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The omnipresence of Jorge Mendes in this summer’s transfer window has been hard to escape, even before FIFA and UEFA officially turned the spotlight onto the super-agent with their investigation into the ubiquitous practice of third-party ownership. Mendes has this summer dominated the European transfer market as a representative of among others Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa, Eliaquim Mangala and James Rodriguez, transferred this summer for a total in excess of £200 million.
It has taken his career as an agent to one that, without any intended hyperbole, has taken the European game into the palm of his hands. If one of the biggest talents on the continent are to make a move, there is a guarantee Mendes will be behind it, smiling next to the player as he is unveiled by his new club, delighted by another round of millions coming into the bank. It is far from the humble deal that took Nuno Espirito Santo from Vitoria Guimaraes in 1997, the transfer that saw Mendes’ career as an agent initially take off.
This summer he was involved again with Santo, delivering him to Valencia but this time as a coach to replace the outgoing Juan Antonio Pizzi who, after inheriting a shambles from Miroslav Djukic, was able to guide Los Che to a respectable eighth placed finish last term, as well as the semi-finals of the Europa League. Still, it was the first time in 16 years that 2004 La Liga champions Valencia had failed to qualify for European completion and Pizzi was ousted at the mercy of new owner Peter Lim, seeking a fresh presence in the Mestalla dugout for the beginning of the new era.
Nuno arrived from Rio Ave whom he took to both finals of Portugal’s two domestic in his second season at the club, in the process managing to deliver continental football, in the form of the Europa League, for the first time in their history. He will now be charged with delivering European football back to Valencia and their 55,000-capacity Mestalla, with Lim having already ratified the signings of 10 players across a summer of overhaul.
The start couldn’t have gone much better with Nuno having delivered 14 points from the opening six games, leading a still unbeaten Valencia to second behind league leaders Barcelona. At home they have dispatched Malaga, Espanyol and Cordoba while Getafe were beaten 0-3 away in the Valencian derby.
Hard-fought points were secured away at Sevilla on the opening day and most recently at Real Sociedad in respective 1-1 draws. The resilience of just 3 goals conceded so far, mixed with the 14 goals their fluid football has scored, has brought weight and optimism to the targeting of Champions League qualification that Nuno voiced at the start of September.
It is a while since that word was found around the Mestalla, with the club inhibited by crippling debts which saw them placed into the hands of local government in 2013. The plan for a new stadium has had to be shelved then downsized while a series of players, Juan Mata, David Silva, David Villa, Jordi Alba and Roberto Soldado to name a select few, have been sold to ease the financial mess.
The takeover of Lim, a Singaporean billionaire, has been a long drawn out process with club’s main creditor, Spanish bank Bankia, though he finally managed to seize ownership in May after buying out 70.4% of the club’s shares. Once Lim completes settles a debt dispute with Bankia, the money will be free to pour in, the club president Amadeo Salvo Lillo believes it will be the third biggest takeover in world football.
Lillo had been searching for months for somebody with the financial muscle to rescue Valencia from turmoil and again Mendes was instrumental, turning the billionaire into the club’s direction after he was planning to put a stake in Atletico Madrid. Lim’s initial investment is likely to be around the €400 million mark.
Lim’s takeover will also make the loan deals of Rodrigo and Joao Cancelo, both taken from Benfica, permanent, as well as the £13 million investment in Andre Gomes, with Lim arranging through Mendes the securing of players before he is in place as Valencia’s sole owner. A similar loan deal was also completed for Alvaro Negredo, the Manchester City striker who hit 31 goals for Sevilla the last time he was in La Liga.
The 29 year old striker hasn’t yet managed a single minute of football for his new club after arriving with fitness troubles, though he hasn’t really been required thanks to the scintillating form of the hugely-talented Paco Alcacer, the heir to Soldado’s number-9 shirt, who has already hit 4 goals and registered 3 assists in 5 league games. The 21 year old has also marked his form by earning his first Spain caps.
Club captain Daniel Parejo and Pablo Piatti both have 2 goals each while Gomes and Rodrigo have both already broken their ducks. It all makes for an ominous attack-line, with Nuno possessing a versatile pack that can switch between the favoured 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3. Sofiane Feghouli is central to that shift, an electrifying right-sided winger that Nuno has so far preferred as an impact sub, the Algerian has already managed to set-up 2 goals as well as scoring 1. Even Carles Gil, the 21 attacking midfielder who Nuno handed a debut to last month, has contributed, netting in the 1-1 draw with Sociedad.
So used to losing major squad talents, Valencia used this summer to shed themselves of fringe players, with Dorlan Pabon, Phillipe Senderos, Ever Benega, Aly Cissokho and Adil Rami all moved on, while the £17 million gained from Barcelona for Jeremy Mathieu was a welcome fee. The loss of 21 year-old left-back Juan Bernat to Bayern Munich for just £8 million would have been disappointing but they seem to have found a more than able replacement in 19 year old Jose Gaya, also from a Valencian youth-system that still continues to produce precious talents.
Ruben Vezo and Nicolas Otamendi, with the £7.4 million World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi in support, have begun to forge a stable centre-half pairing in the absence of Mathieu while they are protected in midfield by Parejo alongside Javi Fuego, the veteran defensive midfielder who has made a superb start to the season, ensuring Benega won’t be too much of a miss. Such is the wide variety of options available to Nuno that he has already used 20 players in his first 6 games in charge.
Before October’s international break Valencia will face a huge test in the form of champions Atletico Madrid’s visit to the Mestalla, which with momentum behind them and with the feel-good factor borne out of Nuno’s early impact and Lim’s impending riches, Valencia may target another victory.
If they manage it, most of the plaudits will go to Nuno Santo and Peter Lim, but Jorge Mendes must not be forgotten as he orchestrates Valencia’s rise back to the top.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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