Over the course of their 90-year history, Valencia CF have more than earned their status as one of Spain's biggest clubs and proved themselves on the European stage. FIFA.com takes a closer look at the life and times of Los Ches.
Birth of an institution
The players of the newly formed Valencia Football Club first took to the field on 21 May 1918, just a few short months after a group of enthusiasts had met in the city's Bar Torino to instigate the club's foundation.
Despite going down 1-0 in their first game against Gimnastico in Castellon, it was not long before Valencia achieved regional success and began taking part in the Spanish Cup. This was the most important club competition in Spain prior to the formation of the Campeonato Nacional de Liga (National League Championship), with Valencia playing the inaugural 1928/29 season in the second tier of the new league before winning promotion in 1930/31.
Making of a legend
It was not until after the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) that the club picked up their first silverware on the national stage. Indeed, the 1940s side, powered by a delantera eléctrica (electric forward line) including Valencia idols Edmundo Suarez and Epifanio Fernandez, raced to three La Liga titles (1941/42, 1943/44 and 1946/47), two Copa del Rey wins (1941 and 1949), as well as three runners-up finishes in the cup and two in the league.
The Valencianistas' subsequent period of sustained success came in the early 1960s, with the recently established European competitions to the fore. Los Ches took over Barcelona's mantle in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup - the forerunner to the UEFA Cup - winning the trophy in 1962 and 1963 thanks to inspirational performances from Vicente Guillot and Brazilian signing Waldo Machado. They even reached the final again in 1964, but Real Zaragoza prevented a remarkable triple triumph.
Valencia's 1970s revival was largely influenced by two Argentinian-born legends of Spanish and world football. The first of these was former Real Madrid icon Alfredo di Stefano, who in his first season as coach in 1970/71 took Los Ches to Liga glory and the final of the Copa del Rey, where there were beaten by Barcelona.
The following season Valencia finished second in both competitions, but Di Stefano's departure in 1974 ushered in a transitional period which lasted until the arrival of prolific Argentina front-man Mario Kempes. A year on from scoring twice against the Netherlands in the Final of the 1978 FIFA World Cup™, El Matador Kempes was at it again, grabbing a brace in Valencia's cup final win over Real Madrid, their fifth triumph in the competition.
The next season, with Di Stefano back at the helm, they went all the way to the final of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, where they beat north London giants Arsenal 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw. They then added the UEFA Super Cup to their trophy cabinet, beating Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest - the reigning European Cup winners - on away goals over two legs.
These successes were followed by a dip in the club's fortunes which culminated in relegation in 1985/86, thus bringing to an end 55 uninterrupted years in the top flight. Though their stay in the second division lasted just one season, the fans' wait for another trophy would not be broken until 1999, when the team led by Italian supremo Claudio Ranieri claimed the Copa del Rey.
Boasting players of the calibre of Gaizka Mendieta, Claudio El Piojo Lopez, Santiago Canizares and Kily Gonzalez, Valencia stormed to the final of the UEFA Champions League under new coach Hector Cuper, only to lose 3-0 to Madrid. Cuper's charges were back in the showpiece final one season later, however, but glory was denied them once more, this time by defeat in a penalty shoot-out against Oliver Kahn's Bayern Munich.
Following Cuper's departure to Inter Milan, the baton was passed to the relatively unknown Rafael Benitez, who won La Liga in 2001/02, his first season in command. The future Liverpool coach followed this up with a hugely successful 2003/04 campaign, which featured another La Liga success and triumphs in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
Though managerial stability has eluded them since Benitez left for England, Los Ches have remained a force, particularly on the domestic stage, with victory in the 2007/08 Copa del Rey a highlight.
On 20 May 1923, Valencia officially unveiled their Estadio Mestalla, having spent their early years in Algiros, and the first match in the new arena ended in a 1-0 win over Levante. The post-Civil War years saw the stadium renovated several times and its capacity increased, while a great deal of work was required on the playing surface following the city-wide floods of 1957.
Many years later came the most drastic changes to the Mestalla, with work carried out to bring the facilities up to scratch before hosting matches at both the 1982 FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Football Tournament in 1992.
The club have now taken steps towards constructing a state-of-the-art "Nou Mestalla" whose roof design will replicate the flow of the River Turia, which winds its way through the centre of the Mediterranean city.