The draw for the group stage of the Champions League took place in Monaco on Thursday, with an unlikely union of Gary Lineker and most of the Inter Milan squad conspiring to place Manchester United in Group C alongside Valencia, Rangers and Bursaspor.
It is a group from which United should be confident of progressing. Valencia amassed the third-most amount of points in La Liga last season but still finished so far adrift of Barcelona and Real Madrid that they might as well have applied for election to the Portuguese SuperLiga. Meanwhile, Rangers won the SPL – the two-team fiefdom that La Liga is turning into – primarily because Celtic employed a manager who failed even more spectacularly than John Barnes. In winning the Turkish Süper Lig, Bursaspor took the title outside of Istanbul for the first time since 1984 but they have not played in Europe since 1995. Good nickname though: the Green Crocodiles.
Although the prospect of two games between United and Rangers will excite the partisan elements of the British press on both sides of the border, a Valencia side deprived of the Davids Villa and Silva will still undoubtedly pose the greater threat to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. There is an added subplot to the presence of coach Unai Emery’s side in Group C too. Valencia have been experiencing financial problems for years, the details of which echo some of United’s own situation but also those of the team from down the road, Liverpool.
Like United, Valencia are hundreds of millions of pounds in debt. The Spanish club attempted to ease some of that burden with a share issue, while the Glazers sought to raise money on a grander scale earlier this year by selling bonds in United. Writing on the Guardian’s web site in May, Sid Lowe reported on the four builders who were dutifully turning up for work each day at the site of Valencia’s new stadium even though no actual building was taking place. The project stalled over a year ago, which was no surprise considering that the club owed more than €50m to the construction firms involved. Like Liverpool, Valencia cannot afford to build the stadium that would allow them to generate the same sort of revenue from ticket sales that their domestic rivals enjoy and maybe even clear their debts too.
Unlike the Anfield club, however, Valencia are in the Champions League. The stirring contributions last season from the aforementioned Villa and Silva were in stark contrast to the subdued performances of their Liverpool counterparts, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Although Los Che were subsequently forced to sell their two star men while Liverpool managed to hang on to theirs, Valencia will earn millions of euros this season through television coverage, prize money and gate receipts while Liverpool must make do with the humbler surroundings of the Europa League.
Manchester United can look forward to a trip to the Estadio Mestalla on 29th September, ten years on from their last visit. Valencia’s Champions League income will not necessarily allow those four builders to go back to work on “new Mestalla”, but at least the current one remains one of Europe’s finest and most iconic grounds. Its steep sides border on the vertical and can accommodate up to 55,000 of the club’s fans, who will be hoping that this season the club’s finances can finally start to mirror the upward trajectory of old Mestalla’s architecture.
If you enjoyed this you can follow me on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/WilliamAbbs