Layhoon Chan arrived at the AS newsroom lugging a heavy suitcase; a trip which took her from Valencia to Madrid then on to London for another item in a packed agenda which is just part of the Valencia president’s daily routine. The visit was planned weeks ago, just when Valencia were mired in a bad moment, the team at their lowest ebb. Yet Laychoon Chan did not once consider cancelling the engagement. During her 18 months as president, she has learned that “in football, things can change every three days” and her visit to AS comes at a time when the team is hitting their best form this term: three wins on the trot – two in LaLiga and a six-goal feast in the Europa League, results which have completely changed the outlook and boosted morale within the club. Her intentions have not changed one iota. At AS, Layhoon Chan illustrated Peter Lim’s project at Valencia. She’s the first to be critical of her own shortcomings and will take note and absorb any advice or suggestions which might benefit the entity. She speaks as though she is in this for the long run and is serious when defending Peter Lim’s honour and credibility as well as her own. During her reflections in her interview with AS, she made one comment which sums up the route she has undertaken: “Whatever it costs, we will make a great Valencia”.
Welcome to AS.
Thank you. It was something which I have been planning to do. It’s been just over a year since Meriton arrived in Valencia and, and after visiting the newsrooms of [regional newspapers] Las Provincias, Levante and Superdeporte, I was keen to explain our project on a national level.
Let’s start at the most recent part of that project: Why Gary Neville?
We are not in favour of constantly changing the coach. Perhaps it’s something which is rooted in Spanish culture, but in our understanding, changing the coach many times can be disastrous. In general, we take decisions based on our own convictions. But with Nuno, the context was complex and the decision was made consensually.
Can you explain further?
We wanted to resolve a problem which was not related to sporting issues – at least, that’s not where it originated from. The fans whistled Nuno in the pre-season presentation after the team had ended last season on 77 points. They linked him to Jorge Mendes, although that wasn’t and isn’t a real problem. But when the results weren’t what everyone expected, it started to affect the team. The players were felt terrified playing at Mestalla that affected the relationship between the players and the coach. They stopped believing and a decision had to be made.
But why Gary Neville?
In December, there is a not a great deal of choice. We took refuge in Gary Neville because we know him. We know his leadership qualities and we needed a motivator – someone who could reactivate the team and who could restore the relationship with the fans. We were aware that he had not coached a team before but we believed in him. He is a club man and he resolved the division in an instant. He was the ideal choice in our opinion. We have a very young squad, with players who are not used to the pressure which has been forced on them and Gary was the ideal person to manage that anxiety although the results didn’t arrive until this week.
12 league games without a win; didn’t it cross you mind to sack him?
You cannot dismiss a coach for a poor run when the players believe in him – they believe in Gary Neville. I do understand the football culture in Spain, but we have belief in what we are doing and we will continue in the direction which we believe is the right one. And with Gary we have been doing well; now the victories are coming. We are looking to secure a project. The first year went better than we expected, this year hasn’t but we will continue to keep investing.
Who will be the architect of next season’s Valencia: García Pitarch or Mendes?
Suso (García Pitarch). If that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have brought him in in the first place. Rufete’s departure left a vacancy within the club’s structure and we have started to rebuild it. Why now? It’s a very important decision to make. It entails putting the confidence that goes with an investment of hundreds of thousands of euros in one person and that requires a great deal of thought. It was something which both Lim and myself had to feel comfortable with. I have worked with Lim for 25 years and the only thing I am absolutely convinced about is that we will make a great Valencia. Let’s hope we can achieve that in three years but if we do it in five, no problem, we will do it in five.
So what exactly is the relationship with Jorge Mendes?
Jorge is a friend. That friendship goes back to before our arrival at Valencia. Jorge’s successes in the football world are there for all to see but he defends his business and we defend ours. After the Jackson Martínez transfer, I joked with him and he said: “Let’s see when you do one like that with us”.
Do you think from the outside, it seems there are more foreigners at the club since Amadeo Salvo left?
With or without Amadeo Salvo, we are always going to be seen as foreigners to the fans. We will always be grateful to Salvo because he valued our project. Our relationship with him is cordial. But we can’t depend on anyone else outside of the decisions we take, we have to do things well to win credibility with the supporters.
How has the new division of audiovisual broadcasting rights left Valencia?
That’s a question for [LaLiga president] Mister Tebas to answer; he is the person who has been working hard on that project. Lim is helping with the auction of broadcasting rights in Asia. LaLiga are on the right path. In Asia, there is a growing interest in Spanish football. It started in 2010 when Spain won the World Cup and has continued with the great interest which Messi and Cristiano create. In Asia, it’s the stars who are the main focus of the public’s interest rather than the clubs. Real Madrid, for example, made a huge leap when they signed David Beckham. But there is a lot of work to be done so that the rest of the clubs remain strong and kick-off times are also very important. In Singapore for example, they started to know about Atlético following an invitation to visit which Lim proposed in 2013 and the businessmen from my country who have visited Mestalla have been captivated by the atmosphere at our stadium. You have to invest in marketing.
How is the new stadium coming along?
The project is being redesigned. We would have liked to have inherited a plot of land – different to the one where the new stadium is being built. We have told the architects to make the necessary tweaks to ensure it is a similar as possible to Mestalla. We’re not going to build a stadium just to look at it. We want a stadium which will help us to win games. And we do not need a capacity of 75,000. 60,000 is closer to our needs.
Is there a deadline date when it will be finished?
We own the plot of land on which the stadium is being built. We are not under any obligation to get it finished by a certain date. But we are committed to ensuring that it is complete by 2019/20. But I would like to say one thing: our business plan is not in the new stadium, our business model is based in investing in the team, in making it grow and investing in the youth academy – for which we have set aside 10 million euros.
In 2009, we put in an offer for Liverpool. But the Royal Bank of Scotland opted for the current American owners. Atlético? Yes, we were in contact with them. But in 2012 we had already spoken to Manuel Llorente about Valencia and after that, the transaction process with Bankia began. That involved nine months of very difficult negotiating and I can assure you that after all the difficulties we went through to get here, we haven’t come here to leave in a year’s time and I do not accept claims that we have come to Valencia to go away with the money.
Your voice and face changed whilst saying that...
I respect opinions and criticism regarding sporting management and also the debate for the prices paid for signings. But there is a limit, a red line which shouldn’t be crossed – and that is the one which concerns honour. There were accusations that we were going to do business with transfers and that is not true. Meriton, Peter Lim and myself came to Valencia as we have in other countries to invest and the ethics on our calling card are reputation and credibility. It takes many years to build a reputation and just five minutes to destroy it. But the limit is the lies whose only objective is to harm credibility. I can understand the criticism of management and more so when the results are not what were expected like this year, but our credibility and honour should never be attacked.
Final question, will Rafa Benítez return to occupy the Valencia bench?
We cannot speak about next season at this moment in time.