Chico Flores: £3m. Jose Canas: Free. Jordi Amat: £2.5m. Just a couple of examples of how Swansea manager Michael Laudrup (at the time of writing) knows how to go for a nice spot of bargain shopping out in Spain. And of course, there is Michu – the player most synonymous with the ‘Bargain of the Season’ tag last season and a talismanic figure amongst the Swansea squad. Throw in the likes of Angel Rangel, now an almost iconic figure at the club; Guillem Bauza, who scored the goals to help Swansea jump from League One to the Championship; Jordi Gomez, who had one prolific season at the Liberty and even scored the winner against fierce rivals Cardiff and not forgetting Roberto Martinez, the catalyst of Swansea’s ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy in the 21st century and it is fair to say that Spain has been kind to Swansea City over the past 7 seasons. So who is the latest piece of artillery from Swansea’s Spanish Armada?
In the opening stages of the Europa League qualifiers, Swansea fans were properly introduced to Alejandro Pozuelo: a player of huge potential, but who could equally prove to be a frustrating purchase.
Who is Alejandro Pozuelo?
It’s fairly safe to say that many Swansea fans had heard virtually nothing of Alex Pozuelo before his arrival in South West Wales with his fellow Real Betis team-mate, Jose Canas, stealing all the headlines on his arrival at Swansea on a free from the Andalusian club in July 2013.
Pozuelo is a native of Andalusia having been born in Seville as he would go on to sign for his local club Real Betis. Supposedly, Pozuelo’s displays for the Betis youth team earned himself admiring eyes from Barcelona and Manchester United, but his career would begin in earnest in 2010 with the young Pozuelo featuring for Real Betis B in the Segunda Division B; he would make over 40 appearances for the B team between 2010 and 2012, as well as making his debut for the first team in 2011 in an October fixture against Levante.
Two months later, Pozuelo would have a far more eventful game at the Vicente Calderon, as he scored his first goal for Betis and the opener in a 2-0 win over Atletico, before losing his cool and getting himself sent off.
From there on, Pozuelo was generally used as a squad player for Pepe Mel’s Real Betis team with some suggesting that the coach had doubts about the player’s temperament and discipline, perhaps following his self-destruction against Atleti. There is no doubt though that even if his disposition was called into question, Pepe Mel rated Pozuelo, but it was to be an ex-La Liga manager who would turn to the Spaniard to help instill creativity into his own club for his second season in charge.
On 7th July 2013, Swansea City unveiled the signing of Alex Pozuelo, making him the seventh Spaniard in the Swans’ squad.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Undoubtedly, the attacking midfielders’ strength is his ball control. I’ve seen very few players in the Premier League control a ball so clinically and then dribble instantaneously and directly at defenses with the ball stuck to their feet. In fact, in the early Europa League qualifiers, Pozuelo looked to be the perfect answer to Swansea being able to offer up something different, as the side struggled to directly take on opponents at times last year and instead almost insistently opted to play their prescribed passing game, even when it was clearly not working.
By the October fixtures of this season, Laudrup, not a bad dribbler himself, was lauding Pozuelo’s ability and even hailed him as Swansea’s answer to Phillipe Coutinho; although evidently not in the same class as Coutinho, there are clearly echoes of the Brazilian’s style in Pozuelo’s game: the retrieving of the ball from midfield; the dribbling; the search for a killer pass and the ability to score – something he did in his first two appearances for the Swans in the Europa League with a goal each against Malmo and Petrolul Ploiesti from the substitute’s bench. The little Spaniard had dazzled the Jack Army and by the time Swansea took on Liverpool at the Liberty in October, some fans were questioning why Pozuelo wasn’t starting games after his impressive first start to life in the white of Swansea. Sadly, this is when Pozuelo’s game seems to suffer: when he actually starts a game.
It’s hard to really pin down why Pozuelo seems to struggle for the Swans when he plays from the first minute. It could be that his lightweight frame is only effective against already fatigued players or maybe it is just a psychological thing, but Pozuelo definitely seems far less effective from the start. This has been a problem recently, as a recent injury-hit squad at SA1 has seen the midfielder having to start far more games. He gives the ball away with silly passes, his dribbling is erratic, he makes the wrong decisions and he generally becomes a shadow of the talent we know that he can be.
However, I will say that much of Pozuelo’s starts have seen him deployed out on the wings. Naturally, this leads to him cutting inside into the space usually occupied by the number 10 role (currently Shelvey, at least until Michu’s return) and finding little room to conjure up any magic. Plus, throw in the fact that Pozuelo is not the most imposing of figures meaning that unless, he has built up speed, something he does possess, he is easily bullied off the ball.
Despite the negatives pointed out, there is still no doubt amongst Swansea fans that they possess a very gifted player in Pozuelo. Anyone who witnessed his performance in Swansea’s 2-1 FA Cup triumph at Old Trafford, in which he did start, will testify to that; his first time pass through the United defence to setup Routledge’s opening goal was an act of sheer class.
This is the playmaker’s first season playing in a league that is generally considered to be one of the toughest to adapt to in world football. This season should act as a transition period for the young Pozuelo and if injuries remain at a minimum, then Pozuelo should still be effectively used as an excellent impact substitute.
He’s not quite Michu, but there is still plenty of time for Pozuelo to morph into a highly successful purchase for Swansea City.
“When we first signed the player who’s since come to be known as Alex Pozuelo, I was excited given he’d been linked with Manchester United and Barcelona in his youth. Early signs were good – he scored in the Europa League on his debut and his technique is unparalleled in the Swansea squad – after about six months our assistant manager claimed we still didn’t know if he is left or right footed!
As the season has gone on though, we’ve sign why we were able to pick him up for £500k. Against Spurs he put in possibly the worst individual performance I think I’ve ever seen, losing the ball over and over again – though in fairness we were dreadful in general that day. He is however a player of immense potential and if he can add a bit more composure, as well as a bit more muscle to cope with the physicality of the Premier League to his game then he could go on to be an absolutely fantastic footballer – and a complete bargain to boot.”
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