Valencia CF Class of 2004: Where are they now?

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.

Valencia CF won La Liga in 2002
Valencia CF won La Liga in 2002, ending 31 years of league hurt. Picture source: Inside Spanish Football

SEE ALSO: Valencia’s subsequent downfall

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.

Real Madrid won the title in 2003, but relinquished is immediately. Picture source: ACshirtcollection

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.

Mista – the MVP of 2003/04

SEE ALSO: How Spain ruined Euro 2016

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.

Rafa Benitez made an instant impact, winning the title in his first season at Valencia. Picture source: Spotige

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!

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!