It was an opportunity missed for Real Valladolid, only managing to draw 2-2 with Elche in the torrential rain at the Jose Zorilla which leaves them 3 points adrift of safety in the relegation zone of La Liga despite a run of 3 matches unbeaten. Elche, who took a 2 goal lead only to be pegged back by a spirited Valladolid comeback in the second-half, remained four points above their hosts as a return to Liga Adelante after a 2 year absence starts to become a clear possibility for the Pucela.
Serving a suspension and missing for that match was top-scorer Javi Guerra, the first time the striker had missed a game this season, however it is an absence that Valladolid will have to get used to as on Tuesday, it was close to being announced that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Cardiff City of the Premier League. With the Bluebirds struggling at the foot of the table, there is a chance that Guerra could be spending the first of a three-year deal in the Championship, though with the 31 year old joining the ambitious project in place in the Welsh capital it is an intriguing deal nonetheless.
The deal will represent a continuum of the transition from Cardiff’s former boss Malky Mackay to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who has set about the upheaval of his attacking unit, selling £8 million flop Andreas Cornelius back to Copenhagen and allowing Peter Odemwingie to join Stoke on a free transfer in January while Kenwynne Jones has arrived in the opposite direction. Norwegian coach Solskjaer, who also brought in Jo Inge Beret from his former club Molde as he attempted to boost his attacking power, tried to lure Guerra on deadline day but failed to complete a deal in time.
The striker will arrive as something of an unknown quantity outside of his native Spain despite his prolific record over the last 3 and a half years with Valladolid. Since joining the club in 2010, Guerra has hit 65 goals from 127 games as the Castille and Leon outfit have gained promotion from the second tier to establish themselves in the top-flight. 19 of them have come in the season and a half period since their promotion in 2012 as Guerra has proven himself as a consistent top-level scorer that has, for the most part, slipped under the radar.
However, it looked for so long like the Malaga-born striker’s career would fail to get off the ground. After starting his footballing education with Espanyol, he moved to amateur club Vilassar Mar in 2001. After spending a season there, he moved to Andalusian outfit Motril CF of the third division. Short-lived spells with Cadiz and Varzim in 2004 before joining La Liga giants Valencia that summer.
Despite a promising scoring record of 55 goals in 105 games for the B side, Guerra was only handed just 2 senior appearances in 3 years with Los Che, coming on in games with Getafe and Espanyol in cameo appearances that totalled slightly more than 10 minutes. After being released from the Mestalla in June 2007 it seemed as if his fortunes would follow that of his brother Emilio, a consistent goal-scorer who has had to be content with life in the lower leagues. Guerra though, wasn’t prepared to accept a similar fate and he dropped a division to resume his career with Granada 74 where he scored 8 goals in 39 games.
That was not enough to save the side from relegation however and after remaining in the second tier with Alaves, the club owned by RCD Mallorca, he also experienced a similar fate with them. Mallorca then loaned Guerra out to Levante where he enjoyed better fortunes and a turning point in his career, scoring 12 goals in 37 games to help the Valencian side return to the top flight.
The striker however, would not go up with them, preferring instead to join another second tier club in Valladolid, signing a four-year deal for free. His first year was extremely prolific as he netted 29 goals, including a goal in the first leg victory over Elche in the promotion play-offs that they eventually lost, finishing second only to Bruno Soriano in the race for the second-tier Pichichi Trophy. In the following season he managed just 20, though 2 of them were important strikes in the promotion play-offs, this time one in each leg as Alcorcon were defeated and Valladolid returned to La Liga after two years away.
Guerra had to settle for more of a squad role for the campaign back in the top tier, starting 17 matches but appearing on the bench for 18 of them. Goals against Bilbao, Zaragoza and Getafe were vital however and finishing on 8 for the season including a run of 5 goals in his last 9 games, he played a pivotal role in leading the club to safety.
After already bettering last season’s tally with 11, Guerra is joint 8th top-scorer in La Liga and with 5 of them taken with his head, it is a number equalled by only four other players in Europe’s top 5 leagues. His strength in the air is a notable feature in his game though it is possibly owing to his sub-6ft frame that he has been successful with just 46% of his aerial duels, with 76 out of 167 challenges won in the air. His bravery and his astute reading of the game causes him to be such a predatory force in the box however, qualities that have led for some calls for a possible call-up to Spain’s World Cup squad for this summer.
However that could also be a result of Guerra’s role as a lone-striker in an organised 4-2-3-1 system preferred by the pragmatic Juan Ignacio Martinez. In a team that has averaged 48% possession this term and have attempted 562 unsuccessful long-balls on top of the 737 completed, Guerra can often appear isolated when foraging a lone attacking line. This is indicated by scarcity of the chances created for others, just 15 of them including 1 assist, indicating a failure to, or an inability, to utilise his muscular presence up front.
However, Guerra’s style is much more direct, attempting 40 shots in total and returning an impressive 23 of them on target. His ability to lead the line and become a lively, dangerous threat in the vicinity of the goal make him an attractive target for the attacking midfield trio of Patrick Ebert, Oscar and Zakarya Bergdich who have registered 10 assists between them this season. His ability to burst into life in the box best indicated perhaps by his 26 minute hat-trick to swing a difficult match into Valladolid’s favour against Celta Vigo. Important goals have also come in matches with Real Sociedad and Valencia to earn Valladolid a point on both occasions while he also netted in the 0-3 away win at Vallecano.
Despite Valladolid’s cautious style, it is testament to Guerra’s tireless work-rate that he insists on getting involved in the play, dropping off to make a significant number of passes, 640 the exact figure of which 473 have been successful. Just 19 of them have been long however, showing a tendency to get immersed in clever link-up play which brings others into the game and hands Valladolid an effective focal point in attack.
It is such work-rate and industry in Guerra’s game that has perhaps attracted Solskjaer to sign the striker up to his possession-based game. Most importantly, the 31 year old can defend from the front, making him a real handful for defenders. The 47 fouls he has suffered so far this season is an indication of his intelligence in enticing his marker into conceding free-kicks. Guerra’s 18 tackles won out of 33 attempted is further suggestive of the diligence and the sacrifice he makes for the team by leading the more disciplined side of the game and relishing the physical battle.
Cardiff had attempted to push a deal through in January only to see it fall through, so have returned to convince the forward to join in the summer once his four year deal with Valladolid ends. In fact, it was Guerra himself who turned the January deal down, worth around £5 million in a buyout clause, preferring instead to see the season out with Valladolid, something he described as a difficult decision.
“The player is totally committed to Valladolid until the last day of this season,”said Guerra’s agent Pepe Mesas who has all-but confirmed that his client is set to join Cardiff. “We have practically closed an agreement with a foreign club but this announcement does not rest with us”, said Mesas.
It seems as if June will be the month Guerra finally leaves Spain after following a very different career route. Cardiff will be the eleventh club that Guerra will have served in his 13 year career following a lower-league background that will have taught the striker a humility and an acceptance that a career at the top is not a luxury. It is that which has benefited Valladolid over the past four years and is now set to become a major coup for Cardiff City.
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