As we approach the half way points in domestic leagues across Europe, we’ve all had a chance to see how the plethora of players who have made that bold step and try their luck in a brand, spanking new league have got on.
Some arrived on the back of championship winning seasons marked by virtuoso performances, whereas others did so with an enticing reputation derived from Football Manager folklore and carefully edited Youtube clips complete with a dire a Eurotrash pop soundtrack. In the first of a two part piece, I’ll have a look at a selectionof players who left France’s Ligue 1 and Spain’s Primera División during last summer’s transfer window and establish whether they have stolen the hearts of their new fans, or already been consigned to the reject bin just in time for the January transfer window.
With the rampant duopoly of Spain’s top flight as palpable as ever, it’s understandable that those who have exerted their efforts in Spain only to find that Real Madrid and Barcelona have unforgivingly raised the bar yet again may seek fresh challenges across Europe. The money-laden Premier League and the sight of Serie A finding its feet again offer these opportunities, and these four have taken the step. How have they got on?
Barcelona to AS Roma – Inital €12 million, and… *deep breath*
Optional buy back clause for Barcelona in 2012 of €17 million, mandatory buy back clause of €13 million after his second season in 2013 which can be stopped by AS Roma providing they pay an additional €28 million.
All clear? No? Isn’t to me either.
Bojan Krkic’s clause-laced transfer to AS Roma, which saw him re-united with former Barca maestro Luis Enrique, was an overdue move for the 21-year-old. After scoring hundreds of goals during his time in Barcelona’s prestigious youth ranks, Bojan carried the wonder kid tag for three seasons following his initial introduction, fitted with more ‘he’s the next *insert name here* tags than you could keep up with. Having failed to find room amongst Barcelona’s plethora of sublime and versatile attacking talent, he was cast into the background as the club set about conquering Spain, Europe and the world. A slightly revolutionised Roma seemed to be a new opportunity for Bojan, but the Giallorossi’s campaign has been plagued by inconsistency, with coach Luis Enrique shifting from hero to villain with all the regularity you would associate with the tumultuous world of Italian football. After being praised for perhaps finally finding cohesion amongst his array of new signings which include Miralem Pjanic from Lyon, Fernando Gago from Real Madrid and Erick Lamela from River Plate, two consecutive defeats at the hands of Udinese and Fiorentina earlier in the month led to fans calling for the manager’s head once again. Bojan’s start to life in Rome is arguably a reflection of the club’s unpredictable form. 3 goals in eleven Serie A appearances doesn’t turn any heads (two in victories over Norava and Atalanta and the other in a 3-2 loss at Milan), but the sight of the diminutive forward’s intelligent runs and educated positional sense surely holds promise, as long as the partisan Roma fans remain patient with the 21-year-old.
Barcelona to Chelsea – €5 million
Similarly to the Bojan transfer, Barcelona didn’t let this youngster leave the club without installing a barrage of buy back clauses that seem to change in detail depending on who is talking. Oriol Romeu, who left Barcelona having made just a single first team appearance, reportedly signed for Chelsea for the modest fee of €5 million, but with Barcelona befitted with the opportunity to pay €10 million for his safe return in 2012 or €15 million in 2013, providing Chelsea are willing to sell. Half a season into his Chelsea career and its hard envisage that happening. After a sporadic number of appearances in Chelsea’s Champions League campaign, Romeu produced an impressive performance against Wolves, swiftly followed by another in the 3-0 victory over Newcastle United, where the midfielder’s tireless work rate was matched by his technical assurance. While John Obi Mikel continues to flatter to deceive, Romeu’s Chelsea future is looking brighter as the months go by. With Andre Villas Boas’ penchant for playing a sometimes dangerously high defensive line, the requirement for an accomplished, deep lying workaholic in his midfield seems more apparent, and the 20-year-old appears to be tailor made for the Portuguese manager’s revolution.
RCD Espanyol to AS Roma – €18 million
Roma’s biggest summer signing, a €18 million acquisition from Espanyol where he averaged an impressive ratio of a goal every other game last season, has had a mixed start to Roma’s chaotic first half of the season. Currently leading Roma’s Serie A goal scoring charts with 6 goals, the Argentine-native’s most notable action this term is unfortunately a spectacular bust up with compatriot and AS Roma team mate, Erik Lamela. Osvaldo picked up a cool €50,000 fine, the maximum allowable by the Lega Calcio, and a suspension after punching Lamela. 20-year-old Lamela had the cheek to not pass the ball to Osvaldo in Roma’s 2-0 loss at Udinese, and thus received a right hook for his trouble following the game. After picking up his first Italy cap in October, Osvaldo’s future chances of representing the Azzuri again were thrown into doubt after this incident, given coach Cesare Prandelli’s strict behaviour code. The incident between Osvaldo and Lamela was perhaps the lowest point of a difficult season thus far for Roma, where things just haven’t gone to plan on or off the pitch for the perplexed Luis Enrique.
Valencia CF to Chelsea – £23.5 million
Alongside Sergio Aguero (who, you may have noticed, has been omitted from this list, mainly due to the reason that his goal-laden start to Premier League life has already devoured plenty of column inches and internet space), Juan Mata is the finest example of a player flawlessly managing the transition from Spain to England, dispelling the notion that a bedding in period is always necessary for those pesky light weight foreigners who can’t handle the big bad Prem. Mata, along with Aguero, David Silva and Luka Modric, have embodied a type of player that is seemingly dominating the Premier League at the minute, the diminutive, technically adept playmaker capable of finding space and that unfathomable pass. The fact that Mata has fulfilled this role at Stamford Bridge while seamlessly adapting to life in south west London makes it all the more remarkable. Alongside Daniel Sturridge, Mata has been a vital component of Chelsea’s attacking set up, and without the presence of the 23-year-old, Andre Villas Boas’ side have looked devoid of ideas as Chelsea’s old guard have at times struggled to provide. Leading the assists charts at Stamford Bridge, Mata has 7 in his first 13 Premier League appearances, also putting his former side Valencia to the sword in the Champions League, laying on two for Didier Drogba in a 3-0 victory. Debut goals in both his first Premier League and Champions League Chelsea outings proves he knows how to find the net himself.
Ligue 1 Summer Exports
LOSC Lille Métropole to Newcastle United – £4.4 million
Alongside Gabriel Obertan, Hatem Ben Arfa and Sylvain Marvex, the dynamic Cabaye is spear-heading a French revolution on Tyneside. The elegant playmaker has quickly won the admiration of fans with his pulsating performances in midfield that have left many wondering, how the hell did Newcastle manage this Del Boy-esque bit of business? Blessed with clear technical ability and an industrious mentality that mirrors Newcastle’s hard-working attitude this season, Cabaye has demonstrated the ability to swiftly take control of the tempo of a game, and has largely been the source of Newcastle’s unprecedented success this term. His unerring accuracy from set piece execution has not gone unnoticed either. The departure of Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton to West Ham and QPR respectively may have left Newcastle fans wondering where the craft and invention would stem from this season, but Cabaye’s presence seems to have rightly put those worries to bed. In terms of pure monetary value of a transfer, there won’t be many more remarkable than Cabaye’s this season.
LOSC Lille Métropole to Valencia CF – €6-8 million
Valencia agreed a deal for the buccaneering 25-year-old centre half last January, but sent him back to Ligue 1 to see out the remainder of the season on loan, allowing Rami to lift Le Championnat with Lille before starting off his Los Che career officially in July. For a fee in the region of a mere €6million, Valencia seemed to have come across another bargain, a pattern that is becoming increasingly familiar as Valencia look to cease splashing the cash in order to restore financial order, following their new stadium fiasco. Blessed with daunting height and strength, Rami has exhibited that he also has an elegance to his game, having displayed the capability to bring the ball out of defence and attempt a Hollywood pass or two himself. Alongside Victor Ruiz, the two have formed one of the most potent central defence partnerships in La Liga, an effective blend of power and intelligence. Still prone to the odd lapse of concentration, Rami is still improving, and keeping his temper in check might not do him any harm either. The 25-year-old picked up a red card in a draw with Mallorca this season, after allegedly telling the referee that his mother was of erm… a questionable profession, upon a penalty being awarded in Mallorca’s favour.
Olympique de Marseille to AC Milan – free transfer
After six solid years at Marseille, 26-year-old Taiwo finally made his long awaited move to one of Europe’s recognized elite, jumping at the chance to join AC Milan after his contract with OM expired last July. Unfortunately for the rampaging left back, it hasn’t really happened for him at the Rossoneri just yet, having failed to hold down a spot in the first team, with coach Massimiliano Allegri favouring Gianluca Zambrotta with disappointing frequency for the Nigerian. The owner of a vicious left foot shot reminiscent of Roberto Carlos, Taiwo has made just four appearances this season, and the Nigerian international may find himself subject to a change of scenery come January, with Benfica touted as a possible destination.
RC Lens to Real Madrid – £10 million
As a gifted 18-year-old with over 20 appearances notched up in his debut season with RC Lens, you didn’t need a crystal ball to see one of Europe’s elite swooping in for this prodigious centre half. Signed for a fee of approximately £10 million in August of last summer, Varane has made three appearances during his short Real Madrid career, grabbing his first goal with what can only be cleverly described as a ‘super flying back heel volley’ in Real’s 6-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, a goal which made him Real Madrid’s youngest foreign goal scorer at 18 years and 152 days. Also appearing in a 0-0 draw away to Racing Santander and a 3-0 victory over Ajax in the Champions League, Varane looked at ease amongst Madrid’s plethora of stars. Having shown admirers (and there are many of them) that he possessed the poise, command and maturity to lead the backline at previous club Lens, Varane’s influence in the Real Madrid side will only grow from here.
LOSC Lille Métropole to Arsenal – £10.8 Million
Another of Lille’s Le Championnat winners to depart for England, The Ivorian Gervinho’s transition to the rush of the Premier League life has been a bit more convoluted. A red card marred his Premier League debut in a 0-0 draw away Newcastle, but seeing as the cheeky slap that earned him the straight red was thrown in the direction of British heart throb Joey Barton, no one really minded that much. With three goals and five assists in his fourteen Premier League appearances for Arsenal thus far, Gervinho has had moderate success in front of goal . But blessed with pace, direct attacking qualities and a magnificent forehead, he has proven to be a useful part of Arsenal’s vibrant attacking front line, spearheaded by Robin Van Persie. With Arsenal’s other striking options looking miserably blunt, (Maurane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young the only other two viable forwards in the squad), Gervinho may be looked at to increase his tally in the second half of the season.