(Reuters) - Valencia were forced to sell midfielders Francis Coquelin and Dani Parejo to La Liga rivals Villarreal due to increased financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, president Anil Murthy said on Wednesday.
The sale of the two key players for a reported total of 11 million euros ($13 million) has led to renewed criticism against Murthy and billionaire owner Peter Lim, with fans organising a protest outside the Mestalla stadium later on Wednesday.
But Murthy defended the move in an interview with Singapore newspaper The Straits Times, saying the club had little choice but to cut costs due to the revenue losses suffered because of the pandemic.
"We are going to have a complicated season because of COVID-19, so we must be responsible and control costs tightly. What use is a bankrupt club?" said Murthy.
"If things go very wrong in the financial aspect due to COVID-19, all clubs will be in trouble. We have to lead through responsible management during the crisis."
Coquelin joined Valencia in 2018 for 14 million euros after a 10-year stay at Arsenal, while Parejo ends a nine-year spell with Valencia in which he captained the team to the 2019 Copa del Rey, the club's first piece of silverware in 11 years.
A tearful Parejo said farewell via a Zoom news conference from his house on Wednesday. He said the club told him they wanted him to leave with more than a week left in the season.
Valencia, who had secured Champions League football for the previous two campaigns, eventually finished ninth in the league.
"They told me they didn't want me to stay, it wasn't the right time or the right way to tell me that," Parejo said.
"I looked for a way to stay but it wasn't to be. I'm now joining a stable club, which everyone has told me great things about."
Villarreal finished fifth in La Liga last season to qualify for the Europa League and last month named former Arsenal and Valencia manager Unai Emery as coach.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)