While there has been a huge exodus of talent from La Liga, some players have remained in Spain. Here are the top five Spanish signings this summer that went under the radar.
Alberto Bueno – Real Valladolid to Rayo Vallecano (FREE)
Not a name that instantly catches the imagination, but there was a time when it did. In 2006 he formed part of the excellent Spain U-19 team that won the European Championships, a tournament in which he was top scorer. Alongside him were the likes of Juan Mata, Gerard Piqué, Javi García and other names that have since gone on to success elsewhere. After playing intermittently for Real Valladolid, struggling with both fitness and form, he might’ve just found a home at Rayo Vallecano. Paco Jémez’s side are becoming the place where the old toys go to be fixed and used again, with Bueno the latest to be discarded. Even in his fleeting appearances with Valladolid last season he managed 5 goals and 4 assists, while often providing an extra dimension coming from the bench. Bueno’s a highly gifted attacking midfielder that can be often found roaming into forward areas, using his excellent technical ability and combination play in and around the penalty area. A brace on his Rayo debut showcased exactly what this nimble player is capable of.
Vicente Iborra – Levante to Sevilla (€6M)
Sevilla have made a big impact at both ends of the transfer market this summer, buying and selling in equal measure. One of the names that stood out in terms of incomings, was Vicente Iborra. He’ll form part of the midfield and will essentially replace Gary Medel. The two couldn’t be more different, though, with Iborra offering plenty of control and intelligence in midfield, showing in recent years at Levante his discipline in terms of positioning and unselfish nature towards the team. Physically he’s a powerful fit, but he also possesses technical aspects to his game. Iborra averaged 2.8 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game last season with Levante, but balanced that out with 4 goals and was the highest average passer at the club with 35.9 passes per game. Sevilla are often seen as a weak team, and Iborra’s signing suggests they’re going some way to reinforcing their spine and allowing their more attacking players to perform with a safety net in Iborra behind them.
Mikel Balenziaga – Real Valladolid to Athletic Bilbao (€500,000 BUYBACK OPTION)
When Erensto Valverde is coach then balance is one of the most important features of his sides. It explains a lot then, the signing of Mikel Balenziaga. Athletic have been a team without balance for a while and after an underwhelming year for Jon Aurtenexte, a more solid presence at left-back was deemed a necessity. Balenziaga will provide that and he showed last season in his return to La Liga after a Real Valladolid promotion that he’s more than capable of holding his own. His 2.7 tackles per game were the second most at Valladolid, while his 2.6 interceptions per game were the most. He does provide some attacking verve but the most important part was signing someone positionally adept and competent in possession when moving out of defence. At 25 years old he’s still at a good age too, and will improve in time no doubt. While he’s there it gives Aurtenexte time to improve on his own game too and possibly make the left-back slot his own one day.
Joan Verdú – Espanyol to Real Betis (FREE)
Certainly one of the more surprising signings was Joan Verdú opting to move to Real Betis. Yes, there was European football on offer, but it was expected the midfielder would choose a higher profile team. However, the powers of persuasion from Pepe Mel worked and in turn Verdú signed on to become the new guiding light at Real Betis given the departure of Beñat. Not a like-for-like change of course, but instead a player who will work higher up the field and link more often with the likes of Rubén Castro and Betis’ wide-men. Verdú has been brilliant for Espanyol the last few seasons and none more so than last time around, when he managed 9 goals and 3 assists as the team turned from relegation candidates into European challengers. Verdú’s someone who does his best work between the lines in the final third, drifting around seeking openings for himself and others who could latch onto a pass. He’s also highly capable of scoring, as seen by his goal tally last season, and that will be a welcome relief to Rubén Castro who can sometimes be burdened.
Javi Fuego – Rayo Vallecano to Valencia (FREE)
Even if David Albeda hadn’t retired, the likelihood is he wouldn’t get a kick of the ball because of this excellent free transfer signing by Valencia. Javi Fuego had been battling, scrapping and hurtling about in his defensive midfield zone at Rayo Vallecano for several years, before he was finally noticed. Fuego’s a pure defensive midfielder in many regards, rather than screening he prefers to get in and launch a tackle, intercept a pass and shut down opponents with positive aggression. What you see is what you’ll get with Fuego and Valencia haven’t had many players like him, willing to dig in and be a solider for the coach out on the battle field. 3.8 tackles per game showed just how dedicated to his work Fuego is, while with 52.3 passes per game and 82.7% accuracy showed when he does win possession back there is an intelligence too.