Anil Murthy ponders for a moment before summing up that fateful day back in March when LaLiga was brought to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic.

‘It was a degree 10 earthquake, nobody was prepared, not society or football,’ he told Sportsmail this week.

‘It hit us earlier but we reacted in March by closing down. Nobody knew what was going to happen.’

Murthy, Valencia’s club president who acts as the go-between for the players and owner Peter Lim, was faced with problems that needed solving instantly.

What happens with sponsors? Is the TV deal null and void? How will salaries be paid without matchday revenue of supporters inside their Mestalla stadium?

In the blink of an eye Valencia’s revenue dropped dramatically from €200million (£180m) to €100m (£90m). Murthy, who can show off a wry smile now with Valencia in a much more stable position, had some big decisions to make.

There was a section among the support that took issue with some of those decisions, most notably the decision to sell five first team players.

Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin moved to Villarreal, Rodrigo went to Leeds and hot-shot winger Ferran Torres left for Manchester City.

Geoffrey Kondogbia criticised Murthy on social media and his relationship in the dressing room had soured prior to him leaving for Atletico Madrid, who Valencia host at the Mestalla on Saturday.

Club officials were followed around the city by a mariachi band, ultras were furious at the lack of new arrivals and new boss Javi Gracia held his concerns about their ability to compete.

The five key sales again proved a big talking point with international media assembled on a Zoom call with Murthy. But asked whether the departures were regrettable, whether Valencia was now worse off, Murthy was defiant.

‘I don’t think we sold our best players, that’s number one,’ he said.

‘We sold players for the very simple reason that we saw revenue of €200m drop to €100m. If you don’t sell players, you don’t have money to pay salaries, to pay debts, to pay service providers who help the functioning of the club. I repeat, we didn’t sell the best players, they are very much still with us.’

Murthy’s mind is never far from March when he concedes he was ‘frightened’ for LaLiga with so much uncertainty.

Many clubs rely almost exclusively on money from the TV deal and so with negotiations left regarding rebates and possible early termination, it was a time of real jeopardy.

‘What shook the world when we shut down was that nobody understood,’ he added. ‘What were the protocols to return to training? Everything started from scratch.

‘I think everything has been handled extremely well. It hit us like a storm but LaLiga and all the clubs reacted really well.

‘It was quite frightening at that point because any little thing you didn’t solve then could sink the ship.’

LaLiga president Javier Tebas told Marca this month that there is likely a €500m black hole that needs to be filled to complete the season but Murthy is more optimistic now than he was eight months ago.

‘I am more optimistic now than I was in March because we have gained more experience,’ he said. ‘LaLiga has so many structures set up to deal with emergency.’

There is an excitement about Murthy as talk turns from the sales to those who will benefit, namely those in the Academy.

Yunus Musah, formerly of Arsenal’s youth set up, has been a revelation having stepped up into the first team but there have been others.

Against Getafe last month there were seven academy players in the starting XI and in the win over Real Madrid, it was those from the youth ranks that put Zinedine Zidane’s champions to the sword.

‘The academy today is fuelling a strong identity for the club.  I call it Project Academy,’ Murthy said.

‘In the longer term, what are we trying to deal with? We want to use the academy to fuel the identity and philosophy. We want a minimum of seven academy players in the first team. This situation has given us the chance to do something we’ve wanted to do for years.’

There is no Champions League this year, or even Europa League football, but there is real optimism that the tide is turning in Valencia.

The kids are stepping up to fill the void of those who were sent packing this summer.

Atletico are up next and as their city rivals learned, Project Academy is no pushover at the Mestalla this season.


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