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VCF - MNU

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Valencia CF vs Manchester United

Dec, 12 / 21:00 Matchday 6

Actualidad del Valencia C.F.
Juny, 21 2016

Mendieta: a cult hero for Valencia fans

With his disheveled hair, exquisite touch and charismatic leadership, Gaizka Mendieta cut an iconic image at Mestalla in a Valencia CF side that upset the hierarchy in European football.

Mendieta was a player that led by the force of his personality and inspired those around him with his passing and movement and to say nothing of his capacity for eye-catching goals in memorable moments.

If there is one goal that encapsulates his time at Valencia then it is the piece of artistry against Atletico Madrid that put the seal on a 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the final of the 1999 Copa del Rey final.

In a move from the back, the ball was played out wide to Kily Gonzalez on the left wing. His cross was slightly behind Mendieta, who had to stutter his run on the edge of the area and chest the ball with his back to goal. Then he flicked the ball over his head, out-foxing the entire Atletico defence, and on the volley slotted past keeper José Francisco Molinas.

While there had been a succession of coaches during the 1990s, Valencia did benefit from having a solid block of players and finally the pieces fell into place.

The 1998-99 season started slowly under Claudio Ranieri and the pressure was growing on the coach. Mendieta grabbed an equaliser as Valencia drew 1-1 away to Real Sociedad in early December and that proved to be a turning point.

Boosted also by the signing of striker Adrian Ilie they finished the campaign well showing strong character as was demonstrated in the way they came from three goals down to draw away to FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

“Many times teams need a trigger that makes them believe that they can win titles and for us it was the cup win,” said Mendieta.

“From then on, it was the club dynamic, philosophy and the idea that the club would find its own identity that took us forward, and the titles came from the hard work of us all.”

Mendieta was born in the Basque country, in northern Spain, but started in the youth team of CD Castellón, close to Valencia, where his father Andrés played. He stood out initially as a fullback and was picked up by Valencia CF where he developed into a dominant central midfielder.

Having made his first team debut for Valencia in June, 1993, he went on to play eight further seasons for the club where he also won the Spanish Super Cup and were Champions League runners-up in 2000 and 2001.

“They were important years of my life, both personally and professionally. It was the team that gave me the opportunity to be a player and grow as a person and a player,” said Mendieta.

“To share my part in the history of the club with the legends means a lot to me. As a player besides the trophies and games, the recognition by the people is the most important thing.”

Mendieta had become a cult-hero in Spain, a fashionable figure that even led to him mentioned in a song by the popular Spanish indie-pop band, Los Planetas and he enjoyed working as a DJ in his spare time.

He was also much sought after by other European clubs and after the 2001 Champions League final he left for Italian club Lazio in a 48 million euro deal.

However, he was never able to reach the heights that he achieved at Mestalla and in fact the move to Lazio turned into a disappointment. He ended up being loaned to FC Barcelona for the 2002-03 season and then finished his career in England playing for Middlesbrough until he retired in 2008.

He was also a valued midfielder on the international stage for Spain and was capped 40 times but he played during a frustrating period for his country that underachieved and was on the cusp of a golden era that came too late for Mendieta.

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