New stadium at centre of decline
27 February ~ As the sale of Valencia remains on hold, and the club's future uncertain, Argentinian manager Juan Antonio Pizzi has boosted the team's performances in both La Liga and the Europa League, where tonight they face Dynamo Kiev. A return of the Valencia that dazzled Europe a decade ago might yet encourage foreign investors to consider making a bid. In Valencia's power battle, the main actors are the club's board, the Valencian regional government and Bankia, a once public funded bank now privatised.
In 2006, with the club having been in two Champions League finals, Valenica's owner – property developer Juan Soler – felt they deserved to move into a modern new stadium. This was going to be paid for with the sale of the old Mestalla ground, in which they would play until the construction was complete, with extra money to fund the operation coming from the Champions League TV rights revenue.
Then the Spanish economy collapsed, Valencia couldn't sell their old stadium and the Champions League qualification –taken for granted in the budget – started to be just occasional rather than regular. Valencia had to stop the construction and sell their main players David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata, which led to a weaker team that struggled even more to achieve Champions League status.
In order to get rid of the unpopular Soler, the regional government acquired the club through the creation of Fundació Valencia, a non-profit organisation funded by a local, publicly owned bank, Bancaja. Then the Spanish financial crisis deepened, and Bancaja merged with other regional public banks into Bankia, a new private company based in Madrid. Bankia inherited the loan to Valencia which they wanted to be repaid. Fundació Valencia and an almost bankrupt regional government were unable to meet the payments, but a court then ruled that the signature of the Valencian government as a guarantor was invalid, which meant nobody knew who the shares in the football club belonged to.
Everyone then decided that it was better to co-operate. Seeing a slight improvement in the health of the Spanish economy, they put the club on the market. Bankia set a sale deadline before the end of 2013, which was then moved to mid-January, and the bank's sale conditions were made public through leaks. Valencia's president Amadeo Salvo –appointed by Fundació Valencia – made Singapore businessman Peter Lim his public candidate to buy the shares. Lim showed up at the director's box for a Copa del Rey tie and promised a €50 million (£41m) investment in new players. But Bankia said they had at least two bigger offers, so they dismissed Lim's bid.
As the deadline arrived in January, Salvo organised a meeting with the fans in Mestalla. He claimed that Bankia wanted to sell the club to the wrong investors, and that the only bid that guaranteed Valencia's future – Lim's, of course – had been rejected for reasons that were unclear. The club, he said, were in danger and threatened to take the case to court to clarify who held the shares.
This populist move worked; both Bankia and the Valencian government backed off, realising that they couldn't afford to have Valencia's fanbase against them. They decided that the identity of the club's new owners had to be agreed by common consent and so, last Monday, the conditions of the “new” sale process were signed and a new deadline was set for April.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Juan Antonio Pizzi two months ago has turned things around for the team, with four victories in the last five games, including a stunning win at the Nou Camp against Barcelona, something that hadn't happened for ten years. Pizzi's aim is to remodel the team after the side of ten years ago, when the players didn't have a sense that they were part of the elite and succeeded through hard work. The recovery of that identity on the pitch will surely help the bank, the government and the board to put Valencia back into secure hands. Antonio Mateo