Football Features

The players from Ronald Koeman’s polarising Valencia stint: From Copa del Rey winners to relegation dogfight

By Ben Green

Published: 11:09, 6 November 2020

As a player in La Liga you’d be hard pressed to find a blot on Ronald Koeman’s CV, but as a manager? Well, let’s just say he hasn’t quite replicated the success he enjoyed as part of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”.

After hanging up his boots, the next natural step for a former Dutch and Barcelona player was of course the dugout, especially one schooled in Cruyffian principles. And in 2007 he returned to Spanish soil, taking the reins at Valencia after Quique Sanchez Flores was given his marching orders.

Koeman’s stint at Los Che can best be described as tumultuous. Despite guiding the club to Copa del Rey success, his side were embroiled in a relegation dogfight. Having finished dead last in Group B of the Champions League as well, and suffering a 5-1 defeat to Athletic Bilbao in April, Koeman left Mestalla after five months.

He inherited a fine squad, and while he did win Spain’s flagship knockout tournament, his stint is not fondly remembered. “I wouldn’t even hire Koeman as the kit man,” Joaquin recently commented. Ouch! So, where are the Dutchman’s charges from that 2007/08 season now?

Goalkeeper: Timo Hildebrand

  • Age: 41
  • Appearances for Valencia: 39
  • Current club: Retired

Signed on a free transfer that summer from boyhood club Stuttgart, the former Germany international spent one full season at Mestalla, during which time he functioned as Koeman’s main man between the sticks. Following the appointment of Koeman’s successor Unai Emery, Hildebrand fell out of favour and eventually returned to Germany, turning out for Hoffenheim, Schalke 04 and Eintracht Frankfurt with a spell at Sporting Lisbon sandwiched in between.

The retired shot-stopper still holds the record for the longest time without conceding in the Bundesliga (885 minutes) from his Stuttgart days. Well, that proved little help for Koeman. Only relegated Murcia (65) and Levante (75) conceded more than Valencia in the 2007/08 La Liga season.

Right-back: Miguel

  • Age: 40
  • Appearances for Valencia: 231
  • Current club: Retired

The 59-capped Portugal international spent seven seasons with Valencia having signed from Benfica in 2005, and retired at the Mestalla in 2012. For Koeman he was the Dutchman’s go-to right-back, with the Lisbon-born defender providing the assist in Valencia’s only Champions League win that season: a 1-0 victory over Schalke 04 (which was just before Koeman’s time at the club anyway).

Centre-back: Raul Albiol

  • Age: 35
  • Appearances for Valencia: 174
  • Current club: Villarreal
  • Football Index value: Buy: £0.30 – Sell: £0.15

The former Real Madrid and Napoli centre-back has enjoyed an illustrious career at the top of the game, but arguably his lowest ebb was during that season. Such was the caustic and chaotic environment that Koeman created at Valencia that Albiol at one stage compared the dressing room to a “funeral”.

Part of Rafa Benitez’s 2004 UEFA Cup-winning side, Albiol was instrumental in the Copa del Rey win and eventually left for Real Madrid in 2009. His career post-Mestalla has seen him win the World Cup, the second of two European Championships with Spain, La Liga, the Copa del Rey again and Coppa Italia with Napoli.


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Centre-back: Carlos Marchena

  • Age: 41
  • Appearances for Valencia: 307
  • Current club: Sevilla (academy manager)

Marchena’s partnership with Roberto Ayala was the keystone of Valencia’s success in the early noughties, but that disintegrated when the Argentine legend left in 2007. By the time Koeman entered the dugout, Marchena had already won La Liga twice and lifted the UEFA Cup with Los Che. He added the only Copa del Rey of his career with Koeman, but the Dutchman would be out of the door just five days later.

Since then, the Sevilla graduate has won the Euros and World Cup with Spain, and represented the likes of Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruna and Kerala Blasters in India. He hung up his boots in 2015 and functioned as Fernando Hierro’s impromptu assistant during that chaotic 2018 World Cup campaign, and is now academy manager at Sevilla.

Left-back: Emiliano Moretti

  • Age: 39
  • Appearances for Valencia: 177
  • Current club: Retired

A centre-half by trade, Moretti primarily functioned as a left-back during Koeman’s six months at the helm. The Roman made his debut in Serie A under Roberto Mancini in 2001 for Fiorentina and has turned out for the likes of Juventus, Parma and Genoa, calling time on his career last season with Torino.

Moretti was tasked with marking Lionel Messi and then Samuel Eto’o in the Copa del Rey semi-final, but the two-time Italy international stood up to the task and helped Los Che reach the showpiece.

Central midfield: Ever Banega

  • Age: 32
  • Appearances for Valencia: 185
  • Current club: Al-Shabab
  • Football Index value: Buy: £0.55 – Sell: £0.03

Signed midway through the campaign from Boca Juniors as one of Argentina’s most promising wonderkids, Banega was immediately handed a chance to showcase his worth for Koeman, and the Dutchman’s instincts certainly served him well.

Banega has gone one to become one of South America’s finest exports and has lit up European soil for over a decade. He won the Europa League thrice with Sevilla, notably playing a key role in the win over Inter Milan last season, and has now packed up way too soon at only 32 for football in the Middle East.

Central midfield: Ruben Baraja

  • Age: 45
  • Appearances for Valencia: 364
  • Current club: Zaragoza (manager)

Baraja donned the colours of Valladolid, Atletico Madrid and of course Valencia across his career, winning two La Liga medals, a Copa del Rey, the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup with the latter. The 43-capped Spain international made just south of 400 appearances for Los Che and has since gone into management, most recently with Segunda Division side Zaragoza.

Right wing: Joaquin 

  • Age: 39
  • Appearances for Valencia: 215
  • Current club: Real Betis
  • Football Index value: Buy: £0.73 – Sell: £0.05

It’s safe to say Joaquin is not a fan of Koeman. At the time the outspoken winger was critical of his manager’s tactics which had the players “running round like headless chickens”, while more recently he has opened up an wound as the two prepare to meet this weekend as Barcelona take on Real Betis.

Joaquin admitted the subject remains a sensitive one for him, saying: “honestly it hurts me what happened there, I had a bad time.”

He went on to add that he would not even hire Koeman as a “kit man” at his club and that the two ‘will not greet’ each other at the Camp Nou on Saturday.

I’m not sure what it is, but I have a sneaky feeling Koeman is not on Joaquin’s Christmas card list.

Central attacking midfield: David Silva

  • Age: 34
  • Appearances for Valencia: 166
  • Current club: Real Sociedad
  • Football Index value: Buy: £0.72 – Sell: £0.49

A playmaker grandmaster and one of the greatest players ever to grace the Premier League. It is no surprise that Silva made the most appearances for Valencia that season, scoring seven goals and, surprise surprise, registering a club-high 11 assists. A player that just oozes class even in uncertain times.

Left wing: Juan Mata

  • Age: 32
  • Appearances for Valencia: 174
  • Current club: Manchester United
  • Football Index value: Buy: £0.46Sell: £0.21

Another elegant playmaker, Mata was just 19 at the time but his footballing ability far exceeded his cherubic features, and Koeman certainly appreciated the lithe winger. The 2007/08 season announced Mata to the world, having just transferred from Real Madrid’s youth ranks.

He took advantage of an injury to regular starter Vicente, while Miguel Angel Angulo and Koeman were at loggerheads. He scored twice in the Copa del Rey semi-final against Barcelona, and Los Che knew at that point, they had unearthed an absolute gem.

Striker: David Villa

  • Age: 38
  • Appearances for Valencia: 220
  • Current club: Retired

A superlative marksman, David Villa has etched his name in the annals of scoring greats. During the season he bagged 22 goals for Los Che and by the end of the campaign he signed a six-year deal.

That year was Villa at the peak of his powers, but then again, he was at the peak of his powers for nearly two decades before calling time of his trophy-spangled career in 2019. Koeman was truly blessed with that frontline.