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Spain. Under 21 European Champions. Check. Reigning European and World Champions. Check. Revered and coveted revolutionary style of play. Check. Two of the most successful club teams in world football. Check. No wonder so many jumped on the Spanish bandwagon after their successful World Cup triumph, their ‘tika-taka’ style of play bought many admiring glances and their triumphs were considered a win for football. Many teams have tried to implement this style to no avail. Part of the reason is because Spanish players are taught to keep possession at all costs from a very young level, and unlike other countries truly value technical and ball skills over physicality and athleticism, which is becoming an increasing trend in football in the present age. The discipline and mental aspect of developing a player in the coaching are not to be ignored either, but ability on the ball and playing out instead of hoofing are the key ingredients of the Spanish football culture.
This article has been written by Marco Credentino. Follow him on twitter @bigcreds
English Premier League sides have had great success in the past few years in poaching players from the Spanish Academies such as Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique from La Masia (Barcelona’s fabled youth academy) and to a lesser degree Suso (Cadiz), Ignasi Miquel (Cornelia), Mikel San Jose (Athletic) and Daniel Ayala (Sevilla). All are Spanish-bred players that have made at least a few first team appearances for a top English team. It was only a matter of time until the other top nations picked up on a potential goldmine that is the Spanish youth sector and the La Liga youth academies, and potentially cherry-picking any talent that they could make use of.
Sampdoria have become the benchmark team in Italy at doing this. They have picked up two potentially world class players for peanuts in Pedro Obiang and Mauro Icardi from the Atletico Madrid and Barcelona academy respectively. Pedro has become the lynchpin in this current Samp side, and is their most valued commodity at present. Known for his athleticism and deft passing range, he is expected to make the move to a bigger club at the end of the season. Sampdoria pounced on the young midfielder in 2010 when he was just 16 years old, with the promise of regular football, and they have been duly rewarded with a series of tantalising performances in the middle of the park that has led to the reported interest of Manchester City. Mauro Icardi had his breakout season last year, which culminated in a move to giants Internazionale for £5.3 million after netting 10 goals in 31 appearances. Reportedly good friends with Lionel Messi, Icardi graudated through the La Masia, scoring goals at will but he knew chances would be limited with all the star power currently occupying the forward positions in the first team. Sampdoria swooped in, first on loan, and then permanently at the start of last season for £375,000. That fee now looks like an absolute bargain, with his pace and finishing prowess making him a fan favourite and a huge hit in the Serie A. Former chief scout Riccardo Pecini (now at Monaco), must also take some credit for these finds, but Sampdoria have shown that there potential gold to be found in Spain.
Another team that looks to have struck the jackpot, is Lazio. In an otherwise poor campaign to date, the one bright spot is the emergence of former Barcelona youth star Keita Balde Diao. Although considered a potential first teamer for Barcelona, disciplinary problems led to the youngster being transfer listed, and Lazio pounced despite interest from Real Madrid and Manchester United, in a deal worth £250,000 in 2011. When he was 15 years old, Keita was sent on loan to lower league side Cornella where he scored an astounding 47 goals in a youth team season, which led to comparisons with another African superstar and Barca favourite Samuel Eto’o. This season, he has been used as Lazio’s secret weapon, with his pace and trickery causing opposition defences all sorts of problems. He has already netted a couple of goals this campaign, becoming Lazio’s 4th youngest goalscorer ever in history in the process, and with Klose suffering from recurring injuries this season, Keita should have many more chances to stake his claim for a first team spot. Liverpool are already tracking him, and you feel that they aren’t the only ones to keep an eye on him.
However, not all imports from Spain are considered successful. Udinese, famous for nurturing young talent from all corners of the earth, and then selling them for huge profits, probably thought they had uncovered another gem when they signed left winger Jaime Romero from Albacete in the summer of 2009. Jaime had impressed for the club, and started encouragingly for the Italian side starting 4 times in his first season at Udinese. However since then, it has been downhill with a series of loan moves to clubs such as Granada, Bari and Orduspor going disastrously wrong. This season he has moved back to his homeland on loan to Castilla (Real Madrids B team), and you feel this is a last chance saloon for Jaime, as he tries to resurrect his career.
Another example is Catania’s signing of Keko from Atletico Madrid in 2011. After debuting as a 17 year old for Atletico, he was dubbed as a potential saviour for the other half of Madrid. However he failed to push on, and Catania came in a couple of years later and swooped for the right winger. Things started well for Keko, netting on his debut – a 2-1 win over Parma, and there were hopes he could realize his earlier promise shown at Atletico. Since then though, he has only made 3 more appearances for the Sicilian club and could not even cut it in a loan move to Grosseto in 2012.
Bologna have also made a habit of signing young Spaniards, with the hope on finding a potential gem. Unfortunately for them they have all struggled to make an impact in the first team. Manuel Gavilian was poached from Real Betis as a 18 year old for a fee of £350,000 in 2011. Bologna had hoped that he could maybe replace the goals of talisman Marco Di Vaio, who had saved the club from relegation pretty much single handedly in his last few campaigns with the club. How wrong they were, Gavilan has struggled to even make an impact in the Primavera side, and is now on loan to San Marino. Another failed experiment was the signing of Marti Riverola from Barcelona on a bosman in the summer of 2012 It was hoped that the then 20 year old midfielder would provide some Spanish flair and majesty in the middle of the park, but he has underwhelmed so far, making only a solitary appearance. He has thus been loaned out to aid Mallorca’s bid for promotion to La Liga this season.
What is apparent, is that there is a big amount of potential gems in the Spanish youth sector. Many of these players know that the path to the first team at a Barcelona or a Real Madrid is extremely difficult, and would jump at the chance of regular football at another club. Lazio and Sampdoria, in particular have shown how exploiting this particular market can reap huge benefits for the club. In a league that is known for favouring experience over youth, it is refreshing to see clubs show faith in the younger players, even if they aren’t Italian.
This article first appeared on the RegistaRamble, and has been published here with the permission of the author. Click here to view.
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