Watching football fans watching the football
Freelance football writer Gareth McKnight ponders whether Chelsea may have difficulty holding onto their new Spanish starlet further down the line...
With Spanish football on an all-time high, there is no wonder that Premier League clubs are eager to bring players from La Liga to England.
With Pepe Reina’s current and Xabi Alonso’s past importance to Liverpool, Juan Mata’s immediate impact at Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas’ legendary status in North London and David Silva leading Manchester City’s title charge, the English top flight has been blessed with incredible talent from Spain in recent times.
However, seemingly more than any other nation, Spanish players yearn for home and have left English teams at the peak of their individual abilities.
An emerging talent at Stamford Bridge is quickly proving his worth and may well one day be added to the impressive list of world-beating Spanish players that have graced British shores.
Oriol Romeu joined Chelsea from Barcelona last summer, and despite only making one solitary substitute appearance for the Catalan giants before departing, he has become a crucial member of Andre Villas Boas’ squad almost instantly. Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and even Frank Lampard have seen their time on the pitch impacted this season by the Portuguese coach’s use of the youngster, and Romeu is already one of a host of players that Andre Villas Boas is building a new-look Chelsea team around.
Romeu has a great blend of the traditional Spanish qualities, and a battling nature that has suited the pace and aggression of the Premier League. Technically gifted with the ball at his feet, Romeu has an eye for a pass and calmness when in possession that is uniquely distilled through the ranks at La Masia. Add to this his ability to read the game, a keenness to put in a tackle and excellent positional play and Romeu is already at 20 years old an accomplished defensive midfielder.
However, just like in the case of Fabregas and Alonso, the draw of his homeland may hamper Chelsea’s long-term ambitions and plans for the Ulldecona-born man. Reports have emerged that Barcelona have a buy-back option integrated in Romeu’s contract, which can be implemented at the Camp Nou outfit’s request in the summer of 2012 or 2013.
With the abundance of midfield talent currently at Pep Guardiola’s disposal it is unlikely that the European champions will opt to bring Romeu ‘home’ this summer, but given another season of Premier League and European football and it may well be deemed that the starlet could be an asset in the Catalan senior squad.
With Xavi and Andres Iniesta currently at the peak of their powers, Sergio Busquets filling the defensive midfield slot, Fabregas being deployed as a second striker and Thiago Alcantara an impressive back-up, Guardiola’s options in the centre of the park are simply salivating.
However, given another 18 months, the two current dominant playmakers in Catalunya may well be starting to feel their age, and with Busquets gradually making the transition to central defence, Romeu could be summoned.
This would be a big blow for a team like Chelsea, who are not accustomed to losing key players; anyone who leaves Stamford Bridge is generally surplus to requirements. With Roman Abramovich’s billions, an ambitious young coach in place and an exciting team being built around the Spaniard, surely Romeu would be tempted to knock back Barcelona’s potential advances?
Not very likely. The draw of La Liga’s top sides is huge, not least to those who have witnessed their allure up close. The fact Romeu is a Barca youth product means he has been instilled with the mindset that playing for the Blaugrana is the Holy Grail since the age of 13, and Chelsea now have a problem.
One only has to look at the demise of Liverpool since the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid to see the potential effect of losing a Spanish midfield general. Cesc Fabregas openly admitted to ‘feeling English’ during his time in North London and frequently spouted his love for the Emirates outfit.
He was part of a team unbeaten for an entire season in England, played in a Champions League final and had the adoration of one of the most respected coaches in world football, his fellow players and fans. Nevertheless, he could not resist the appeal of home.
An equally concerning thought that Chelsea will need to keep in mind revolves around Juan Mata, and like his countrymen, whether or not he would be able to resist either Barcelona or Real Madrid’s charms in a year or two’s time.
Mata is a Madrid youth player who again did not make the first team, and was later farmed out to Valencia. One feels there may be unfinished business at the Santiago Bernabeu for the attacker. Finally, even Sheik Mansour’s unlimited financial resources would probably not stop David Silva doing all in his power to forge a move away from Manchester City if one of Spain’s big two came knocking.
Spain’s World Cup-winning golden generation is currently the best crop of players in the game, with the country’s top two domestic teams the biggest clubs on the planet. For an English side to snag a leading Spanish player must be seen as a massive coup, however it should be advised that over-reliance on this superstar may end in tears; only time will tell in the case of Romeu.
So you've finished the February 2012 issue – on sale now – and you're thinking, "Well, that
Entirely plausible the highlighted players may return to their homeland although I believe there may be a more practical reason other than the "pull of the heart strings". The foreign players currently plying their trade in La Liga will lose the 24% tax break they enjoyed when the “Beckham Law” is replaced with the more punitive top income tax band of 54% proposed by the Spanish Government, 56% if Catalonia is your current or preferred destination!
I’m not suggesting there will be an immediate mass exodus of foreign stars from La Liga, rather a longer term problem of attraction which in turn is more likely to be filled by the Spanish players currently playing in foreign climes.
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