We’ve slowly walked through the rest of Europe’s big leagues – Italy, then Germany, France, and England. Completing our look ahead to the summer transfer window, Sam Marsden takes a look at the last of UEFA’s Big 5: La Liga.
José Luis Gayá
Best position (alternate positions): Left back (left midfield)
Teams in pursuit: Real Madrid (Spain), Manchester United, Arsenal (England)
Likely cost: $20 million or $50 million (depending on new contract)
“Actual value:” $28 million
Valencia is haunted by the ghosts of left backs past, so it’s a little bit foolish that it’s allowed itself to fall into a stage of déjà vu. After failing to tie Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat down to contracts which had release clauses worth little more than a couple of apples in soccer terms, it watched on, tears rolling down its face, as Alba signed for Barcelona for $18 million and Bayern Munich snapped up Bernat for $13 million.
Now Real Madrid is sniffing around José Luis Gayá, who if he doesn’t sign a new deal would be able to walk out of Mestalla for $20 million. Talks stalled because the club wanted to bump up the release clause to $50 million, but Gayá didn’t feel the salary it was offering reflected that fee. For a few months, there was a Western-style standoff, but things now appear to be back on track — perhaps due to lessons learned; perhaps due to the Peter Lim era.
But that doesn’t mean the 19-year-old twisty-turny-tricky left-back is out of Madrid’s clutch forever. It just means El Real will have to pay a lot more money if it decides Gayá is the man to come in and clean Marcelo’s boots until he’s been through puberty. A couple of English sides have also been predictably linked with Gayá, although at the moment he only has eyes (whether now or in the future) for the bright lights in the Spanish capital.
Best position (alternate positions): Striker (second striker, winger)
Teams in pursuit: Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Napoli, Lazio, AC Milan, Sampdoria (Italy)
Likely cost: $30 million
“Actual value:” $20 million
Just when he thought he’d cracked the code, Jesé Rodríguez was cruelly struck down with cruciate ligament damage last March. Real Madrid, whether it admits it or not, has watched on with a hint of envy as a largely self-made Barcelona team has enjoyed almost a decade of success, dreaming of producing the New Raúl González or the Next Iker Casillas. Strikers had been a particularly weak point, with the likes of Roberto Soldado and Álvaro Negredo (rightly) slipping away, but in Jesé the club thought it had found its man.
He was close to forcing his way into the first team, had scored five league goals and was playing for the club against Schalke 04 in the Champions League. Raúl was beginning to look like a realistic mirror. Then, snap. Fourteen months, later he might be using Álvaro Morata, who fled for Juventus last summer, as a mirror instead.
Jesé has made just two starts in the league this season and is reportedly keen to go somewhere he’ll be appreciated. Germany or Italy are the most likely options; a loan or a transfer is Madrid’s big question.
Best position (alternate positions): Stiker
Teams in pursuit: Liverpool (England), Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid (Spain)
Likely cost: $22.2 million
“Actual value:” $15 million
A few months ago, everything Luciano Vietto touched turned into goals. La Liga game? Goal. Copa del Rey match? Goal. Europa League? Goals. The 21-year-old (who looks like a 10-year-old) signed from Racing Club last summer for $8 million, and despite early success as a teenager in Argentina, nobody was completely sure how he’d get on in Spain. Nobody expected him to look like a fish in water so quickly.
On the back of his quick-fire adaption to Europe, Google searches for “Vietto” now throw up link after link of stories that have a happy ending in Liverpool. There’s another one with a Hollywood touch, where he ends up at Atlético Madrid, reunited with Diego Simeone, the man who first gave him his chance at Racing. However, since March the goals have dried up, and clubs wanting to sign him may be having second thoughts about rushing to spend that suitcase of cash they’d put aside for him.
Vietto’s release clause is reportedly as low as $22 million, though, and for a man who’s scored 18 goals in the first season of his European adventure, that’s not a bad price — especially in Premier League currency.
Best position (alternate positions): Winger
Teams in pursuit: Any big club in England or Italy apparently
Likely cost: $22 million
“Actual value:” $18 million
It’s hard to work out whether we should be feeling sorry for Pedro. On the one hand, he’s spent the majority of the season staked out in the Camp Nou dugouts, remembering what it was like to win Champions Leagues, World Cups and European Championships. On the other hand, he’s won all those things, earns a nice living and gets to watch Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar play every week for free. And not just watch either; in the week, he gets to train with them.
Still, every soccer player has their limit, and it looks like Pedro may have reached his. He’s started just 12 league games this season, but he was reduced to a spectator the day Suárez’s biting ban ended. A player of his bulging trophy cabinet and ability (it’s easy to forget how important he once was to Spain and to Barça) deserves to be playing, and Barça knows that. The word is they will let him leave if a club pays $22 million. Step forward the Premier League.
Best position (alternate positions): Central defender
Teams in pursuit: Tottenham, Arsenal (England), Juventus (Italy)
Likely cost: $10-15 million
“Actual value:” $10 million
Héctor Moreno’s bad news was Espanyol’s good news. The Mexican defender broke his leg during his country’s defeat to Netherlands at last summer’s World Cup, not just ruining his and (maybe) Mexico’s chances of advancing to the last eight, but also sidelining his hopes of a big pay day. In comparison to what Moreno is worth, the wages at Espanyol are modest, and there are a ton of clubs who could offer him more. To name three: North London enemies Tottenham and Arsenal and Italian champions Juventus.
Still, with every cloud… Espanyol have benefitted from his return to fitness and he’s been an ever-present in the side since December. Classy on the ball and clever up top, he helped his side to the Copa del Rey semifinal and it could potentially still qualify for the distraction of the Europa League. Arsenal sent Brian McDermott to watch him in January (before signing Gabriel from Villarreal), and for the price he’d be available at, there are few reasons not to sign him.
Best position (alternate positions): Manager (central defender)
Teams in pursuit: Newcastle United, Brentford (England)
Likely cost: Free
“Actual value:” It’s a gamble
Paco Jémez must have been an angry man on Thursday night after watching his Rayo Vallecano side draw with Valencia. “Draws aren’t very useful,” he told UEFA’s Richard Martin in March. “Last year Real Valladolid drew 15 games and was relegated. Draws are of no use to us: we either win or lose. And with that attitude, we win lots of games.”
The former central defender’s approach is not a massively gung-ho one, but rather one which focuses on attacking, passing, ball-hogging soccer. Last season, Rayo sent ripples through Spanish soccer when it took possession away from Barcelona in a match at Vallecas. The team lost the game, mind. Helped by the the club’s liberal attitude and its Bukanero Ultras, Jémez has become a cult figure through his exciting and daring methods, and it’s going to be fascinating to see how they work out when he moves on.
And that will be soon. It’s highly unlikely he will continue with Rayo beyond the end of the season. Some people says he’d be good as Spain’s next manager, or that he could take on the Barcelona job, but only English clubs Brentford and Newcastle United have seriously suggested as the next stops in his managerial career. Although at the latter, a club much bigger than Rayo, Jémez might actually work out — even with Mike Ashley in his way.