23 September 2013

At the Mestalla, the natives are restless though not revolting....yet

My Column for the Irish Examiner

Joseph Sexton
It was 17:14 on Thursday. The stadium was not quite full, a reflection that after years of dining at the top table, the fans weren’t enamoured with UEFA’s secondary competition. Life is tough these days in Valencia, as it is in the rest of Spain. Rampant unemployment and foreclosures means that for many, every last cent must be accounted for.

Valencia have lost a lot too, more than most. Unlike the region with which it shares a name - long a viper’s nest of Partido Popular (yes, the same party than regained the national government in 2011) venality of a sort than makes 1980s Ireland look decidedly amateur - the club can be said to have brought it on itself.
They defied to the odds to restore some semblance of normality, but having jettisoned Unai Emery - who returned Sunday night with Sevilla - the realities of their situation caught up with them. After three straight third-place La Liga finishes, they came fifth last season.
Suddenly the plan of selling a single star each summer wasn’t enough to fill the hole in their annual accounts.
There were barely ten minutes on the clock on Thursday when Adil Rami was sent off. It was needless, and it was blatant. It had to be red. Soon the fans were seeing red. Against a Swansea side the Spanish media have dubbed the ‘Spanish Swans’ affectionately, they went down 3-0. The fans turned on the players, chanting in unison: ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’
The man they’d all wanted, a hero from his playing days, Miroslav Djukic was no longer untouchable. Whispers were circulating that anything less than a win against Sevilla would see him fall on his sword.
Valencia played like a side with a point to prove in the opening half, and Jonas’ opener was scant reward for their dominance. After the break, Sevilla began liken a train and within seven minutes drew level through Kevin Gameiro, signed to replace the goals of Álvaro Negredo in the summer.
But despite the protests beforehand, the fans stayed with the team, feeding the players’ belief. Just as it should be. And, by the end, they had their reward.
Jonas - who was probably luck to still be on the field - restored the lead with just over a quarter of an hour remaining. With nerves still on edge, Victor Ruiz flicked on a corner but instead found the back of the net. Five minutes left. They had done it.
Amadeo Salvo, the club’s president, had been silent in the days leading up the game. All of a sudden, you couldn’t escape him. “It was a complicated game” he told Onda Cero, “Sevilla played well and had chances, but fortunately victory is ours.
“Djukic is our manager, and even if we’d lost we’d have kept faith in him. Miroslav says that he’s realised his dream in coaching us, and that deserves respect.
“You can’t rush these things, you need to be patient, and we will be. We have to keep working together going forward in order to be successful.”
As for the next manager in the division looking over his shoulder? Step forward, Unai Emery.

BARCELONA remain top but were given a serious scare by Rayo Vallecano. You would have to go back several seasons to see them post possession stats as low as they managed in the first half in Vallecas, and the best chances also fell the host’s way. Pedro had them ahead at the break, and they had Victor Valdés - who saved a penalty against Ajax in midweek - to thank again as he denied Roberto Trashorras.
After the break, they were much better as Rayo tired. Cesc Fabregas added the gloss, but it was about Pedro as the Canary Islander landed his first hat-trick in a Barça shirt.
Real continued their habit of falling behind at the Bernabéu when Ángel Lafita gave Getafe an early lead. Pepe had been at fault, but he brought his side level a quarter of an hour later. With no Gareth Bale, who injured himself warming up, it was Isco who stole the show again. Mesut who?
Cristiano Ronaldo netted twice, one from the spot, to pull ahead of Hugo Sánchez as he club fifth highest scorer of all time. Next in his sights is Ferenc Púskas. And, quite ludicrously, after just four-and-a-bit seasons in Spain, he’s now the 18th highest scorer in the history of the Primera.
Atlético won a pig of a game to make it five wins from five in Valladolid, with Raúl García and Diego Costa the scorers. Villarreal also remain unbeaten. They had the better chances as Celta had goalkeeper Yoel to thank for a 0-0 last night in Balaídos.
Week 5 Results: Osasuna 2 Elche 1; Real Sociedad 0 Málaga 0; Almería 2 Levante 2; Valladolid 0 Atlético 2; Real Betis 0 Granada 0; Celta Vigo 0 Villarreal 0; Real Madrid 4 Getafe 1; Valencia 3 Sevilla 1.


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