Football: Valencia eye return to Europe's elite

Football: Valencia eye return to Europe's elite
Valencia captain Dani Parejo (right) obliged a fan at Brewerkz yesterday, during a brief visit to Singapore.

THE former giants of Spanish football have ambitious plans to rise again - thanks to the investment of a Singaporean businessman and the guile of a Portuguese coach.

With Singapore billionaire Peter Lim's €420 million (S$720 million) takeover of Valencia imminent, the Spanish club are targeting a return to the Champions League.

"Right now, I am taking things step by step. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico... it is a big, big fight for fourth place," said Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo.

"But there is no other way. Valencia has to return to the Champions League."

The 40-year-old, club captain Dani Parejo and striker Rodrigo Moreno were in town for a two-day visit to pay homage to Lim and introduce themselves to Singapore's media.

Once a serious threat to the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly of La Liga, Valencia fell into financial collapse and were forced to sell stars like David Silva, David Villa, Roberto Soldado, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba.

But the club are hoping that those dark days are long gone now.

The 61-year-old Lim's investment includes €200 million to clear the club's debts and €170 million to complete the construction of a new stadium. He has also splashed €45 million to sign Rodrigo, 22, and midfielder Andre Gomes, 20, from Benfica.

It was perhaps apt that Nuno completed the loan-signing of Manchester City striker and Spanish international Alvaro Negredo in Singapore yesterday morning - to mark the start of the club's new beginnings.

Negredo is joined by the transfer deadline day arrival of midfielder Filipe Augusto from Portuguese side Rio Ave, also on loan. This takes the total of the club's new additions to 10.

"We think we are good and better because we already have fantastic players inside the squad, so with these two, I think we are perfectly balanced," said Nuno.

Although the club can soon flex their muscle in the transfer market, one thing that Nuno will not do is to brandish the cheque-book feverishly.

"We don't have to be foolish," he intoned.

"We target only players who will improve us. We don't buy someone just because he costs €30 million. We need time to observe our transfer targets until we are 100 per cent sure.

"Most importantly, these signing must want to play for Valencia. They must understand our project and want to fight for the club."

Valencia's squad currently has the youngest average age (24.1 years) in La Liga.

The club finished fifth in La Liga last season and were third from 2010-12. They were champions in 2002 and 2004, Uefa Cup winners in 2004 and appeared in two Champions League finals (2000 and 2001).

Currently second in the league behind Barcelona after beating Malaga 3-0 and drawing 1-1 with Europa League winners Sevilla, it does seem that the club have the right mix. The optimism, said skipper Parejo, is infectious.

He added: "Every season, Valencia fans start with hope but it all becomes an illusion. But this year, with new players, a new coach and a new owner, we really think it is going to be our year. Our fans deserve success."

Although Valencia can now afford the cream of football talent from Europe and South America, Nuno will not close the door on Asian players.

From his time at previous club Rio Ave, he wanted to sign a Singaporean last year and still remembers the player by name.

"When I coached Rio Ave, I nearly got Hariss Harun," the 40-year-old Portuguese recalled.

"I observed Hariss, we spoke on the phone and I told him we were keen to sign him.

"He is a good defensive midfielder who has intensity in his play and he is strong. But for some reason that I don't know, the move didn't happen.

"I really do believe that it is possible for a Singaporean player to join Valencia.

"If the player has enough quality, if he has ambitions to play in Europe, if he works hard... It is not about age or his passport."

This article was first published on September 03, 2014.
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