BBC BLOGS - Phil Minshull
« Previous | Main | Next »

Valencia, valour and violence

Post categories:

Phil Minshull | 21:39 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

On Friday night, I could have constructed a long list of things that I didn't expect to see on Monday morning but, if I had then erased anything sordid or relating to my personal life, Valencia sitting pretty in La Liga's number one spot would have featured very near the top.

The facts have been touched upon in this blog a couple of times in the past but in the summer Valencia sold their best two players from recent seasons, David Villa and David Silva.

They can't sell their own Mestalla stadium thanks to the Spanish economic crisis and work on the Nou Mestalla has not progressed in the last 18 months owing to the club's huge debts.

For the last two seasons, players' wages have been routinely paid late, often several months in arrears, and estimates of how much in the red the club really is suggests that a figure of around 450m euros may be not too far off the mark.

Valencia celebrate scoring against Hercules

It is all smiles at the moment for La Liga leaders Valencia

Under normal circumstances, you might have expected all the fight to have gone from the players - and for last year's third-placed team in La Liga to gently slip towards the lower reaches of the division.

However, the reverse has happened and they are again shining in adversity.

Much of the credit, in no small part, has to go to their coach Unai Emery, who could easily have walked into a job at another good - and more financially stable - club, but he valiantly decided to stay for another season.

Emery is now being widely talked about as a possible replacement for Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque if, as expected, he stands down after Euro 2012.

Admittedly, we are only three games into the season here in Spain and Valencia have yet to face any of the big guns like Barcelona, Real Madrid or even local rivals Villarreal.

Nevertheless, away trips to Malaga and Alicante, where Hercules are based, could have been fraught with problems for a club on the slide but, instead, Valencia put them both to the sword.

The win over Hercules was especially impressive as the home side was still basking in the glory of the shock result of the last couple of seasons, beating Barcelona 2-0 in the Camp Nou a week ago.

Valencia's Spain internationals Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez are gelling well up front and only a couple of questionable refereeing decisions stopped them from defeating Hercules by an even bigger margin.

The Valencia defence was regularly pulled out of position, which could cost them dearly against other opponents, and they gave former French international David Trezeguet, once one of Europe's top strikers and still a potent force at 32, far too much room but they had Cesar Sanchez to mop up after their mistakes.

Despite turning 39 earlier this month, and clearly in the autumn of his career, Cesar Sanchez has rarely been playing better.

It makes you wonder what they could be capable of if everything off-the-field was a little rosier.

I was at Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon on Sunday night to witness Barcelona show their class with an outstanding 2-1 win over their hosts.

On the way home, while digesting the fact that Valencia are now the only team with a 100% record in La Liga, I was also musing on the fact that the game showed both sides of Spanish football.

Barcelona could easily have won 5-1 but second-half heroics from the home side's increasingly assured keeper David De Gea, with two outstanding saves from Lionel Messi and another from David Villa, kept the scoreline respectable.

Remember this guy doesn't turn 20 until November and was just one year old when Cesar Sanchez made his Primera debut.

If my memory serves me well, De Gea seems to have even better skills in the air than Iker Casillas at this age, when the latter broke into the Real team during the 1999-2000 season, and as good positional ability as the man who is now the Spanish number one and arguably still the world's leading goalkeeper. Nor was De Gea at fault for either of the Barca goals.

I'm of the opinion that he's currently the best young goalkeeper in Europe at the moment and, even on last season's exploits, he looks like a leading candidate for the Bravo Award that goes to the top under-21 player in European football.

Casillas himself got this honour - awarded by the Italian magazine Guerin Sportivo - in 2000 and was the last goalkeeper to do so.

This year's announcement should be in about a month's time. Does anyone out there have other contenders?

Already a candidate for the dubious and unofficial award of Worst Foul Of The Season is De Gea's team mate, the Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi, who displayed a very personal and brutal interpretation of the phrase 'injury time' on Sunday.

His deliberate tackle on Messi three minutes into added-on time had even most Atletico fans stunned into silence.

The pictures on the front pages of several Spanish newspapers are mildly stomach-turning and give a hint at how pre-meditated the tackle was.

Lionel Messi was injured against Atletico Madrid

Messi was injured at the end of his team's victory at Atletico Madrid

Miraculously, Messi now looks likely to be out of action for just two weeks but, as he was stretchered off and with his ankle visibly ballooning even from the press box high up in the stands, there were fears it could be a fracture and he might be sidelined for several months.

On Monday, Ujfalusi faced the public. "It was bad luck and I'm sorry about that. However I'm at peace with myself because I didn't intend to cause any damage," he muttered at a press conference.

As the match was broadcast widely across Europe, you can judge for yourself whether it was deliberate or not and whether he was aiming to injure Messi.

I think he was and at the risk of sounding like Mr Mildly Indignant of Madrid, I hope that the Spanish football federation seriously consider giving him a much longer ban than the automatic one-match suspension he received for the sending-off.

What is even more unpalatable to me is that the Atletico president Enrique Cerezo was also trying to defend the indefensible on Monday. "I think Ujfalusi is an honourable player and was not deliberately trying to injure Messi," said Cerezo, whose occupation is usually given as a film producer.

It reminded a lot of people, both in the media and the general public phoning into Spanish talk shows on Monday, of the infamous tackle executed back in 1983 by Athletic Bilbao's Andoni Goikoetxea on another hugely talented Argentine striker playing for Barcelona, Diego Maradona, who was out of the game for the next three months as a result.

Perversely some good may come of Ujfalusi's challenge on Messi.

With signs emerging that this season, that some Spanish clubs' defenders are turning back the clock to the 80s and the era of Goikoetxea and his ilk, reverting back to the 'take no prisoners' approach to football, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola echoed Jose Mourinho's call that strikers be given greater protection.

It looks highly likely that the Spanish federation may be much more pro-active on punishing violent tackling.

Comments on this blog in the space below. Other questions on European football to: I don't need your full address but please put the town/city and country where you come from.


or register to comment.

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.