In 2001, Héctor Cúper took Valencia CF all the way to the Champions League final, prompting Inter Milan to wrest him across the Mediterranean.
His replacement was Rafael Benitez, a man inexperienced in coaching at the very top. However, he had been involved with Real Madrid since childhood, and thus learnt from the very best along the way.
Tenerife’s promotion to the Spanish top flight in 2001 was the winning weapon on Benitez’s CV, and his impact was instantaneous. Just one year after reaching the Champions League final, Valencia CF ended a 31-year wait for the league title, doing so in fine style with an eight-point margin.
The only quarrel might have been with a relatively low goal tally for a title-winning squad. A paltry seven goals from midfielder Rubén Baraja made him the club’s top goalscorer that season.
The situation did not improve much in 2002/03, with Pablo Aimar and John Carew both failing to hit double figures. This time, there would be no miracle. Not only did Valencia CF concede their championship crown to Real Madrid, but also failed to qualify for the Champions League altogether.
A drastic change was needed if Valencia CF was to have any hope of regaining the title, and their place at European football’s top table.
Valencia CF – A change of tack
In Mista, Benitez had a striker with plenty of vision and shooting prowess. Yet his game plans throughout 2002/03 had not fully played to Mista’s strengths. The inclusion of Vicente as a flexible support striker and winger eased the pressure on Mista, and enabled Valencia to attack with greater fluidity and urgency.
With a now well-familiarised back line less often deployed in unwanted advanced roles. Roberto Ayala in particular looked invincible at times during Valencia’s famous 2003/04 season.
After a disappointing home draw with Real Valladolid, Valencia began the new season in earnest with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Osasuna. Their early season run included victorious trips to Barcelona and (Atletico) Madrid and a 2-0 home win over reigning champions Real Madrid.
Benitez at the Double
Valencia eventually won the title by a full five points, ahead of Barcelona. Even more remarkable was the club’s UEFA Cup performance. In the final, Benitez’ men humbled a Marseille side (fronted by non other than Didier Drogba) 2-0 at a packed Ullevi Stadium in Stockholm.
All players in that final-winning starting XI deserve their places in Spanish football folklore – but what happened next, and where are they now? Check out the gallery below, and see for yourself!
GK Santiago Cañizares
Cañizares retired from football a true Valencian in 2008, representing the completion of ten years service for the club. Image Source: Alchetron
RB Curro Torres
Torres first signed for Valencia in 1999 and spent ten years at the club, making 117 appearances. He is now a true part of the club’s ‘family’, as the manager of the reserve side (Valencia CF Mestalla) in Segunda Division B. Image Source: Deporte Valenciano
CB Roberto Ayala
Ayala moved to Villarreal in 2007, but made no appearances. Instead he departed for Real Zaragoza, after the club met the buyout clause in his contract. In 2010, Ayala moved back to his native Argentina, retiring after a solitary season with Racing Club. Image Source: Alchetron
CB Carlos Marchena
Like Ayala, Marchena’s next port of call was Villarreal in 2010. He, however, DID make some appearances for the Yellows – 45 to be precise. Two years later, he went to Deportivo La Coruña before moving to the fantastically-named Indian club Kerala Blasters in 2015. They were his last professional club. Image Source: Spokeo
LB Amedeo Carboni
Carboni retired two years after winning the cup double with Valencia, marking the end of a 23-year professional career. Most recently, in 2009, he worked alongside former manager Benitez at Inter Milan as a ‘technical consultant’. Image source: Concretamente Sassuolo
RM Francisco Rufete
Rufete moved to Espanyol in 2006. Three years and 57 appearances later, he stepped down a division to ply his trade for Hércules before retiring in 2012. Presently, he is director of football at Valencia. Image Source: Alchetron
CM David Albelda (c)
Albelda retired in 2013, after a whopping 17 years service at Valencia. A one-club man, he will always command the respect of the Valencia faithful. Image Source: Alchetron
CM Rubén Baraja
His retirement in 2010 marked the completion of a decade-long stint at Valencia. It wasn’t long before he returned though, spending two years as the youth team manager. His first managerial gig came at newly-relegated Elche in 2015. He resigned a year later, and moved to Rayo Vallecano. Sadly, his contract was terminated on 20 February after winning just three games out of thirteen. Image Source: Alchetron
Vicente spent a further seven years at Valencia before moving to Brighton. He retired in 2013 and today works in a technical capacity at Valencia. Image Source: Alchetron
Valencia’s MVP of 2003/04 moved to Atletico Madrid in 2006, and later, Deportvio La Coruna in 2008. The new decade saw Mista change continent, with Toronto his final port of call in 2010. Nine appearances later, he retired. Image Source: Jose Jordan/Getty Images
CF Miguel Ángel Angulo
Angulo is practically a one-club man. His departure in 2009 represented the end of a successful thirteen-year stint at Valencia. He joined Sporting Lisbon, the club where it had all begun with the ‘B’ team way back in 1995. However, he made just four appearances before retiring. Today he is the assistant manager of Valencia. Image Source: Epoca1
So quite a few of them continue to be part of the Valencia family. Will they be carried out in a box or move elsewhere in time? Leave a comment, or take a look at our record-breaking Barcelona/Real starting XI!