For a club of Valencia’s history and standing, they have to be competing with the best in Europe, according to goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, who is determined to lead the club back into the Champions League.
Valencia will not be playing in Europe this season following their nightmare 2015-16 campaign, which saw the club part ways with two coaches as they finished 12th in LaLiga.
Last term came on the back of much promise in 2014-15, after the six-time Spanish champions and two-time Champions League runners-up qualified for Europe’s premier club competition, having broken into LaLiga’s top four.
But after the disappointment of last season, Ryan and Co. have set their sights on the Champions League play-off spots, the Australia international telling Omnisport: “For a club with a historic culture, we have to be competing with the best teams and playing in the best competitions.
“It’s a given our goals in each year, given the stature of the club, is to be always playing in Europe and be up there competing at the top end of the table.
“Obviously you have the formidable forces, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico. Villarreal were strong last year and Sevilla. But our goal is to be mixing it in those Champions League play-off places. That’s clear in our minds, that’s where we want to get back to. We want to do the club proud. Such an historic club, what they have achieved in the past, where they’ve been, the trophies they’ve won, the finals they’ve played in, the players they have produced.
“As a player playing for Valencia, it is a special feeling. And we will be looking to put that pride back into the shirt this year. You create your best memories being successful and that’s exactly what I’m trying to contribute here.”
The 2015-16 season was one of many highs and lows, for both Valencia and Ryan, who was signed from Belgian giants Club Brugge by ex-boss Nuno Espirito Santo, as he dealt with injuries and adapted to the way of life in Spain.
Nuno resigned in November, before former Manchester United captain Gary Neville surprisingly took charge, however his tenure was short-lived, sacked in March, just three months after his appointment.
Pako Ayestaran is now at the helm, having stepped up to fill the void left by Neville with eight matches remaining last season, and 24-year-old Ryan – who was honoured to wear the captain’s armband during a pre-season match – is impressed with the progress made under the former Liverpool assistant as Valencia prepare to open their season at home to Las Palmas on Monday, without departed star Andre Gomes but with headline recruit Nani.
“Every coach has their different style and tactics etc. Him being an ex-fitness coach under Rafael Benitez, I’ve noticed a difference in him being more critiqued on the little sports science stuff, diets, gym programmes, all the one percenters – right body fat percent that can help you perform on match day and be the difference on match day. He’s more on top of that than the other two coaches,” said Ryan.
“His style is a little more focused on playing out from the back. We have been putting in a lot of work in that being our first step. How to play out from the back, what he wants from his goalkeepers.
“It’s similar to the national team but also different style too. Different movements and requirements from the keepers in terms of the balls he wants to play. I’ve just been finding my way and adjusting to what he wants the best that I can. We are making a lot of progress.”
Ryan, whose Valencia have beaten the likes of Fiorentina in pre-season but lost to Crystal Palace and Feyenoord, added: “I’ve definitely noticed the progression we have been making in our performances. There is still a lot we need to learn, respecting the finer details of matches and those little moments here and there, that can be the difference. Switching off at set-pieces. We have been the better team in our games but we have a little moment where we tend to switch off and concede a silly goal. But the progress has been there to see.
“I’m just trying to get in, work hard, stake my claim. I feel like I have been doing what the coaches are asking of me. Doing my best to fit in to his style.”