Listen, we get it, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are incredible. They’re so amazing, like oh my god so amazing, they score so many goals, blah blah blah, whatever, we get it. It’s boring. It’s been the same story for like eight years now!
It’s time we looked at other exciting players in La Liga. These are the top seven most exciting players in La Liga not named Messi or Ronaldo.
First, a quick ground rule. We decided to only do one player per team, so that the list isn’t dominated by Madrid and Barcelona players. Because that’s boring too. You know, it’s good to spread the wealth a bit.
Also, I know, seven seems like an arbitrary number, and it is, but who cares.
Also also, this list isn’t necessarily “the best” players, it’s the coolest and most exciting players to watch. Which is what life is really all about isn’t it?
First up is Sevilla’s new star signing Yehven Konoplyanka.
Konoplyanka is a speedy Ukranian No. 10 who led a team you’ve never heard of called Dnipro to the Europa League final where it faced…. Sevilla. Konoplyanka impressed Sevilla’s evil genius chief scout Monchi, who may have the best eye for talent in all of Europe, so he signed him on a free transfer.
Konoplyanka has a cool name, which is important, and a style of play which combines speed and technique. He’s right footed but likes to operate on the left, and because he has those steely Slavic eyes he makes it look so nonchalant when he whizzes by defenders using a variety of sick dribbling moves.
Watch him this season. If Monchi thinks he’s good, so should you.
Next up is Athletic Club de Bilbao forward Iñaki Williams.
As you probably know, Athletic traditionally only employs players who come from the Basque Country in Spain. But the first thing you notice when you look at Iñaki Williams is that he’s black, which doesn’t typically scream “Basque!” the way rain and cod do. That’s because Williams is the son of African immigrants. He was born in Spain but has a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother. But he was born and raised in Bilbao, and is a local hero.
He represents a new, more inclusive and diverse Spain. One in which your national identity is not necessarily tied to your ethnicity.
Oh, and Williams can play too. You may remember his heroic performances against Real Madrid and Barcelona in the second half of last season. He was a constant headache for the Madrid defenders because his long, rangy frame and ability to cover a lot of ground with the ball at his feet without losing it. He even scored a great goal in the Copa del Rey final against Barca.
He’s fast, strong, skilled, and he was trained in the famed Athletic youth system known as Lezama. He’s definitely one to look out for this season.
When I think of Nolito I think of the John Lennon song Working Class Hero.
Nolito is a dying breed. Or maybe just a rare breed. But he’s a professional athlete who truly isn’t motivated by money. When asked why he turned down a big money move to the Premier League, he said, “Because it’s cold, it rains a lot, and the food’s bad … I grew up poor, what do I need more money for? All greed does is rip the bag.”
A product of Barcelona’s famous youth academy, La Masia, this proletarian hero is a skillful forward who has been on the fringe of Vicente Del Bosque’s plans for the Spanish national team. He has a knack for showing up big in big matches. Last season he scored against Real Madrid and Atleti, as well as assisting in a 1-0 victory at the Camp Nou against Barcelona.
Jose Luis Gaya
What the hell is Valencia putting in the water? Has there ever been a club that produces such an amazing amount of quality left backs?
It started with Jordi Alba, who scored in the Euro 2012 final for Spain and then went on to become a cornerstone at Barcelona. Then came Juan Bernat, who has cemented his place in Bayern Munich’s starting 11. The latest one is Jose Gaya, and he may be the best of the bunch.
The first thing that stands out about Gaya is his blistering pace. Dude is one of the fastest players in the league. In an age where having a fullback that can go both ways can mean the difference between a good team and a great team, Gaya has been key for the resurgent Valencia under Nuno Espirito Santo. He has developed a nice understanding with the other great hope of Valencian soccer, the lethal striker Paco Alcacer.
Watch Gaya play at Valencia, before he gets snapped up by Real Madrid or some big Premier League club.
You know a player is cool when he has his own hashtag. If you look #ardaturanismo you will find many devoted followers who worship at the church founded by the great Turkish playmaker Arda Turan.
How does one define the concept of Arda Turanismo? According to a journalist from El Pais, Spain’s most prestigious newspaper, “it is to elevate the aesthetic above everything else. To play the game with a smile on your face. To stop when everyone else is sprinting, to sprint when everyone else is stopping.”
ArdaTuranismo is to play the game like your back on your block in Istanbul, on the western side of the Bosphorus. A block that has all of its electricity and water bills paid for by Arda Turan, formerly of Atletico de Madrid and now of Barcelona. Arda Turan is cooler than you and me, and he’s better at soccer than you and me. But he’s not a dick about it. In fact he’s so cool he welcomes us, makes us complicit in his coolness. That’s Ardaturanismo.
Barca fans are lucky to have him. Sucks they have to wait until January to watch him play. I suspect he’ll have a lot of fun with Neymar, Luis Suarez, and Messi. It’s only a matter of time before they become converts as well.
Andalucia is the large region that makes up the southern tip of Spain. It is the land of flamenco and bullfighting. The people there see life slightly differently than the rest of us. They live it with a special appreciation for beauty and mysticism. The most efficient or effective way forward is not always the most desirable one. Andalusians take the scenic route rather than the faster but quicker highway.
Isco’s Andalusian roots define his game. His game is pure fantasy. If he can destroy while making it look good, he will always prefer that. Every little movement, every faint, every nutmeg and cutback is meant to get the crowd on its feet.
When he was a talented youngster, his coaches never thought he’d make it because he had such a strange body build. His legs are curved and short, and he’s seriously pigeon toed. But such mechanical things don’t stop an artist like Isco, he just overcomes them with his overwhelming technique and his low center of gravity. He’ll often be surrounded by three guys, pinned back against the sideline, and he’ll do something and somehow get out of the pressure, despite the fact that he doesn’t have elite speed. The defenders are probably just temporarily stunned by what they are witnessing.
A small man creating small works of art with every touch, every turn, every flick. If you’ve fallen in love with the game, chances are it’s because you watched a player like Isco when you were a kid.
And the most exciting player in La Liga outside of Messi and Ronaldo has to be Atletico de Madrid’s super sexy Antoine Griezmann.
Griezmann is not a new commodity. He came through the ranks at La Real Sociedad and has played well in the top flight for a few seasons. But last season was his real coming-out party. The dude scored 22 goals in 37 games playing in a system that does not create a whole lot of chances for the forwards. He was one of the most efficient players in the league last year, scoring goals that came in all shapes and sizes.
He’s the prototype of a modern striker. You can’t really tell whether he’s a winger, a No. 10, or a striker. He’s actually a little bit of all of that while still scoring over 20 goals. He’s creative, fast, and surprisingly good in the air given his small frame. Yet strangely, despite the fact that he’s a 20-plus goal scorer and has amazing hair and boyish good looks, he’s still not a global superstar. So you can still feel cool for liking him because he still hasn’t sold out.
Expect that to change quickly, so get in early and pick Antoine Griezmann as your breakout star of Euro 2016.
Listen, we get it, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are incredible. It’s time we looked at other exciting players in La Liga. These are the top seven most exciting players in La Liga not named Messi or Ronaldo.