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Gary Neville burnt at the stake in Valencia

The festival of fire provided an opportunity for Valencia fans to vent their fury at owner Peter Lim and manager Gary Neville as Valencia are now just 6 points from relegation battle
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Gary Neville burnt at the stake in Valencia

‘Las Fallas’ is Valencia’s world-renowned festival of fire: a week-long celebration held every year where fireworks fly through the streets, gunpowder explodes in the main square, the locals create ‘ninots’ of famous figures from wood, paper mache and cardboard, and then burn them down in a symbolic gesture to express the desire for something better to rise from the ashes.

A giant Mariano Rajoy head, Spain’s president, was set on fire, as was a massive Pope Francis, and angry Valencia fans even made a collection of ninots that included owner Peter Lim, manager Gary Neville, Chairwoman Layhoon Chan and ex-manager Nuno.

Valencia’s season went up in flames when they were knocked out of the Europa League by Athletic, ironically with their best performance so far under Neville; they won 2-1 but went out on away goals.

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On Sunday evening chants of "donkey" and "Gary go now" broke out as his side’s defence was incinerated by Celta Vigo in the final fifteen minutes leading to a third consecutive La Liga defeat at home.

The fury at the club che was evident when AS spoke to J. Pascual Martínez, a life-long fan, club member, season-ticket holder and commentator on Valencia local media:

Gary Neville is a macabre joke. But he’s not the only macabre joke this season, he’s just one in a procession of sick macabre jokes that has put us on the road to the Segunda División, out of the Champions League, the Europa League and the Copa Del Rey.

Joke no.1: The age of the squad. The genius who put together the youngest squad in La Liga, the second-youngest in Europe, actually stated that these were his two objectives:

1) Champions League qualification: 3 or 4 of these youngsters would have to explode onto the scene in the same season for that to happen – extremely improbable.

2) Achieve a successful, innovative and profitable sporting model within two years.

Lim’s inexperience in the game makes him believe that he can do what has never been done before.

Joke no.2: Take a commentator and make him manager. So the grand design was what, exactly? To assemble a group of inexperienced players, many of them debuting in the Champions League and La Liga, a group lacking unity and identity, and bring in someone who doesn’t even speak the same language? Incredible.

Imagine a multinational company appointing a CEO whose executives and sales team admit after two months that they can’t even understand their own boss.

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Joke no.3: Gary Neville’s poo-pooing of the winter transfer window. You’d have thought that Neville would at least analyse what went wrong for Nuno. Kids! Too many kids! 13 out of 22 players under the age of 23, looking around helplessly for leaders on the pitch, running around with their heads cut off, no tactical rigour, no order when pressing the ball, all over the place from set-pieces.

Then Neville wades into this orgy of footballing illiteracy and irresponsibility and calls the January market “useless”? Brave ignorance.

I don’t buy it when people say that the owner has paid for the right to make mistakes. Money alone does not buy legitimacy, just because he shoots himself in the foot, it doesn’t mean that all us Valencia fans have to stand around guffawing at him limping around, shrug our shoulders and say “sure it’s his money”.

Making mistakes is one thing, but this is near criminal negligence. Bringing in Juande Ramos and getting relegated would be a mistake, installing Gary Neville because he’s a friend and business associate is nothing less than negligence.

Being the owner gives you legitimacy in the boardroom to make decisions, but it doesn’t give you the right to be irresponsible. Lim may be the owner, the ultimate power and the money is his, but I’m a club member and a season-ticket holder which at very least makes me a stakeholder, one entitled to demand responsible administration as a minimum.

The way the club has been run this season has bordered on criminal negligence, a crime than can carry a sentence of six months to three years in prison here in Spain. We’ve gone from the Champions League to relegation contenders in one season. How did that happen?

How did it happen? This is a lost season, irreversible. In La Liga, Pako Ayestaran has brought a little more discipline and coherence, but there isn’t enough time to sort out the Bermuda triangles all over the pitch.

It turns out that Piatti is our Xavi, another sick joke; the veterans are all out of form – Negredo, Javi Fuego (spectacularly), Alves; Feghouli is like a man who’s invented a football kit that makes you invisible on the pitch, leaving you with Dani Parejo the only one with any hierarchy, and he’s the perfect portrait of inconsistency; neither Barragán nor Piatti have Champions League quality despite being pedalled as saviours. Sick, macabre joke after joke.

Another good one is how the money from Otamendi’s sale to City was spent: €37M on Abdennour and Aderlan, both brought in by agent Jorge Mendes, who just happens to be a friend and business associate of Peter Lim’s. Hilarious. A succession of twisted jokes that amounts to nothing less than grave irresponsibility.”

The doomed Valencia effigy burned in the ‘Las Fallas’ festival had a huge paper-mache Peter Lim and a short verse written in local Valenciano which read:

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“On the silk road we found a rich merchant who deals in big sums, his name is Lim and he says he likes football, in his cart he carries many rolls of silk, a number of administrative morons, and a socially inept trainer who nobody trusts”.

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An expression of the sense of disconnection and distrust that many football fans share in the high-stakes modern game, but the question for Valencia is: where to from here? First, Neville has to ensure Primera Liga survival for los che, six points from the drop with eight matches left to play.


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