Three transfer windows into Peter Lim’s time in charge of Valencia, it is far from clear whether the La Liga club are heading in the right direction.
Only three of the Los Che team which started at Atletico Madrid on Sunday evening were at the club 18 months ago, and the new look side was thoroughly outclassed in what was the latest poor performance in a season which has not started well at all.
This is not what the club's fans expected when Lim was first touted as a potential saviour for the long and deeply financially troubled outfit. Given the Singapore billionaire’s close relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes, there were hopes of a wave of new exciting signings to revitalise a team shorn of top talent through previous years.
Back in December 2013, with the club’s ownership still undecided, Lim put pressure on the then board [and the regional government which held a share due to the club’s debts] to sell quickly.
“€40 million for signings seems too small to me,” he said then in comments which excited fans and pundits. “I have €50 million to spend this month.”
These quotes were accompanied by leaks to local Valencia media about potential moves for attractive and established Mendes clients including then Monaco centre-forward Radamel Falcao, Porto striker Jackson Martinez and Manchester United winger Nani.
It took a while longer for Lim to wrest control of the club, but once in charge the money did start to flow. And even though eyebrows were raised when deals were quickly done for Mendes clients including Andre Gomes, Rodrigo Moreno and Enzo Perez, most fans and pundits were happy enough as the team finished fourth in La Liga last season and returned to the Champions League after three seasons outside.
Last summer’s transfer business -- and the team’s displays so far in 2015/16 season -- have quickly changed the mood around Mestalla. The club officially spent a total of €140 million in the last transfer window, but much of that was in ‘compulsory purchase deals’ for players who had arrived 12 months previously.
The actual new faces were former Celta Vigo attacker Santi Mina, ex-Braga midfielder Danilo Barbosa, Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan from Club Bruges, Belgian winger Zakaria Bakkali from PSV Eindhoven and centre-backs Aderlan Santos from Braga and Aymen Abdennour from Monaco.
It is fair to say that not one of these arriving players has made a positive impact so far. All of Perez, Danilo, Rodrigo and Santos started against Atletico last weekend - and none made any impact in a game in which Atletico’s dominance was not fairly reflected by the 2-1 scoreline.
That 19-year-old Danilo, not the experienced Javi Fuego, started in midfield against Atletico’s canny pairing of Tiago and Gabi was a baffling selection decision. And the €15 million teenager was totally overwhelmed.
Santos’ struggles at the back against Martinez [now at Atletico] made the loss of last year’s captain and defensive leader Nicolas Otamendi [another Mendes client] even more painful for Valencia fans. Mina was anonymous against Atletico’s well drilled defence, while tried and tested winger Pablo Piatti was left on the bench.
“Aderlan Santos is a Segunda Division player, just about,” said Cayetano Ros of El Pais on radio show El Larguero on Sunday night. “He came from Braga, the same as Danilo, a kid with a lot of potential, but not ready to play for Valencia. Santi Mina the same, a kid with a lot of promise, but has only played 10 top flight games. Why did we have to sell Otamendi for less than his release clause? To bring Enzo Perez for 25 million, Danilo for 15, Aderlan Santos 15? These are things that the fans do not understand. A huge amount of money has been spent and the team has not improved from last season.”
Meanwhile, reports saying it will be third party investors, not Valencia itself, which profit should promising young talent eventually be sold on have understandably not been well received.
A growing realisation of what it means to be controlled by Lim and Mendes has lead to the formation of a disgruntled fans group called ‘Marea Valencianista’ [Valencian Tide]. Its spokesperson Miguel Zorio, a former Valencia vice-president, has spoken about a “looting of the club”. Valencia quickly reacted to these claims by issuing a statement denying such “baseless accusations”.
Lim celebrated last year’s successes from the Mestalla directors box, but has not been seen for a couple of months now. Coach Nuno, a long term associate of Mendes, has become a focal point for fans’ anger. His comments after Sunday’s game suggested he was not planning any radical change in selection policy.
“I’m happy with the good attitude we showed,” Nuno said. “Errors cost us, we must work more to be the Valencia we want to be. The morale of the players is intact, nobody is very proud, we are all hurting, but the only solution is hard work.”
Next week Valencia face city rivals Levante at home, followed by a Champions League trip to Gent, and the team are then likely to be further tested away at Celta Vigo in a fortnight's time.
Celta are an exciting team currently flying high in the table after overcoming their own financial woes and building gradually through recent seasons without any outside help.
It would be understandable if Valencia fans are at least slightly envious of the Galician side's situation.
Read more from Dermot Corrigan