England coach Gary Neville’s appointment as Valencia boss for the remainder of the season was received with shock in Spain on Wednesday as Singaporean businessman and club owner Peter Lim attempts to protect his multi-million euro investment in the struggling La Liga side.
Lim and Neville were already business partners through their ownership of English non-league side Salford City. However, Lim’s decision to again side with his contacts rather than an experienced coach has raised suspicions in Valencia over his capability to take the six-time Spanish champions forward.
Lim has been criticized for his close links to Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes since taking a controlling stake in the club in May 2014. Neville’s predecessor, Nuno Espirito Santo, was Mendes’s first ever client during his playing days, and a host of other Mendes clients have been signed by Valencia over the past 18 months for what many see as inflated transfer fees.
SEE MORE: Valencia announces Nuno’s departure.
Indeed, former Valencia vice-president Miguel Zorio launched a failed legal bid against Lim, Mendes and ex-club president Amadeo Salvo, claiming they had used the club’s money in transfer and agents fees to fund Lim’s investment in Valencia.
Club chairwoman Lay Hoon Chan said following Espirito Santo’s departure from the club on Sunday that she was “sick of talking about Jorge Mendes” when grilled by the local press and insisted the new appointment wouldn’t be a Mendes client.
So it proved, but the decision to hand Neville his first managerial post in a role known to chew up even the most experienced coaches presents a huge risk. Neville is Valencia’s 11th coach in the past eight years and the club’s famously demanding fans even booed Rafael Benitez during his two title-winning campaigns at the Mestalla.
Recent experience also suggests Neville could have trouble converting Premier League experience into La Liga success. Despite 12 years experience of managing in the English top flight, David Moyes was dismissed by Real Sociedad last month after less than a year in charge as he struggled to command Spanish.
Neville will at least be able to call on his brother Phil for support. The former Manchester United and Everton utility man has been part of Valencia’s coaching staff since the start of the season and has made a conscious effort to learn Spanish.
However, just as Neville is adjusting to his new surroundings, the stakes for Lim and the club couldn’t be higher. On top of the 94 million euros ($100 million, £66 million) Lim invested to claim a 70 percent share of the club, his Meriton investments group announced in September they were to invest a further 100 million euros in the club.
Having been pardoned the daunting task of facing on-fire European champions Barcelona in La Liga on Saturday, Neville will take charge for the first time against Lyon in the Champions League next Wednesday. Victory allied to Gent failing to beat Zenit St Petersburg will bring Valencia the riches of qualifying for the last 16 for the first time in three years.
Moreover, Valencia’s current league position of ninth is not befitting of Lim’s investment in the playing squad over the past 18 months. To be deemed a success and maintain hope of a longer deal at the Mestalla, Neville needs to deliver Champions League football again next season.
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