The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 14 – Rebuilding for a Title Defence

Our exciting Valencia CF side were riding high on the wave of a first La Liga title in 24 years in the 2027/28 campaign. But we knew a wounded Barcelona and Real Madrid would come back fighting.

Our preparations for a title defence in 2028/29 began with club legend José Gaya, now 33, and captain and club icon Carlos Soler, 31, signing new contracts that should help them both become one-club heroes. Both are also within touching distance of breaking the club’s all-time league appearances record that currently stands at 459, with Gaya currently on 445 and Soler on 441.

Valencia departures

The new season began with a big sale as 22-year-old English winger Raldane Barber moved back home to join Tottenham for £50 million. He popped up with a few goals but only 5 and 1 assist in the league, and he joined on a free 12 months earlier. So that’s great business, I think…

We also allowed Daniele Rugani and Rodrigo Fernandes to leave for free as their contracts expired after 8 and 4 years at the club respectively. Speaking of free transfers, Son Heung-Min joined Leipzig after leaving us 12 months ago and failed to score a single goal for them in 32 appearances, so I think we got that one right! However, he’s now just joined Valladolid on a free, so I look forward to him scoring against us.

We had some big bids come in for centre-back Itamar Junges, with the biggest being £94 million from Man City. But I refused them all as we can’t replace him.

New signings

We were in need of a good new midfielder and we found one, and a Spanish one at that! Sergio Carrillo joined when the transfer window opened for an initial £17.5 million from Levante, and he’s already worth £51 million. I’m hopeful that he’s going to be a star, he’s already described by the fans as a “global superstar” and he’s natural at both centre back and centre midfield.

We also picked up an exciting new left winger in 18-year-old Italian Rodolfo Ravera and his 20 flair, who joins for £11 million from Salernitana. While 16-year-old Czech holding midfieldr Dominik Hruby comes in for £3 million from Viktoria Plzen. And we finalised the pre-arranged transfer of 18-year-old attacking midfielder Sait Bayburt, who arrives for £5 million from Trabzonspor and we’re going to train to become a right winger.

We also snapped up an exciting centre-back on deadline day from under the noses of both Manchester clubs. 16-year-old Win van der Leegte arrived for £6 million from PSV and looks like a great talent.

The week before the season kicked off, I realised we only had one goalkeeper as our backup last season was on loan! That forced me into the market and we again raided former club Sporting Lisbon for one of their starlets we brought through the club’s youth academy. Betinho arrived for a fairly eye-watering £25 million that could become £65 million. But, he looks fantastic and still has loads of room to improve.

Season preparation

A big concern heading into the new season was a lack of wingers, which probably wasn’t helped by selling Barber! But to help with that I’ve decided to convert two strikers. Federico Seoane is now training to become an inside forward on the left and Vedran Stamenkovic the same on the right. Both are great players… but they’re not Philip Cohen… and I think they have the attributes to play on the wings.

But we are looking a little short across the park, while Barca and Real have gone out and spent money. So I very much think that qualifying for the Champions League would be a good achievement for us this season.

La Liga 2028/29 kicks off

We went into an opening day clash with Real Sociedad without our best two attackers as Cohen was injured and Juan Martín Sancho was suspended. That meant club debuts for 18-year-old new signing Ravera and Seoane, who can finally be registered 2 years after signings. Sociedad had just hired Jurgen Klopp, who did a job swap with Unai Emery after being sacked by Spain following a poor Euro 2028 outing.

However, los chicos put in a ridiculously good performance. Ravera grabbed a debut goal inside the first minute and we doubled our lead 25 minutes later with an Ainsley Maitland-Niles own goal. Things got silly after half-time as Ravera doubled his tally, Seoane got his first goal after a monumental defensive error, then Ravera wrapped up a debut hat-trick with 3 minutes remaining. A 5-0 thumping to begin our title defence!

A trip to Getafe followed and Soler got us going with a wonderful 20-yard volley then Seoane made it 2 from 2 by heading home a corner from Sancho – who replaced hat-trick hero Ravera. We could even afford a missed Gaya penalty in the last minute to win 2-0.

The great start continued as Sevilla came to town. They got a great start through Cristiano Sousa, only for Sancho to level with a brilliant solo goal then a Gaya penalty and Stamenkovic’s first of the season saw us score 3 in 8 minutes. Soler hit another screamer to wrap up a 4-1 win in the second half.

More good news is that Sancho and goalkeeper Antonio de Lima both obtained Spanish nationality the day after deadline day, meaning Seoane is now the only non-EU player at the club. Which means we can prioritise some Brazilian wonderkids…

Our strong start won me the August manager of the month and the boys took the confidence into a stunning performance at new boys Rayo Vallecano. Gaya got things started by winning and scoring a penalty in the first minute, Cohen scored on his first appearance of the season, then Sergio Carrillo scored his first Valencia goal to put us 3 up inside 12 minutes.

It stayed that way up until Stamenkovic scored on 70 minutes then two more from Tim-Sebastian Seegert and Seoane saw us romp home 6-0 with six different scorers. Stamenovic and Junges also both got 2 assists.

We then went to Bilbao and substitute Marquet grabbed a late equaliser for a probably undeserved 1-1 draw. And on the same day Real Madrid lost at Atletico Madrid. So who did we play next? Yep, Atletico.

But we put in what has to be the best performance of the save so far to absolutely hammer Atletico. Stamenkovic opened the scoring on 17 minutes, Seegert added a second and Stamenkovic doubled his tally in injury time. Then both Ravera and young midfielder Femi Okonkwo scored long-range screamers to round off the beating.

We struggled to a 1-1 draw at Zaragoza but bounced back with an impressive 3-0 win over Real Betis. Stamenkovic was loving life in his new right wing role and scored another brace, alongside a close-range finish from Cohen.

A 2-0 win over Villarreal courtesy of Ravera and a Gaya penalty was followed by Stamenkovic being the hero again as he scored the only goal in an undeserved 1-0 win at Malaga.

But we were back to our best as we went to Espanyol and thumped them 4-0 with a hat-trick from Cohen and Stamenkovic’s 8th of the season, which was more than his tally of 7 in the previous two seasons combined. Interestingly, Stamenkovic has now become a natural right winger.

That teed up a big game against Real Madrid, who were faring much better this season than last. But they were no match for our increasingly impressive team. We dominated the first half with 7 shots to 2, then came out flying in the second with two goals in five minutes from Cohen and Stamenkovic sealing a 2-0 win.

That left us in second place and unbeaten on 32 points from 12 games, one point behind Barcelona, who’d started the season superbly.

Champions League challenge

We got drawn in a tough looking Champions League group alongside AC Milan, Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk. But we started well by beating Shakhtar 2-0, then drew 1-1 at Leverkusen and 0-0 at home to Milan.

Join us next time as we push ahead with our defence of La Liga and to see if we can fare any better in the Champions League this year.

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