"In Valencia we are in a process of reinventing ourselves in the face of necessity. Footballers who have given a lot to Valencia end up leaving, some because they are nearing retirement, others because they are at their peak to sell and for the club it makes sense economically. So we are having to bring in footballers in order for them to become important. We are in a process of nurturing footballers and we have to do this in an accelerated way as everyone's goal is to keep staying at the top."
Expectations for football fans will vary from area to area - from club to club - from fan to fan. It can be dangerous to pigeonhole fans as a certain type, every supporter has their own views and ideas. The media will do that though, especially when large sections of support express their opinions vocally. Expectations are often determined by historical performances or even recent successes, not necessarily by realism. Some fans will take into consideration squad, finances, budget, wage bill, strength of rivals or even size of support or club, others won't. Saying that though, the Valencian public are well-known for being a demanding bunch. The Rafa Benítez era of 2001-04, despite it's unbelievable success (2 league titles and 1 UEFA cup) still had its doubters at times in the Mestalla. But when faced with the economical might of Real Madrid and arguably the greatest side of all time in Barcelona can Valencia still be expected to compete for the title ?
Since Unai Emery took the reins in 2008, the club has made a net profit of £66 million in transfers. Whilst credit for the actual signings should fall between the combination of President Manuel Llorente, former Sporting Director Fernando Gómez and Technical Secretary Braulio Vázquez, it's Unai's coaching skills that have put the team together. When factoring into the consideration that Barcelona have had a net spent of £141 million in this same period and Real Madrid a staggering £274 million, the ability to compete is clearly an uphill battle.
When Real Madrid visited the Mestalla last November the starting X1 cost in excess of £236 million, even without world record signing Cristiano Ronaldo it was still worth a whopping £154 million. In comparison Valencia's side that day totalled £39.16 million, the score was a relatively close 2-3 to the away side. Not one of Emery's players for that game were brought for over £10 million, Real had only three players under that figure including homegrown Iker Casillas. Many sides struggle to comprehend the sale of one of their best players, but three inside two years is unfathomable. The three musketeers David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata brought in a combined contribution of £84 million. On top of that, a number of free transfers left the club and relatively small fees were gained as Los Che looked to reduce their wage bill.
Obviously this was all to be expected as the club needed to reduce the significant debt that had been assembled. Emery is not the only person at the club that is working miracles, talk of work beginning again on the new stadium is credit to the club as a whole, as they look to put this difficult period behind them. The disproportionate TV deal is also having a negative effect, the so-called "Big Two" receive €140 million per season (double that of reigning Premiership champions Manchester United), with Valencia gaining just €42 million (less than the Premiership's relegated Blackpool last year).
So with the disadvantage of transfer expenditure and money received for television how does Emery work his miracles ?
Hard work, dedication and the ability to get the best out of his players, are just some of the attributes that Unai possesses. Tactically he is one of the best managers in Spain, with every detail analysed in order to gain an advantage. This season Emery has changed the formation less than in previous seasons, predominately using a 4-2-3-1. Preferring to utilise the personnel in differing circumstances, with such strength in-depth within the squad this sits perfectly. After 20 league games, only Soldado, Rami, Ruiz and Mathieu have made over 15 starts. With two quality goalkeepers even they are rotated, Guaita having started eleven in the league and Alves nine. Choices in attacking positions that are used accordingly to the opposition faced, when a little craft or guile is required Pablo Piatti can drift between the lines, when there's a need to pin a defender back or a directness is needed, then Pablo Hernández is on hand, tracking attacking full-backs and overall work rate Sofiane Feghouli can be called into action.
With the exception of his first term at the club, it's Unai Emery's ability to keep Valencia competitive that is truly remarkable. At the midway point this season they had accrued 35 points, well on target to receive the last two seasons points tally of 71 points. This season they have a win percentage of 52.6% in the league, slightly below the 55.26% of last two years. The 71 points they have posted consecutively have seen them short of the overall winners by 28 and 25 points. But this is the best Barcelona of all time and one of Real Madrid's best, as both sides have recorded record point totals. In 2006/07 season Fabio Capello won the league with just 76 points and both of Valencia's more recent titles were won with under 80 points. In summary, the two best teams in world football are making the competition look poor.
Having had correspondence with former Valencia manager Rafa Benítez recently, he kindly told me this about the present manager by e-mail.
"Regarding Emery, he is a good Manager, he knows his job and is always trying to improve. He is doing well in La Liga with Valencia given the difference in that Madrid and Barcelona have the greater resources, so in that respect, he is achieving great success.
I know him personally and as well as being a good professional, he is a nice person too."
A number of top pundits have also been impressed with the man. Unai Emery is doing a sublime job at Valencia, their progress is just maintaining their position when looking at external factors. Football works in cycles and when the cycle of the top two in Spain drops significantly, then Valencia will be perfectly positioned to push on. With the financial situation at the club improving and future plans to improve the share of the television money, then Valencia have a bright future ahead of them and at just 40 so does Unai Emery.