New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Former Valencia CF captain Gaizka Mendieta believes that the return of his former football club to the top-five of the Spanish top division augurs well for the competitiveness of the La Liga.
Valencia are placed comfortably in the fourth position in the 2017-18 La Liga with 53 points — one point less than Real Madrid and seven behind second-placed Atletico Madrid.
They had finished 12th in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons which saw them change as many as six coaches during a difficult phase.
This season, the Marcelino García Toral-coached outfit looks set to earn a place in the UEFA Champions League 2018-19.
“Valencia are having an amazing season. From the perspective of La Liga, it is great having Valencia back fighting in top-five,” La Liga ambassador Mendieta told IANS during his recent visit to India.
“They had difficult two seasons and really struggled. Luckily, they have found a way, good squad and a good project and they are back where we want them to see — challenging for Champions League and competing with the top teams.”
Mendieta, who captained Valencia to two consecutive runners-up finishes in 1999-00, 2000-01 Champions League seasons, said that the club may find it difficult to retain some of the impressive players of this season but has a project to do well in the future.
“Valencia system is working — there is a good balance between young and experienced players. They have a project for the present and also for the future which is great for Valencia,” he insisted.
“(But) for a player, it is difficult to say no when the offers arrive from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Opportunity is huge but it comes with a compromise, unless you are (Lionel) Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo, you are not going to play always.
“Other top-eight clubs — the likes of Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Celta Vigo always bring young players to their academy, provide them the opportunity to grow and be ready for big clubs. It has been the system in Spain over the eras.”
For this La Liga season, though, FC Barcelona are on top with 69 points — eight more than second-placed Atletico. At the beginning of the season, the Catalan powerhouse went through a difficult phase, seeing their Brazilian superstar Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain, who paid his 222 million euros release clause.
FC Barcelona signed Ousmane Dembele (from Borussia Dortmund) in the summer but he has hardly played, thanks to injuries, while Brazilian attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho arrived in Barcelona from Liverpool in January — both combined costing the club in excess of $300 million.
Talking about their transformations, Mendieta gave the credit to new coach Ernesto Valverde. “He has done an amazing job. He allowed (left-back) Jordi Alba to go more forward and (Andres) Iniesta to attack from left side (making up for the absence of Neymar).
“When you sell a player like Neymar — those kind of players are difficult to replace. But Valverde thought about the positives. At the moment, they are not missing Neymar. But let the season end — they will be judged depending on where they end at different competitions.”
Mendieta, who played 40 times for the Spanish national team, is optimistic of the 2010 World Cup winners’ performance in the Russia 2018 edition.
“After 2014 World Cup, we see a team talented, competitive, renewed with influx of young players. We can only be optimistic because seeing the way they played in the qualifying campaign, it is optimistic,” he said.
(Abhishek Purohit can be contacted at [email protected])