Anil Murthy: A Diplomatic Revolution
The domestic dominance of Barcelona, Real Madrid and, to a lesser extent, Atletico Madrid, is hard to break, and not just on the pitch as Murthy acknowledged, stating: “You can’t compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona in terms of budget. So we need to think differently about marketing.
“We must have a local strategy because we need to fill the stadium but we need to look at international markets as well. That’s where the (English) Premier League clubs have done very well and Real Madrid and Barcelona are doing very well. Realistically we can’t go head-to-head with the clubs already implanted, so we have to find niche markets.”
On transfers too, the club must cast a wider net than richer rivals. To aid the search, in March Valencia announced the capture of highly-regarded former Juventus scouting manager Pablo Longoria as Director of Scouting, Analysis and Recruitment.
“The coach knows what he needs in terms of transfers. But what we lacked in the past is proposing good, young players with potential, in our budget. Sometimes you have to look for them in places other people are not looking,” Murthy said.
The club have a proud history of producing players and want new signings balanced with home-grown talents. Juan Mata, Isco and Paco Alcácer are three examples of stars who spent time in Valencia’s youth system and, of the current first team, academy graduate José Luis Gayà continues to impress at left-back.
Murthy hopes a change of focus in the academy will help unearth the next generation. Until recently, the academy included “social” players without a path to professionalism, but now works exclusively with youngsters who might one day play for their hometown team.
“One of our biggest priorities is to take the academy to the next level. The advantage we have is in the Valencian community there is a lot of talent. Are we doing the maximum to capture this talent? The answer is no,” Murthy said.
“We want to let the entire community know that any kid with talent has a chance to go to our first team. For a club like Valencia, we must have a strong group of academy players coming through.”
One legacy Murthy has inherited is a “new” stadium that has sat unfinished for nine years. He blames a former club president for the “skeleton” in the city but says the “big economic impact” from cancelling the project means it will press ahead if some important adjustments are made.
“The current license is for a 75,000 capacity with a running track. That’s not a football stadium. And especially not one you would move from Mestalla (Stadium) for,” he said.
Valencia now favour a reduced 50,000 capacity for the Nou Mestalla with a design that produces a similarly intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams as their current home. Should the amended project proceed on time, Valencia will be in its new stadium by the 2021/22 season.
But there’s no point in a new stadium if you can’t fill it and the club are working on how to attract younger fans to matches. Internal research revealed the average age of Valencia’s 37,000 season ticket holders was 44.
“There are many more things people can do nowadays than sit in the stadium for two hours. How do you bring the excitement of going to a game to the youth? We’re visiting schools and talking to young people because you have to bring them and their families back into the stadium,” Murthy said.
Closer engagement with fans has been a priority for Murthy. He led the opening of a fan area and relationship-building initiatives like former players calling club members on their birthdays. After nearly 2,000 season ticket holders cancelled their direct debit payments at the start of the season, the club rang every one of them. In one day, 20 per cent renewed.
“These are simple things, but we used to work with intermediaries to reach out to fans – now we want to talk to every fan directly. At the end of the day it’s about people and you must talk to them. Sometimes they will scold you but you must talk to them and listen and learn from that,” Murthy said.
Little more than a year after some fans protested against the club hierarchy, Murthy says “the majority” who backed Valencia through a tough time are seeing the reward on the pitch.
“This club is the most important institution in the city. I think the problem was we didn’t connect to this majority before,” he said.
“We are happy to work with anyone who has been friendly and supportive to us. That is something you learn in diplomacy.”
Images: Lázaro de la Peña / Valencia CF