Recent Post

22 Juli 2008

Spanish Debate: Who's Had The Worst Summer?

The chequebooks have already been opened all across Spain, with not a single Primera club conducting at least one sale or purchase so far. But who are the winners and losers as we near the midway point of the transfer window?


To look at the 'out' list at San Moix is almost to examine a "who's who" of their triumphant 2007-08 season. Dani Güiza, the Liga's top scorer, has joined up with Luis Aragonés at Fenerbahçe, while Jonás Gutiérrez is bound for Newcastle United. Fernando Navarro takes his reliable self to Sevilla, Ariel Ibagaza goes to Villarreal, and David Navarro is back at Valencia after his loan deal expired. Héctor and Basinas - the latter of whom may have been on high wages - were released.

The 'in' pile, meanwhile, has some promising names to it, but few, if any, really stack up to those who left. Alhassane Keita is a proven goalscorer in Switzerland who joins up after a stint in the Middle East: whether he can truly live up to Güiza's example remains to be seen. Martí was a decent performer at Sevilla but little more; Josemi, meanwhile, barely touched the ball for Villarreal last season, and while his experience will prove welcome one wonders if he has the legs for a campaign that is looking increasingly bottom half. An array of journeymen round out the new arrivals, and the idea that the side is in financial trouble is looking ever more compelling. And that's before we even talk about what's going to happen to Moyá in goal...

Verdict: The most-weakened side so far. They are, indeed, in a heap of trouble, and it's difficult to see where the class replacements are going to come from. Perhaps some more South American imports are called for if they're to even come close to replicating last season's top-half feat. Only a couple of experienced additions save them from oblivion. D-


As discussed previously here, the Valencia squad is a bloated leviathan that is yet to be fully trimmed of its less desirable appendages. The likes of Mario Reguerio have finally been packed off as the cull begins, but there seems to be a bit of over-enthusiasm to rid the side of younsters, with Sunny - who dealt admirably well with the rigours of last season - being farmed out to Osasuna. Some of the highly-paid veterans remain and may be less than happy: Albelda and Angulo spring to mind, and Vicente can perhaps be added to that list. The real elephant in the room, though, is the future of David Villa and to a lesser extent David Silva. For all their talk of staying, can the club really refuse €40m for the former and €30m for the latter?

Who's come in? Highly-rated coach Unai Emery, that's who. The Basque worked wonders at Almería last season and must be taken seriously: what a shame there's not been a single impressive signing to help him out. The best playing arrival? Probably Pablo Hernández - and he's a loan return.

Verdict: The optimism engendered by Unai Emery's introduction is still being overshadowed by off-field uncertainty. New moneyman Juan Villalonga has talked a good game thus far, but the squad remains over-inflated with several players low on morale. Time is running out to find a solution. D+


Last season saw precious little movement at Racing until the very last second, with both "star" strikers Ebi Smolarek and Mohamed Tchité both sliding in under a closing transfer window, Indiana Jones-like. This year there's already been plenty of movement, but it is of jerry-built, journeyman swap-meet style: the names of Jonathan Pereira and Ayoze Díaz fly past the eyes in a near-indistinguishable mass of unremarkable players.

As with Valencia, the big changes are off the pitch. Manager Marcelino has dropped to the Segunda to boss Real Zaragoza back to the top flight - it's a downward step in terms of league, sure, but few can deny that los maños are not a comatose giant - and Juan Ramón Muñiz has now the toughest of tough acts to follow. What will damage him is if his squad is broken up in front of his eyes: Smolarek's difficult first season in Spain may see to it that it is. Above all, he needs a team in place soon if he's going to make pre-season count.

Verdict: Mixed - the ins-and-outs of the squad aren't massively ground-breaking, but to get shot of Ebi Smolarek may be an error. Above all, they have lost their manager, and it remains to be seen exactly how Muñiz fares in his new surroundings. C


The team that started last season so strongly in the Segunda eventually stuttered to the finish line and only just crept back up to the top flight. The squad, starting to fray around the edges, has thus seen a few changes, although relatively few of the regulars have gone. Carpintero's off to Córdoba, Antonio Hidalgo is away to Real Zaragoza, and Paulo Jordge is off to Benfica. Coach Muñíz is away to Racing Santander, as we know, but some of the problems of last season remain. The worry is that the players who have come in are very much lower-half material: Nacho could not get a game at Getafe, Lolo was a bit-part player at Sevilla, and anyone else who has been brought in has an air of mediocrity about them. The boost there, though, is that every single one of them has a point to prove in the top flight. The alternative is that they are this season's Murcia: can Antonio Tapia prevent this?

Verdict: The cobwebs of last season need clearing out with a couple more additions. The club is taking a gamble: they couldn't have done anything but. C+


Certainly the busiest side so far in terms of financial turnover, Barça have seen almost as many outgoing players as incoming ones. The worry is that only a minority of the players who has left could truly have been considered bit-part last season: Ronaldinho, for all his absence, injury and alleged laziness, was still emblematic of the Barça attack and a keen goalscorer to boot; Deco came onto a game towards the end of the season; Lilian Thuram had his moments; Giovani Dos Santos showed precocious talent. But the time was perhaps right to let all go: Thuram needed to make way for the younger generation, and he duly did so as both Martín Cáceres and Piqué came in, while Dani Alves steps in for Zambrotta and Hleb looks to carve out an attacking niche for himself. The problem is that, unless Thierry Henry is going to be shoehorned into the middle, there is no number 9 to speak of, young Bojan aside, and with Samuel Eto'o leaving that must be remedied soon. But the key points are that some definite weak spots have been filled, some classy players have been added, and those who did leave, while recognisable first-teamers, had almost to a man hit the end of the road anyway.

Verdict: So far, at this exact moment, the balance in euros may be negative but the influence to the playing side is positive. However, they miss out on the A bracket due to the unsettling influence of Samuel Eto'o - for the squad's good, Barcelona must resolve this quickly, and the player would surely agree. B+


The only "ins" at Madrid so far are Ezequiel Garay, Rubén de la Red, and Javi García. Garay has already gone back out on loan to Racing, and the other two are cantera buy-backs. In other words, not much doing at the Bernabéu. In previous summers this would have been cause to revolt outside the stadium but this time around it is rather different...

Verdict: Some Madrid fans may see the lack of activity so far as a negative. In fact, this is the stability that was promised. The Ronaldo circus aside - and Robinho-gate, too - everything at Real Madrid is in fact looking rather positive on the playing side. That's not to say that some new arrivals would not go amiss, but it is not urgent. Their increasingly melodramatic negotiating style sees them marked down slightly. B+