The Baroque Entanglements of Valencia

An investment fund, a super agent, and a Singapore businessman: What will it all mean on the field for Los Che this season?

While the summer’s silly-season headlines have mostly focused on big names like Luis Suarez, James Rodriguez, and Diego Costa, La Liga’s most interesting transfer business has been taking place at Valencia.

Los Che have brought in promising attacker Rodrigo and young midfielder Andre Gomes from Benfica, and were widely reported to be tracking even more high-profile targets like Argentina’s World Cup midfielder Enzo Perez and Colombia’s $53 million-rated striker Jackson Martinez.

Such moves have not been welcomed in all quarters. Concerns have been raised in particular about the “playing rights” of Rodrigo and Gomes being controlled by an investment fund owned by Singapore businessman Peter Lim, the same Peter Lim whose long-running attempt to buy Valencia outright remains up in the air.

Club president Amadeo Salvo first called for a quick sale to Lim last December, claiming the billionaire benefactor would wipe out its $400 million plus debts, provide funds to finish its currently half-completed new stadium, and invest heavily in new players.

Spanish lender Bankia—which in reality owns the club due to those debts— insisted on an open bidding process. In May, the “foundation,” which on paper holds a majority of the club’s shares, voted unanimously to accept the bid from Lim’s company Meriton Holdings, rejecting competing offers from Russian, Chinese, and Arab investors. It did seem that the Manchester United fan—who had previously been linked with moves to buy Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, and AC Milan without any deals being done—had finally managed to buy a big European club.

That vote was trumpeted on Valencia’s website as an end to the sale process, but according to El Larguero and El Pais Meriton then tried to change the terms of the proposed deal. Bankia predictably rejected that attempt, leaving the sale in limbo. Despite these hold-ups the club went ahead and brought in Rodrigo and Gomes, with Salvo claiming the moves were not imposed by its potential new owner.

“Whether [Rodrigo and Gomes] come here or not is a decision for the technical staff,” Salvo said in mid-May. “They are good players, and if they belong to Mister Lim, well, we want to bring good players here.”

Salvo’s protestations do not satisfy all concerned parties, especially those worried that Lim’s interest in Valencia originally came through a relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes. Over the last 12 months the basically bankrupt club has spent almost $26 million buying Mendes’s clients including Helder Postiga, Ruben Vezo, and Nicolas Otamendi. For various reasons none of these players have contributed much on the pitch. Yet another player linked to Mendes—River Plate’s young Colombian defender Eder Balanta—is now reportedly a new $8.7 million target.

Meanwhile, last season’s coach Juan Antonio Pizzi was sacked in May, and replaced by ex-Rio Ave boss Nuno Espirito Santo (another Mendes client). Salvo admitted that Lim was involved in this decision, while the new manager himself spoke with his possible future employer before taking the job.

“Nobody should doubt that with Peter Lim for sure everything will be much easier,” Nuno said at his presentation. “I have spoken a lot with him and know his plan for the club. Next year, I am convinced we will be in the Champions League.”

Former club captain David Albelda and goalkeeeper Santi Canizares are less accepting of such promises. Both have raised concerns over the apparent influence at Mestalla of individuals with no official position or accountability at the club. La Liga president Javier Tebas also voiced his worries over potential conflicts of interest when clubs spend money on players “owned” by funds linked to their own directors.

“What we do not like in La Liga is someone being the owner of a football club, and also the owner of players loaned to the club,” Tebas said in late June. “But we must wait to see if [Lim] buys the club or not.”

That wait continues. This Wednesday, an official club statement denied local media reports that Lim was no longer willing to fund the completion of the new stadium. On Thursday, another Valencia foundation board meeting voted to accept Meriton’s latest offer (this time by 17–2), bouncing the issue back to the bankers. Afterward, foundation president Aurelio Martinez claimed to be confident a deal would finally be concluded by August 15 as “there are just a few small details which we do not believe will impede the agreement.”

If no deal is done by that date, the sale process can be opened up again to new bidders. Other potential new owners would surely think twice however about making an offer for a club whose fortunes are already so closely-tied with Lim and Mendes.

Meanwhile, hours after Thursday’s meeting it was confirmed that Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita was joining Getafe. Jeremy Mathieu, Juan Bernat, and Ricardo Costa have already left this summer. Other long serving squad members including Jonas, Andres Guardado, and Ever Banega are also up for sale.

Giving all the comings and goings it is very difficult to predict how Valencia will do on the pitch next season. But for sure the bright new dawn promised when Lim’s interest became known still looks very far off.