In January, Valencia fans were optimistic about the year to come.
Fighting for European recognition and trophies on three fronts, all associated with the club felt this year could at least match the success of 2019… when Marcelino and his team had given the supporters the Copa Del Rey.
Very soon, a determined Granada side (with former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado) ensured Valencia did not retain the Kings trophy. With the European Cup and a top four place in the league left to concentrate on, ambitions were still high for Valencia CF.
In La Liga, recent matches against fellow contenders for a European spot, Real Sociedad, Getafe and Atlético Madrid yielded only one point out of nine. With the difference of only four points between fourth (Atlético) and seventh (Valencia) at the enforced break, and one point between both Real Sociedad (fifth), Getafe (sixth) and Valencia (seventh) the head to head match-up between the teams are likely to become crucial if the season is completed. Valencia have negative comparisons against all three clubs, which could easily result in a dropped place in the final table classification.
Aspirations to progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League also grew stronger when Atalanta came out of the hat as Valencia’s next opponents. Having lost their first three games in the group stage and conceding 11 goals in the process, Los Che were confident of outscoring their Italian counterparts.
The first game proved to be ill-fated both on and off the pitch for Valencia. Played in Milan, because the home ground of Atalanta in Lombardy did not meet Champions League standards, Los Che wilted in front of a partisan crowd to a 4-1 defeat that made advancing past the Italians in the two-legged contest an incredibly difficult task.
However, there were deeper ramifications to Valencia’s trip to the San Siro. Italy was unaware it was in the initial stages of the CoVid 19 pandemic and that the Lombardy region was going to be the centre of the fight against the virus in that country.
Valencia’s contingent had virtually just got off the plane from Milan when the first case of the Coronavirus was confirmed in the region. Sports journalist Kike Mateu, who had been covering the game for “El Chiringuito,” tested positive. The worries continued as numerous fans who had made the trip to the San Siro soon too got the fateful news they did not want to receive.
Despite the warning signs, UEFA decided the return fixture could go ahead but behind closed doors. This decision left the Valencia squad unhappy and Dani Parejo acted as a mouthpiece for the whole team when he tweeted, “I am the first to be concerned about the crisis and that is why I am also the first to feel indignant when I see the measures taken are not consistent.” This was in reference to Atlético Madrid fans being allowed to travel to Liverpool for their match the day after the Valencia – Atalanta match.
The Valencia-Atalanta encounter itself was an amazing game of football that ended up a seven goal thriller that the Italians edged by the odd goal. Kevin Gameiro got a brace for Los Che and Ferran Torres added another goal to his increasing tally but the Valencia defence had no answer to the swift Italian counter attacks, and especially Josip Iličić, who scored all four goals for the Nerazzurri.
All interviews pre and post-match were cancelled by Valencia, whose team were one of the first in Spain to self-isolate and take precautionary measures. However, these token actions proved too little too late. Since then, the Mayor of Bergamo Giorgio Gori has called the match in Milan a “biological bomb” that probably contaminated 40,000 people. At least one top immunologist (Francisco La Foche) believes the match was “a major trigger and catalyst for the diffusion of the virus.”
Just a few days later, the news got blacker when three players and two members of the backroom staff revealed they too had caught the contagious agent. Some media outlets are currently reporting as many as 35% of the Valencia playing and coaching staff are now affected by the virus.
The Valencia – Atalanta contest was the last competitive match involving La Liga clubs to be played on Spanish soil and intended games with Levante UD, Real Madrid and Osasuna have been postponed. More cancellations are likely to follow. Whether these matches are rescheduled or not remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Captain Parejo has issued a request to all players to keep fit and a lot of them have been taking to social media to send messages of support to the front liners. Notable donations have been made as well. Valencia’s owner Peter Lim has donated 50,000 face masks and 300 thermometers to the region. The squad as a whole have made substantial donations to Casa Caridad Valencia, which is part of the CoronaVida initiative started by Sergio Canales and his Real Betis team mates.
In a further attempt to sustain morale, Parejo and Rodrigo took part in La Liga Santander Fest recently that combined football and music to raise funds for medical supplies. David Bisbal, Alejandro Sanz and Juanes were just a few of the musicians that took part and every La Liga club had representation from at least one player.
José Luis Morales was Levante’s participant in the Fest and the club from the North of the city have been instrumental too in promoting awareness and fundraising with their “Stay at Home” and “Cent Anys Foundation” entitled Charitable Granotas that allows you to donate on line to help purchase sanitary provisions to be distributed among the Valencia homes for the elderly.
Live football may not be available for a while yet but players and clubs as much as anyone can be role models for everyone and they have a common duty to be community leaders in this trying situation.
Contravening the lockdown laws, the antics of the likes of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Celta Virgo’s Pione Sisto should not be on the front pages of the newspapers that everyone wakes up to in a morning. Instead, the efforts of clubs like Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo are to be noted. They rejected the offer of testing kits for players, stating there are many people in Spain who need them more urgently. Donations to help from the likes of Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos should be the kind of headlines that are saturating the press and social media.
As we all play in the biggest match of our lives, the fans will not forget the clubs and players that helped during the crisis. Both Valencia CF and Levante UD are showing the way in how to integrate with the community and remain positive and responsible in times of adversity.