merchandising and so on, our windfall from European competitions easily passes 60 million.



When you look at the breakdown, it's obvious that the Champions league (CL) is where it's at: we got over seven times as much money from that as the Europa league. Does that mean we should ignore the Europa league altogether? Not at all, without the ranking points from that we would be in pot 4, instead of pot 3, in next August's draw and would also receive 3.4m less in CL money next season.

Ensuring that that money keeps coming in and making progress in Europe are the big challenges ahead.

SEEDING
The news here isn't good. You would think that Valencia reaching the semi-finals of the Europa league would boost our ranking, maybe even putting us in with a chance of pot 2, but in reality we are almost unchanged from last season. This website (look under the CL tab) assumes that seeded teams win in each round. Valencia are guaranteed pot 3, but are much closer to pot 4 than pot 2. That's down to the fact that seeding is based on the last 5 years in European competition and Valencia was absent in 14/15, 16/17 and 17/18.

For ranking points, teams get 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw in European competitions. There is 1 bonus point for reaching quarters, another for the semis and another for the final. Those points are the same for either Europa league or CL. For CL, teams also get 4 bonus points for playing group stage and 5 bonus points for last 16.

Looking at the CL tab in the link above shows the problem. Valencia are 33.5 points behind the last ranked team in pot 2, Ajax. We could catch up this season but not enough. The ranking points from 15/16 then expire after next season which means that we are basically stuck in pot 3 of the CL until at least the 2022-23 season, that's the next three seasons at least playing groups of death, unless we get pot 1 by winning a European tournament. Missing a single season in Europe or failing to reach at least CL last 16 or EL quarters will prolong that. We must qualify for Europe and take whatever competition we're in seriously.

CONFIRMED CHANGES AHEAD
The problem with the current European competitions is that no one is happy with them. UEFA's tendency to give increasing numbers of guaranteed places in the group stages to a handful of top countries has forced most federations to play a ridiculous number of qualifying rounds, up to 6 for the smallest federations and 4 for most. For clubs in The Baltics, for example, that means that usually 2 or 3 of 4 entrants fall at the first hurdle, with any survivors usually culled off a round or two after that and facing unsexy ties against clubs from Scandinavia, Poland, Czechia, Belarus or The Balkans. It's hardly a way to promote interest in football in countries where ice hockey seems more interesting.

To cater for the concerns of smaller clubs, UEFA is establishing a new third-level competition, provisionally called Europa league 2 until they can think of a better title. That will start in the 2021-22 season and will feature the last qualifier from Spain, could be us if we finish 7th. The winners of that only qualify for the Europa league and the money is likely to be even worse than that so it's one for us to avoid.

SUPER LEAGUE?
Of far more interest to us are the proposed changes to the CL for 2024. Richer clubs like Manchester United are annoyed at missing out on the CL and UEFA themselves recognise the $$$ that they can earn by having them in. UEFA has suggested a more closed arrangement for the CL. Under that, there would be four groups of 8 teams instead of eight groups of 4. The bottom 8 teams would be relegated to the Europa league, with the other 24 continuing for the next season. After the inaugural season, the only way to get into the CL would be by winning the domestic league then being one of 4 teams winning play-offs between 40+ champions or finishing in the last 4 of Europa league, which would likely be a tougher prospect as all teams would take that far more seriously.

With a guaranteed 14 games instead of 6 in that, CL prize money would more than double. Valencia could potentially be looking at 100+ million a season for participating in that. A few seasons of that would more than wipe out the club's debts and leave us solvent for the first time in 30 years. But only if we get in. It's not yet been confirmed how the teams will be selected for that but the general thinking is that it would be done on the basis of UEFA's 10-year ranking, with maybe the top 32 from that or top 30 and the Europa league and CL winners from the season before. Valencia are currently 23rd in it, but more recent lists start to put us lower: 27th in the last one I can find.

It has to be said that the changes are only proposed and due to be discussed in August. Valencia and other clubs have already expressed opposition and there's a good chance the changes will be rejected, but I really think some change like that is inevitable. The idea of a European super league has been around since the late 1980s and you only have to look at recent developments to see this. Winning the domestic league is now usually not enough. In recent times, PSG have parted company with Emery and Juventus with Allegri despite domestic league success, while Valverde is under heavy pressure at Barcelona. In all cases, it's because of failings in the CL. Among major leagues, England is the only exception to this. All that suggests that a super league will happen, likely through reform of the CL and Valencia has to be in that.

Interesting and challenging years ahead.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

How changes to domestic cups will affect Valencia

There are some major changes coming up in domestic cups, with more confirmed and proposed for Europe. Here I want to look at how the changes to domestic cups will affect us.

COPA DEL REY



The old format which has been used for about 15 years was seen as boring, so the Spanish Football Federation decided to make some changes, inspired by the German and English domestic cups. The number of teams has been expanded slightly, from 83 to 126. For the first time since the early 1980s, teams from the Regional Preferente, the fifth level of Spanish football, will gain entry.

The other big changes are that only the four clubs playing the Super Cup will start in the last 32. The other La Liga clubs will start two rounds earlier. Instead of two-legged games, as we've seen up to now, all ties, except the semi-finals, will now be one game only. No replays, just extra time and penalties if needed. Games will be played at the ground of the team that is in a lower division.

If two teams from the same division are drawn against each other, the first team drawn will have home advantage. After preliminary rounds reduce the Regional Preferente teams down to 10, the Regional Preferente and Tercera division teams, along with 4 Segunda B teams, will be drawn at home to the La Liga teams. This round will be regionalised, though how regional we will have to wait and see.

Effects for Valencia are
  • Fewer games. Winning the cup next year would only require playing 6 games rather than 9. If we are not in the Super Cup, it's still 8 games instead of 9. 
  • Shorter first round trips. Valencia have headed to Vigo in the first round in recent times. If we're not in the super cup, we shouldn't have so far to travel.
  • Loss of revenue. Fewer cup games at Mestalla, as lower league teams get home advantage.
  • The cup gets a bit more open. In the past, Barcelona and Real Madrid could lose their first leg against La Liga opposition and win the return: that happened this season with Barcelona losing 0-2 at Sevilla but battering them at Camp Nou. I think it's more likely that clubs outside the big two can win now.
  • Less chance to blood young players. The two-legged format suited La Liga clubs well. We could experiment with the team and include some promising reserve team players in the starting line-up in the first leg, safe in the knowledge that, if we screwed up and lost, we could put out a stronger line-up in the second leg at Mestalla and overturn the loss. That's exactly what happened this season against Gijon. This allowed us to try out players like Gaya, Kang-In and Alcacer in the past. Now, we won't be able to gamble too much with a weaker squad in the first leg.
Overall, the changes are better for the neutral, but mixed for us, especially from the development point of view.

SPANISH SUPER CUP

Similar to the Copa del Rey, the Super Cup expands next season to four teams. Instead of the league champions against the cup winners (or runners-up if a team won the double) over two legs it will be the cup finalists and the two highest placed teams in La Liga playing single leg games outside Spain. Saudi Arabia is the likely venue for this. Valencia were very angry about this, arguing that forcing us to play a semi-final, when we had qualified by right for the final, was unfair. The club said it supported the expansion for future seasons, but not for next. The changes have gone ahead anyway. Valencia made noises about legal action but this hasn't happened.

The draw has already been made, Valencia will face Atletico Madrid on 8 January, with Barcelona - Real Madrid the following day and the final on 12 January. There are conflicting stories about the division of revenue. Some sources suggested we would get 1 million, Atletico 2m and the big two 6m each, which sounded blatantly unfair. Later, Goal.com reported that the losing semi-finalists will get 800,000 each, the runner-up 2m and the winner 2.8m. 

Effects for Valencia

  • More chance of qualifying. 4th in La Liga will probably be there about a third of the time.
  • More money. Foreign cities will pay more to host it.
  • The neutral games often won't be neutral. Barcelona and Real Madrid have far more international fans than we do. Barcelona vs Valencia played in Miami, for example, would be virtually the same as Barcelona playing at home.
  • Less disadvantage in La Liga when playing the Super Cup. Under the old format, we would have had 2 extra games next season while other La Liga clubs have a nice break. This time, we'll be playing at the same time that they play Copa del Rey games. 
So, apart from next season, and assuming that the money will be performance based, these changes are better for us.

In a future post, I'll look at how changes to European competitions could affect us.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Manchester City interested in Jose Luis Gaya

Manchester City are set to redesign their defense this season as they are looking to offload their older players and bring in young and talented players that are going to last them for the next decade. Guardiola is a keen follower of Valencia CF left backs, having worked with Juan Bernat in Bayern Munich and closely followed Jordi Alba in VCF and Barcelona, at one point he was also interested in Jose Gaya, but had other priority positions.

Jose Luis Gaya has been one of our best players this season though and probably for the past several seasons as well, so Valencia CF is not going to let him go on the cheap, with the club supposedly only willing to release Gaya if an offer of 70+ million euros arrives.

Manchester City don't really have a problem with money and even FFP hasn't seem to have affected their transfers, so they have the monetary ability to facilitate the transfer. Other clubs that are following the situation and might potentially make a play for Gaya are Real Madrid, who've been chasing the player for quite a while now, but have always prioritized other positions. Manchester United are also redesigning their squad this season and Solskjaer is set to start with the defense, bringing in high quality players in the defense.


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Ruben Sobrino to be sold

Valencia CF is looking to offload Ruben Sobrino this summer transfer window even though the player only arrived in January this year. Truth of the matter is that Ruben Sobrino didn't impose himself on the coach and failed to displace Rodrigo or Gameiro or Mina out of their position even though they were all struggling for goals in the first half of the season.

This is why he is not surplus to requirements, as he was only brought in to displace any of our misfiring forwards in January and having failed to do that he is now our 4th striker and one which Valencia CF don't have a need of.


Facundo Roncaglia to return to Celta Vigo

Facundo Roncaglia will return to Celta Vigo after the expiration of his loan deal and Valencia CF won't be purchasing the player. As you all remember he was brought in January as a defensive cover, after Valencia CF loaned out Murillo to FC Barcelona, though Roncaglia barely ended up featuring as the trio of Gabriel, Garay and Diakhaby covered the CB role and Wass ended up being cover and even a starter at rear back. 

Right now it seems that Murillo will complete the central defense, unless Valencia CF has an interesting offer for him, in which case the club might sell and have Ruben Vezo as the fourth player in central defense.