On the road with Manchester United...Magical Mestalla could be pain in Spain for Red Devils

29 September 2010 02:44
The crumbling Mestalla Stadium in Valencia is a fitting home for the city's football team.

At first glance, worn out and jaded, it comes alive on match days. A concrete cauldron of noise and passion.

Valencia should have been playing in a shiny new arena to the north of the city long before now, but more of that later.

The 12th man: Valencia can always count on their passionate fans

The 55,000-capacity Mestalla has survived against the odds and so toohave the team that face ManchesterUnited in the Champions League.

That Valencia even qualified for this season's competition was some achievement for a club wallowing in debt and struggling to pay their players, the best of whom were about to be sold off.

That they are currently top of La Liga, ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona, is even more remarkable considering David Villa, David Silva and Nikola Zigic all left in the summer.

The money it brought in barely touched the club's £400m-plus debts, but Valencia fight on and are without doubt the biggest threat to Sir Alex Ferguson's hopes of winning Group C.

Ferguson does not need reminding about United's poor record in Spain. Only once have they won here, a 2-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna in 2002 courtesy of goals from David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Quiet now: The United players train in an empty Mestalla the day before the match

That is, of course, not including the Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich in Barcelona 11 years ago.

Five of the last seven trips here have ended in a goalless draw, which might not be a bad result for a United side missing Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, and with Rio Ferdinand still on his way back from injury.

The England captain stood up forhalf of United's flight over to ease the strain on his troublesome back, although the reporting of this fact and other details about United's trip over by the travelling media did not go down particularly well with club officials.

Ferguson still appeared to be in good spirits when he gave his pre-match press conference.

It was his first appearance for some time having missed last week's CarlingCup tie at Scunthorpe to travel to Spain to scout tonight's opponents (who wouldn't?), cancelled his weekly date with the media on Friday and then even skipped his interview with MUTV after Sunday's draw at Bolton.

Crocked: Giggs (left) and Rooney are ruled out for the Red Devils' Spanish test

The cramped auditorium where he held court was typical of the Mestalla in general.

Looking out from the highest concrete walkways of the stadium, you can peer into the apartments just across the street where people are making dinner and hanging out their laundry.

Valencia's home since 1923, it reminds you of the old-fashioned English stadiums like Goodison Park, nestled among the city centre streets and fans before our clubs were transported to retail parks and new developments out of town. 

It is an affluent part of Valencia and, as such, the land sale of theMestalla should have guaranteed Valencia more than enough money to fundtheir new stadium in the northern suburbs -  a £250m, 75,000-seater NouMestalla that was meant to be ready for the start of last season.

But with building work well advanced on the new site, the global economic crisis hit at the worst possible time.

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It means Valencia are in a tricky situation where they cannot sell one stadium , and cannot afford to finish building the other.

Construction on the futuristic, three-tier arena with an aluminium exterior started in August 2007 but, with Valencia owing £40m to the building companies, it ground to a halt in February 2009.

It is still at least 14 months from completion and, scandalously, parts of it have already been damaged beyond repair according to recent reports in the Spanish media.

Valencia president Manolo Llorente has been brought in to try and salvage the situation, overseeing the sales of Villa to Barcelona, Silva to Manchester City and Zigic to Birmingham, as well as a new share issue.

Meanwhile the Nou Mestalla sits in solemn silence, a monument to overspending.

Fortunately for Valencia, the old one is alive and kicking as United will discover tonight. 

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Source: Daily_Mail

World Cup Group G

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- Tunisia 0 0
- England 0 0