It should never have come to this. When Valencia captain David Albelda spoke to former team-mate Juan Mata earlier in their respective Champions League campaigns he told him – only half in jest – to make sure Chelsea beat Bayer Leverkusen to help send both teams through.
Chelsea slipped and now it's do or die in the last game in their group. Mata (right) must fall, if his friend Albelda is to pass.
According to the latter, it's a minor miracle that Valencia are even in this sort of company given all that has happened to them in recent years. They are the survivor club and Albelda – a servant of 15 seasons – is king of the survivors.
"We spoke earlier in the tournament," he says of his friendship with Mata. "I was saying to him, 'See if you can beat those Germans and do us all a favour.' Unfortunately it wasn't to be and now we have to compete against each other."
Albelda is not surprised by the success of his former team-mate in London. "When a club like Chelsea pays that kind of money, it is because the player is already proving what a top player he is."
Mata's goal threat will be a problem tonight for Albelda, the chief protector of Valencia's back four. Albelda almost joined Chelsea for a few months in January 2008 when a dispute with coach Ronald Koeman saw him go six months without playing. "I decided not to go and the fact that it was such a short-term offer was one of the reasons for that."
Valencia's current position is far from healthy. On the way to the club's training ground you pass the unfinished new stadium, a concrete bowl resembling their current stadium – which they can't sell. The club's problems stem from the reign of previous president Juan Soler, and local boy Albelda has always been vocal about that – dissent that led, in part, to him being ostracised under Koeman.
The situation has eased under the presidency of Manuel Llorente and the sales of David Villa, David Silva and Mata, but Albelda knows striker Roberto Soldado, who is the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga could be the next to leave.
Albelda's time as an international has passed. Now 34, he bears no grudges, and prefers to focus instead on the good times – two league titles and a Uefa Cup win under Rafa Benitez.
Valencia's pride will be intact whatever happens tonight but nobody wants a brave failure. "We know how it is," Albelda said, "one team will go through and the other will be out."Reuse content