The Journeyman | Vamos Valencia: Part 19 – El Sackico

After two successive titles, Valencia CF had suffered a shocking blip in form at the start of the 2029/30 La Liga campaign – even dropping to one place outside the relegation zone! But we’d managed to pick things up towards the end of the year and sat in mid-table as the Spanish league headed into its winter break.

Our first game of 2030 saw us continue that improved form with a strong display against 4th-placed Athletic Bilbao. English striker Philip Cohen scored two early goals, the rejuvenated Juan Martín Sancho added a third and Carlos Soler bagged his first goal of the season late on.

January transfer business

Our first sale of the summer saw goalkeeper Antonio de Lima depart for £13.25 million to Manchester City. He was in the last year of his contract and had refused to sign a new deal for a while so we cashed in while we could. Plus, we have Betinho who was already better than him.

We brought in a new right-back in 19-year-old Colombian Estiven Viáfara, who cost us £5 million.

Rebuild continues

We continued to rebuild our season with a 3-1 win at Málaga. Vedran Stamenkovic nodded home the opener after great play down the left by José Gaya just before half-time. Málaga won a penalty out of nowhere just after half-time but Sancho put us ahead again after latching onto Betinho’s pass then a great solo goal by Cohen finished things off.

We then had two huge home games against Sociedad and Betis, who very surprisingly were up in 2nd and 3rd respectively. First up was a humdinger of a match with Sociedad in which we took the lead twice through left winger Rodolfo Ravera and Cohen only for Mikel Oyarzabal to equalise both times. Late on I made the fairly bold decision to bring on Facundo Pelosi for Cohen and it worked a treat as the youngster scored his first ever league goal to win us the game. What a moment!

We were then dreadful in the first half against Betis and went behind after 17 minutes from an indirect free-kick. But a stern talking to at the break made a difference and Tim-Sebastian Seegert equalised from our own indirect free-kick. Cohen and Stamenkovic conspired to miss simple chances and we held on for a 1-1 draw.

Moving into February we’ve not been sacked yet and we’ve moved up to 8th, some 8 points off European qualification.

A shock result

Two tough away days followed, beginning at Bilbao. We went behind early but got level through Ravera early in the second half. But then idiotic right-back Davide Patti, who has been awful this season, got himself sent off and they went on to win 3-1. That, I think, is Patti’s last game for the club.

Just when we needed a good result, we had to go and play Real Madrid away. Oh joys. A quiet first half saw Madrid dominating in the shots department, and they went and scored through Kevin with the only highlight of the half in the 44th minute. I encouraged the boys at half-time and we came out playing much better after the break, and got a reward for it as Stamenkovic scored only his third goal in 23 appearances.

Madrid seemed to be rattled and didn’t create anything else, while we had a couple of half chances. But then the impossible happened on 81 minutes as Cohen was played in by Gaya and smashed home in trademark style. We had another chance for Seegert and Erling Haaland missed a sitter from close-range but we held on for a famous 2-1 win at the Bernabeú.

It was a special occasion up next as Valencia CF legend José Gaya made his 500th league appearance for the club. And we didn’t disappoint him on the big occasion as we strolled to a 2-0 success over relegation-threatened Alaves thanks to a Cohen brace, which took him to 16 goals for the season. That was also Gaya’s 20th league appearance of the season, which extends the 34-year-old’s contract for another season.

For some reason, despite our improvement in form, the media were still on about me getting sacked. Which is utterly ridiculous after the success I’ve brought to Valencia. And another “El Sackico” followed as we took on Gustavo Poyet’s Zaragoza. But before that, this happened… a meeting with the board.

It’s interesting to note that not a single element of the breakdown is below a C and they generally seem happy with how things are going, which is infuriating. And the meeting was a total waste of time as I told them we’d had some tough fixtures, and they agreed. Righto!

We took the lead with a Cohen penalty, created nothing else, and they equalised in the second half of a dreadful match.

Man United… again

For the second season in a row, we drew Manchester United in the first knockout round of the Champions League. We were at home in the first leg and got a great start as centre-back Itamar Junges headed home his first goal of the season from a corner. Cohen then doubled our tally, Houssem Aouar got one back in the first minute of the second half, and Cohen scored his second late on to give us a 3-1 lead.

We then went to Manchester and the first-half was pretty tame until Cohen latched onto a Carrillo clearance and ran through from the halfway line to score. That had us looking good but he then went and doubled his tally and, despite a late consolation, we won 2-1 to secure a 5-2 aggregate win.

In the next round we got… Real Madrid. Sigh. However, we gave ourselves a chance in the home leg as, despite Kylian Mbappé putting them ahead on 13 minutes, we turned it around into a 2-1 lead inside 31 minutes with goals from Cohen and Ravera. We went behind early in the second leg but did well to hold Madrid to 1-0 but couldn’t find a way through and we went out on away goals.

Chasing Euro qualification

We then faced two huge home games against leaders Barcelona and fifth-placed Villarreal, which were crucial to our minimal chances of European qualification

We started very well by putting a dent in Barca’s plans to steal our crown with a 3-1 win. Captain Carlos Soler, now 33, scored a fierce strike from a corner, then Cohen scored a penalty just before half-time and killed the game off on 85 minutes – which made it 8 goals in his last 5 games.

Villarreal came to town and we clearly took inspiration from that Barca win as we bagged three goals in 8 first-half minutes from Seegert, Sergio Carrillo and Cohen, who bagged another 6 minutes later. At half-time we’d had 7 shots to their 4 and led 4-0! Nothing happened in the second half but we’ll take it.

That moved us 5 points behind Villarreal, on the same day that Sociedad went top of the league and Real drew at Alaves. What a strange old season this is!

We kept our good form going with a 3-0 win at Osasuna, in which Cohen again scored twice, which took us up to 6th before an international break. We continued it after the break with a 2-0 win at home to Valladolid, with goals from Sancho and substitute Diego Gutiérrez, then the same result at home to Espanyol thanks to Stamenkovic and Cohen. This fine form saw us jump up to 5th and into contention for European qualification places.

A 0-0 draw at Rayo Vallecano was followed by a great match at Leganés. We raced into a two-goal lead inside 16 minutes with Marco Kana’s first goal of the season and a Cohen penalty and they pulled one back 5 minutes later. Carrillo made things comfortable with a 30-yard piledriver and they pulled one back late on.

We stepped things up a notch with a 4-0 thumping of Celta thanks to Ravera bagging a brilliant 12-minute first-half hat-trick. Then a 1-1 draw at Mallorca ensured we qualified for the Europa League – which I think represents a pretty decent recovery.

Despite that, the board are still rating me at an E and the media again labelled our season closer against Atletico as “El Sackico” for me and Mauricio Pochettino. And we lost the final game 1-0, which ensured we finished the season in 6th place.

However, that wasn’t good enough for the board, who called me in for another meeting… I told them we’d had tough fixtures and just needed time to turn it around but they didn’t agree. And sacked me on the spot, despite qualifying for Europe and reaching their expectations of the Champions League quarter-finals.

Oh well… I guess now we have more time to focus on the World Cup and looking for a new job to continue this Journeyman save! On the same day, Real Madrid sacked Rafa Benitez, after they finished 2nd…

Join us next time to discover where we go post-Valencia. And, keep an eye out for a World Cup campaign with the USA in Soccerball Part 3 on Saturday!

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