The 2007/2008 LaLiga season was one of Valencia’s worst. Voro tells Batzine how they escaped the drop.
The unthinkable had happened. As the season drew to a close in 2008, Valencia had found themselves in the thick of a relegation scrap. Los Che were mired in 15th, two points from the drop. Its coach, the current Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, had been sacked following a 1-5 mauling at Athletic Bilbao. Only five games remained. The prospect of spending next season in the second division for the first time since 1986 was becoming terrifyingly real.
With no time to find another coach, the club entrusted long time Valencia stalwart and former defender Voro with the rescue mission. He would eventually succeed in the task, but not before being bemused by the entire situation.
“It was incredible. We had such fantastic players, but we were so close to relegation. It was incredulous,” said the 56-year-old in an exclusive interview with Batzine.
Such a scenario had indeed seemed impossible at the start of the season. This was a club that had just won the league four years ago, a team that still retained the spine of that title-winning squad with Santiago Canizares, David Albelda, Vicente, and Ruben Baraja. Dazzling young talents such as Juan Mata and the two Davids – Silva and Villa – complemented these experienced winners.
Together with the newly-appointed Koeman, who had led PSV Eindhoven to the Dutch league title the season before, Valencia seemed destined for domination on paper.
But on the pitch, they faltered. Things quickly turned sour as the new manager tried to stamp his authority, leaving out veterans like club captain Albelda, Canizares, and Miguel Angulo. This greatly fractured the dressing room. Poor results soon followed as the team won just four of their 22 games. Even a Copa Del Rey triumph could not save Koeman as Valencia had their worst-ever season at the Mestalla.
The morale in the dressing room was shattered by the time Voro took over. “It was a very difficult situation,” he recalled. “It’s one thing to train and play, but the atmosphere in the dressing room is also very important. At that moment, it was a disaster.”
Before delivering on the pitch, the situation in the dressing room had to be resolved first. Voro’s conversation with the players was frank and direct. “I told them, ‘It’s no longer about Koeman. As players, it’s your responsibility to win the game’”, he said.
“I told them I didn’t understand how we could be so near relegation with such good players. In that situation, the most important thing was to resolve the atmosphere first. Then we could work on training.”
He recalled the exiled players. The return of Albeda, Canizares and Angulo changed the atmosphere from one of despair to hope. Their captain was back, and the calming presence of these veterans arrested the panic that had threatened to engulf the team.
The team rallied, winning four of their last five matches, and the mood became more buoyant with each victory. “When you keep losing, every problem in the dressing room becomes bigger. But when you start winning, it’s all good,” said Voro. By the end of the season, Los Che had climbed the table to finish 10th – mission accomplished.
Never one too comfortable in the limelight, Voro would step aside for former Arsenal manager Unai Emery to be manager the following season. But not before he had further endeared himself with the fans as the man who had saved Valencia from the brink. The former player had become the saviour.