Valencia are bottom and fast becoming the old lady who swallowed a fly
The day before Pako Ayestarán flew to Singapore to meet the Valencia owner Peter Lim and discuss becoming the manager at Mestalla, he phoned Gary Neville to ask for his blessing. Neville was the one who had taken him there in the first place, after all, the man who had publicly insisted “when I go, Pako goes”, and now Ayesteran was about to take his job. It was an “awkward” phone call but, if the Englishman wasn’t entirely pleased, he told Ayestarán to go for it. He also told Lim that his former assistant was the best man for the job. At the time, the new manager was grateful. He might not be so sure now. They might not be, either.
Six months on, Valencia are bottom of the table, the only side without a single point. On the eve of their opening game of the new season Ayestarán promised “we’re going to enjoy it” – but no one is enjoying this. Four games later, they’re the worst team in Spain, and he’s the worst manager in their history. That’s what the statistics say, anyway. Mario Kempes, meanwhile, says this: “What’s happening to Valencia is very worrying; there’s no project, no ideas, just pure footballing impotence.” Which would be bad enough anyway but Kempes isn’t just arguably Valencia’s best player ever; he’s also their ambassador.
Kempes represents the club, or is supposed to. If what he said was telling, the fact that he said it was even more so: a portrait of the way things sometimes are at a club where Neville admits feeling people greeting him with looks that said “you won’t be here for long”; where, if they did, they were right. On Sunday night Kempes backed the coach … and then made a pitch for his job. It is one he thinks might become available again soon, and he is not alone.
Ayestarán is under pressure for sure. Over the last seven seasons, Valencia’s position after four games reads: sixth, third, third, first, sixth, second, second. This time, they’re 20th, bottom of the pile. Played four, lost four, conceded 10. It is the joint-worst start in their history. The last three teams to start like this – Osasuna, Sporting and Xérez – all went down. Away at Athletic Bilbao is never easy but this time it was set up as the game they had to win; a “final” already, with 34 games still to go. As one paper put it, they were obliged to wipe out that zero by their name. They didn’t: two goals from Aritz Aduriz saw them defeated 2-1 at San Mamés.
This is Valencia’s joint-worst start ever yet, oddly, despite the results it hasn’t all been bad. Not that bad, anyway.