From left: Viera, Pabón, Michu.
Sir Alex Ferguson contends that in the current climate, the transfer market offers ‘no value.’ The bloated fees his club have splurged on the likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and most damningly, Bebé of late would certainly seem to support such a stance, with the perceptible ‘English Premium’ flagrantly evident in the obscene sums changing hands for prosaic players of Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and James Milner’s pedigree. On the continent however, a more adventurous approach to scouting can see Ferguson’s thesis threatened. In recent years, the likes of Udinese, Palermo, Fiorentina, Groningen and Twente have profited enormously from the commendable scope of their signings and a bold willingness to take chances on burgeoning talent, irrespective of their passports. Typically, this summer’s window has offered up some intriguing budget buys with the potential to prove inspired purchases. Here are a few to have caught The Mambo’s eye:
Matías Fernández (Sporting Clube De Portugal – Fiorentina €2m)
Whilst it may be true that Fernández, an exquisitely gifted trequartista, has somewhat failed to justify his billing in Europe, it also remains unarguable that €2m for a man crowned South America’s footballer of the year aged only 20 represents a barely plausible steal. Still only 26, the Chilean playmaker initially displayed tremendous promise as the heir apparent to Juan Róman Riquelme at Villarreal before discovering that the Argentine genius was ultimately irreplaceable. Nonetheless, moments of class still punctuated his time in Spain before a move to Lisbon offered Fernández chance to provide the consistency he had hitherto lacked. Sadly, despite again illustrating his ability in flashes, much of Fernández’s finest form has been saved for his national team, where his 13 goals from 50 caps provide a ratio considerable better than that produced at club level.
However, now approaching his peak years, the Colo Colo youth product will hope to belatedly mark his arrival as a major talent in European football following his move to Serie A. His technical prowess and dead-ball mastery remain unquestioned; it is now upto Fernández to prove he can apply his talent to its fullest. Should he adapt, the Florence club should prove hugely watchable this coming season, particularly with reports of a deal in place to snare Spanish schemer Borja Valero and Montenegrin magician Stevan Jovetic yet to move on.
Marcelo Díaz (Universidad de Chile – FC Basel €4.5m)
With their brightest lights in Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka having departed to seek the fame their skills deserve in Germany’s Bundesliga, fans of FC Basel could be forgiven for bracing themselves for a season of transition and diminishing returns. The truth however is that despite the considerable losses, domestic supremacy should still be achievable whilst an imaginative recruitment policy seeks to minimise the impact of such significant departures. Tasked with replacing Xhaka, the club’s home-grown teenage regista, is 25 year-old Chilean Marcelo Díaz. Diminutive, stocky and predominantly right-sided, Díaz contrasts starkly with the elegant, taller, left-sided Xhaka yet as would be expected of the man hailed as the ‘South American Xavi,’ Xhaka’s gift for controlling the game’s pitch and tempo is shared.
Something of a late-bloomer who spent much of his early career wasted at full-back, Díaz has risen to prominence as the metronome of Jorge Sampaoli’s wonderfully fluent Universidad de Chile side who claimed last year’s Copa Sudamerica. Now developing into an important performer for his country having debuted in 2011, Díaz’s signing represents something of a coup, not only for Basel but Swiss football as a whole; players of his age and class are ordinarily the strict preserve of Europe’s more prestigious competitions.
Dorlan Pabón (Atletico Nacional – Parma $4m)
Quicksilver, direct and in possession of a fearsome strike are attributes that do not perhaps form the most palatable of cocktails for The Mambo. However, 24 year-old Colombian Dorlan Pabón fuses these more mundane qualities with the subtlety and flair expected from his continent’s top talents. Despite registering 7 times in last season’s Copa Libertadores and boasting a strike rate worthy of a centre forward with his former club (29 goals from 65 league appears), the short, bullish Pabon is a versatile forward perhaps at his best as a support striker or ideally, cutting in from wide areas to showcase an unpredictability at times reminiscent of compatriot Faustino Asprilla, who starred for Parma in the mid-90s.
Pabón is not Il Tardini’s only intriguing signing this summer. Looking to offset the loss of star man Sebastian Giovinco’s return to Juventus, incoming has been Greek fantasista Sotiris Ninis whilst rumours continue to hint at a deal soon being finalised to import Gonzalo Mastriaini, a teenage Uruguayan whose goals and style have earned his a tag as the ‘New Edinson Cavani.’
Michu (Rayo Vallecano – Swansea City €2.5m)
For an attacking midfielder, the seal of approval from Michael Laudrup must serve as an honoured endorsement. As such, with the incomparable Dane seeing that securing 26 year-old Michu’s signature was amongst his first acts as Swansea manager, the Spaniard should be feeling suitably flattered. Another late-bloomer, Michu’s first taste of action in Spain’s top flight came only last season yet a career-best haul of 15 league goals for struggling Rayo alerted scouts from bigger clubs, with Manchester United said to have been monitoring his progress. Whilst a move to the game’s genuine elite failed to materialise, Michu could still prove himself an able replacement for departing Swans loan-star Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Andreas Bjelland (FC Nordsjaelland – FC Twente €3m)
FC Nordsjaelland’s feat in wrestling the Danish Superliga title away from the aristocrats of the capital owed much to a miserly defence, smoothly marshalled by international centre back Andreas Bjelland. A classy, ball-playing defender in the Daniel Agger mould, whose skills can see him sometimes deployed in midfield, Bjelland’s intelligent reading of the game and tactical intelligence were vital in a back-line that was breached just 22 times, providing the foundation for the club’s maiden league triumph. A fine acquisition for Steve McClaren’s Twente, the Dane will perhaps look to establish himself in the Eredivisie before moving onto more illustrious surroundings. He will be joined in Enschede by silky Serbian Dusan Tadic, the latest in his country’s fine tradition of dazzling left wingers and a man who tallied more assists than anyone else in Europe during his debut season with Groningen, who in turn hope to have secured his successor in teenage compatriot Filip Kostic.
Jonathan Viera (Las Palmas – Valencia €2.5m)
Despite their dismal showing at the Olympics, Spain continues to unearth footballers of huge quality in industrial quantities. Creative midfielders are a particularly specialty and with the likes of Thiago, Sergio Canales, Iker Muniain, Isco and Ander Herrera competing for places, even gaining recognition at under 21 level has become an achievement. One who has earned such standing despite plying his trade in the Segunda is 22 year-old Jonathan Viera. A native of Las Palmas, the Canary Islander possesses all the tricks and vision the region has become associated with through the careers of Juan Carlos Valeron and David Silva. With Canales again stricken with serious injury, Viera will soon hope to exhibit his class at the top level and in joining Valencia, will seek to add to the swelling ranks of skilled young Spaniards who have been nurtured to stardom by the club before lamentably, having to leave in pursuit of greatness elsewhere.
Unusually, Valencia have managed to keep hold of their key performers this summer, perhaps aided by Ever Banega’s senseless, self-inflicted injury, Roberto Soldado’s absence from Euro 2012 and Adil Rami’s presence at the same competition. Typically however, the club have acted shrewdly in the market, with Mexican winger Andrés Guardado joining on a free transfer from Deportivo and the often unfairly-maligned Argentine Fernando Gago signing for a cut-price €3.5m from Real Madrid. Gago, who cost the capital club in excess of €20m, has struggled for continuity in Europe but now aged 26, his intelligence, vision and industry could prove wonderful companionship for Banega’s wayward brilliance, a combination which fans of Argentina as well as Valencia will be keeping a close eye on.