Wednesday, April 24, 2024
HomeSportsCould Valencia’s Nou Mestalla finally be built after a 15-year delay? Many...

Could Valencia’s Nou Mestalla finally be built after a 15-year delay? Many still consider it a ‘ghost ground’.

The cheers rang long and loud around Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium as fans celebrated Hugo Guillamon’s late equaliser against Barcelona in their final home match before La Liga’s Christmas break.Four kilometres away, on the other side of Valencia’s old city centre, all was quiet around the site of the Nou Mestalla — where the club’s half-built new home has sat untouched for the past 15 years.Through all that time, one of La Liga’s most storied clubs has found itself stuck in this bizarre situation — unable to raise the money to finish a modern new ground, unable to sell its historic home.Meanwhile, a team used to competing at the highest level in national and European competition has found itself fighting relegation, with the club’s historic debts becoming ever more difficult to deal with.On a recent visit to Spain’s third biggest city, The Athletic took 20 minutes just to walk around the perimeter of the huge Nou Mestalla site. Inside the high steel fence around the huge concrete bowl there was no human presence, just eerie stillness and silence.Locals went about their business without even looking, long accustomed to a situation which remains a huge embarrassment for many in the city.But outside events, including funding organised by La Liga and the possibility of hosting some games at the World Cup in 2030, have now opened up the possibility of a solution finally being found.“I believe it is now or never for the new stadium,” club president Lay Hoon Chan told sceptical fans at the club’s annual general meeting on December 14.Can Valencia really resolve its unique ‘two stadiums’ problem? And will the team really benefit?All the way back on November 10 2006, Valencia president Juan Soler presented the proposed design for a 75,000 seater ‘Nuevo Mestalla’. He told those assembled in the impressive futuristic surroundings of Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences that it would be “the best stadium in the world”, and its site would include 25,000 square metres of shops, cinemas and themed restaurants.“This stadium represents the wish of ‘Valencianismo’ to become an example in the world of football,” Soler said. The original design for the Nou Mestalla, unveiled in 2006 (Arup)“We want the 2010 Champions League final played here,” said city mayor Rita Barbera to rapturous applause from those present, including regional president Francisco Camps.Soler’s plan was to borrow the €260million (£224m; $284m at current exchange rates) required from local banks to build on a site across town provided by the local council. The money would be repaid by selling the existing Mestalla stadium for development. The move would even be profitable, it was said, taking advantage of a booming property market in the city.Work began with engineers Arup Sport and builders FCC Construcciones and Grupo Bertolin on August 1 2007. Within months came the first signs that Spain’s property bubble was bursting, and a bank crisis quickly followed. Soler stepped down as Valencia president in March 2008, citing “health concerns”, and it soon emerged the club owed almost €550million.On February 25 2009, a decision was made under new president Juan Soriano to temporarily halt all work on the new stadium. Around €100million had already been spent, and the initial concrete bowl base had been constructed. But there was no money to add the striking reflective aluminium skin on top, and borrowing was impossible.In the 14 years since, four different club presidents — Manuel Llorente, Amadeo Salvo, Lay Hoon Chan and Anil Murthy — have each presented new and different plans for the stadium. Each model has been progressively more modest (or realistic) about the design, capacity and budget that could be possible.But through those years nothing has changed at the Avenida de los Cortes Valencianas, apart from the peeling of paint and spreading of weeds around the half-finished structure.When Singapore-based businessman Peter Lim took majority control of Valencia in 2014, he said the team would celebrate its centenary at the Nou Mestalla. That passed in 2019 at the old ground, which itself celebrated its 100th birthday last May.“The new stadium was always on the agenda when we had board meetings but there was little indication of how to proceed,” a former director under Lim says. Two different Nou Mestalla projects were announced (in 2017 and 2020), but no real progress was made. Valencia’s unfinished Nou Mestalla has been left standing still since February 2009 (The Athletic)The situation only really changed in December 2021, with La Liga’s €2billion deal with CVC Capital Partners. Of the €120m due to Valencia, €80m had to be spent on infrastructure. Murthy quickly said that the full amount would be put towards fixing its two-stadium problem, and set a new possible date of September 2022 to get work started again.The €80million was approximately half of what the club needed to finish Nou Mestalla. The board now became more “proactive” in raising the rest, according to a source involved in that process — who, like all those cited here, requested to speak anonymously to protect relationships.It was always clear that using the proceeds of the sale of the old Mestalla site to at least part-finance the move was difficult. Various plans with different local developers and a housing co-operative have been floated over the years, but no binding contracts signed.Current president Lay Hoon said at December 2023’s AGM that they now have “advanced negotiations” with a new buyer for the old stadium site. But multiple sources say nobody will commit to buying an apartment in a place where a football team is currently playing, especially when nobody can confirm when that team will leave.Valencia’s historical financial issues, which have not improved under Lim’s control, also make further borrowing difficult. The latest accounts show total debts of almost €500million — €134m short-term and €335m long-term liabilities. Among these is an €89m loan with local lender Caixabank, for which the old stadium is collateral. In the words of one former club executive: “If you sell this site, you have to pay off the bank — not use the money to build the new stadium.”More useful is the possibility of selling part of the Nou Mestalla site. The initial plan always included the construction of two towers nearby, with over 40,000 square metres of space for hotel, commercial and residential use. In March 2023, a potential deal was agreed with local investors Atitlan, controlled by the Roig family who own Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona. This would provide over €30million, once the new stadium was completed. The club are also counting on about €5m from the sale of the club’s offices — across the street from their current home — with a hotel potentially to be built on that site. Valencia plan to have the stadium completed by 2026 (Xisco Navarro/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Valencia say this €115million financing is enough to restart work on the half-completed stadium. They calculate they would still need to raise around 15 per cent of the total cost of €340m from banks or investment funds, but that would not be needed until the final stages of the construction project. The club denies local media reports that they have already organised two loans — €15m from Caixabank (who have the mortgage on the old stadium) and €15m from English fund Rights and Media Funding Limited (who in November 2021 “advanced” €51m to Valencia in exchange for a percentage of future TV rights).Nobody around Valencia doubts that it makes sense to spend the CVC money on the project. But the hugely indebted club taking on even more liabilities worries many supporters. Others argue that finishing the new stadium is key to finally turning the club’s finances around. Nobody can really say for sure.One thing everyone accepts is that the current Nou Mestalla project is a less ambitious version of the “best stadium in the world” announced almost two decades ago now.The original architects, now called Fenwick Iribarren, have maintained their connection through that time, regularly adapting the design to different financial realities and evolving industry best practices.“Everybody has to admit that we’ve gone from an economically difficult time, but austerity doesn’t mean it can’t be a stupendous, magnificent stadium and a source of pride for the Valencia CF fans,” co-founder Mark Fenwick said in 2022.The current project is to have 66,000 seats, which can be expanded over time to 70,016. The previous design included an aluminium skin over….

RELATED ARTICLES

Most Popular