By Suhas BhatFollow @@suhasrbhat
With Real Madrid and Barcelona dominating the league for the past three seasons, there has not been much room for other Spanish clubs to shine. But Valencia, who have finished the season in third place for three consecutive seasons, are doing their best to break that duopoly.
The club is currently in Indonesia where they are taking part in a friendly match against the Indonesian national side on Saturday. Led by Valencia CF Foundation president Tarsilo Piles Guaita, the club trained in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and met with legions of fans from all over the archipelago in the past two days.
ESPNSTAR.com caught up with Guaita who was happy to discuss the Valencia's turbulent past and recent rise, his hopes of the club making ground on Real and Barca and the meaning behind the club's crest.
What does the bat on the club symbol signify?
Well, there is a bat on the coat of arms of the city of Valencia. So, the both the coat of arms of the city and the football club - both called Valencia - have the bat displayed on them. Also, the design the coat of arms of Valencia and the football club consists of red and yellow stripes with blue on the top. The flag of the city is exactly the same. Also, during the Reconquista period in Spain - the conquering of all of the Mediterranean part of Spain - when James I conquered Valencia, according to history, he was holding the flag of Valencia, and a bat sat on its top. So he decided to keep it as part of the city flag.
It's been over eight years since Valencia last won the league. Do you still remember that period?
Yes, perfectly. I still remember it clearly. We spent some really nice years with Valencia as a whole. We won several consecutive leagues and I will always remember the title decider against Malaga in 2002.
Other memories I cherish from that time are the several Champion Leagues we got to play in. I remember the 2000 Champions League final in Paris and we played well in the first half but not so well in the second against Real Madrid. The Champions League final the next year, we lost in a penalty shootout due to a missed penalty by none other than current coach [Mauricio] Pellegrino at the San Siro! This was against Bayern Munich. We could have won that one easily, because we were doing so well throughout the match and had so many opportunities to score against Bayern. We also had the better team.
It's very sad to have lost that way because we dominated that match otherwise.
What lessons do you think the players should learn from the team of that era?
It was an excellent team back then. There were good midfielders with [Gaizka] Mendieta, [Ruben] Baraja and even Pellegrino. They were especially good on the counter-attack. It was a very fast system of counter-attack and that union of the midfielders and the defence was perfectly structured. The defence was solid and worked together very well.
The players often stole the ball in the centre of the game and went directly to try and score. And then because of a good defence, it was difficult to attack us. Possibly the playing tactics weren't as pretty, but they were much more efficient.
Valencia should play like this now also.
Why did Valencia's fortunes change so drastically over the past ten years? They went from title contenders to bankruptcy and are now back in the top three.
All the clubs in Spain go through times like this. For Valencia, there were many changes at the club this year, after we won the league. A new president was brought in and there were many financial problems. The management wasn't as efficient.
The club went through a complicated situation economically and the management was very rigid. Now we're trying to reach some sort of equilibrium with the club's finances. And then little by little, we can improve and in a short while, I hope Valencia will be a big champion like before.
Valencia has achieved three consecutive third-place finishes, you know. That's very impressive.
That's true. Valencia has done well and are one of the few clubs in Europe that has been consistent lately. Villarreal, for example, were second a few seasons back and are now relegated. Why do you think this is so?
Well, the team tries to improve on their tactical system every year. It's a competitive team, with determination and strength. They're working on their techniques and the speed - it's getting better. Most importantly, the structural reorganisation of the club is getting better and slowly helping the team recover.
Now we are also more serious with the way we run things and this seriousness is transmitted to the players. And to the coach.
Were you surprised with former coach Unai Emery's departure?
No, we knew long ago that Emery would leave this year. Emery spent three years with us and he has achieved some very good results. He was a good coach for the players and the public supported him but there were many demands on him. But I assure you it's not because of any internal conflict.
Realistically speaking, are you optimistic about the chances of reducing the domination of the league by Real Madrid and Barcelona?
There are a lot of differences between the players, of course. Of course, we can. It's difficult to compete with them. They're the two biggest clubs not only in Spain but also in Europe. But that's the greatness of football - it's part of the challenge. This means when there's a club that's winning millions and a club that's winning much less, they can compete, and the second could win.
Valencia drew three or four times with Barcelona in the past three years and the difference was only one goal when they won. Even when playing Real, they usually can win with only one goal. Of course, we've lost many times to them but we always play nice, competitive football when we compete with them in La Liga and Copa del Rey. In many matches with them, we have had a chance to win. They get lucky sometimes but we always try to put in a good performance. However, the goal of both the team and the club is to win first, always.
Are Levante and Valencia friendly rivals or fierce rivals?
Well, they are the two biggest clubs in the city! And so they're big rivals.
We do have good relations with them but when we play in the stadiums with the two sets of fans watching us, there is always a big rivalry. But it's a good, healthy rivalry. Each team wants to win.
Last year we always won against them. That means we're in a better situation than them, no?
They are participating in the Europa League for the first time in their history in what was their best season ever? What are your thoughts on that?
Last season, they had the best season in Levante's history. Well, they never thought they could play in the Europa League themselves! They nearly had a chance to finish third and play in the Champions League but unfortunately for them, they lost in three consecutive matches. They could have a chance to play in the Champions League in the future. Let's see.