In the midst of all the euphoria which surrounds La Liga, especially Real Madrid and Barcelona, it’s sometimes easy to forget life outside the top flight – which is a huge mistake. The Segunda this year has been one of the most entertaining in history, with several teams being home to some eye-catching talents who are ready for the next step up. I’ve highlighted here five players that fall into that category more than most…
Jorge Andújar Moreno a.k.a Coke
Few players in the Segunda have attracted more attention this season from the big clubs than Rayo Vallecano’s right sided full-back. While the Madrid based club have been the subject of much strife off the field, on it they’ve been nothing short of brilliant. Much of that success is down to Coke, who at 23 is still at a tender age – not that this fact bothered Rayo who had no reservations in handing him the captain’s armband. His gallops up the right flank are a thing of great intrigue; he shows little in the way of fear, has pace in abundance when required he’s been technically adept. His willingness to operate as an extra man in attack has been of great profit to Rayo, in the 32 appearances he’s made this season Coke’s name has been on the score sheet 5 times. His delivery also, has been impressive – be it while in full flight, or dead ball situations. ‘The Dani Alves of the Segunda’ some have even dubbed him; to get even anywhere near the Brazilian’s level would a fantastic achievement, but should Coke really prosper at the top level he’ll have to polish his defensive game, something that Alves himself initially struggled with at times for Sevilla.
Future: There is no way he’ll be still in the Segunda next season. Even if Rayo’s financial uncertainty wasn’t an issue the likes of Valencia, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have all shown considerable interest as rumours fly he may have a pre-contract agreement with one of the teams. Unai Emery recently commented on the player personally, saying what a quality individual he is. Atletico meanwhile were priced out of a move last season after Rayo’s insistence on getting what they saw as a justified fee (€5m).
There are several players in the division just outside of the top flight all over the world who just look like a class apart, and that applies to Salva-Sevilla more than anyone in the Segunda. The Real Betis midfielder is the optimization of grace and style on the football field, whether he be in possession or reading the game without the ball and offering himself as an outlet to hold attacking moves together. Like Xabi Prieto last season, he’s just a cut above when it comes to midfield play; the vision, approach and technique that Prieto harnesses are all major aspects of Salva-Sevilla’s game and Los Verdiblancos have felt the benefit hugely this season. The main team in Andalucía are on the cusp of long-overdue return to the Primera, and their patient, precise build-up sees them dominate games each week with huge amounts of possession – without the composure of Salva-Sevilla in the middle holding it all together, the green and white pack of cards would surely fall.
Future: At Real Betis he will stay! The club are big enough to hold onto him, and could cause a few shocks next year – mainly at Villamarin. With the ship steadied in terms of finance too, they’ll be allowed to keep their most prized assets.
When Udinese and Granada signed a partnership agreement several years ago, the side form Andalucía were well aware of the power the Italian side wielded in scouting circles all across the globe – they also probably knew that if any of the players performed they’d be powerless to keep them on board, and Benítez is a prime example of that. Granada emerged as a dark horse quarter of the way through this years Segunda campaign, with their enterprising attacking style led by a pacey attack and built upon solid foundations many sides befell to the youthful Andalucíans. Benítez has operated throughout the season all across a midfield three operating behind a lone striker, predominantly however on the right side of the three – a position were a third of his 9 league goals have originated from. While his teammates use their pace to break swiftly, Benítez meanwhile offers a more direct manner on the ball by playing in teammates with through ball or crosses swung in from deep. His ability to beat an opponent too can’t be overlooked, and many a full-back has been given a torrid time when up against his variety of ball skills.
Future: Sevilla are the main club to register an interest in Benitez, but Udinese could still retain his services yet. A move in Spain or elsewhere on the continent can’t be ruled out – staying at Granada isn’t feasible. For their loss though, the Italian side will no doubt send out another emerging talent.
What is it with Segunda and enterprising full-backs? Coke isn’t the only one keeping the onlookers on a high in Spain’s second tier. Mallo’s an intelligent, physical, technically able character who has shown signs this season that a move to a higher level, would not be met with caution. Like the aforementioned Coke, he operates on the right side of the field, though his defensive abilities seem much more rounded – burst of blistering pace see him rarely beaten by wingers nor are balls in behind him successful, while his reading of the game is only improving more. The Galician has switched between full-back and midfield with consummate ease this season, and his bustling, determined nature has seen him rarely out-fought too. Across the ground too, there is a confident feel to his play when carrying the ball out of defence or playing the simple pass into midfield – there is little hesitation when venturing forward neither, as a cannon-like shot has become a fan-favourite at Estadio Balaidos. Recent comparisons to Newcastle’s José Enrique are well placed.
Future: Scouts from Real Madrid, Chelsea and various clubs in Italy have all watched Mallo this season. Valencia though are especially keen, it’s widely reported in Valencian media Unai Emery and his staff have had him watched on numerous occasions this season – the fact he can be picked up for little as under €3m has intrigued Los Che more so.
The question on Viera’s head is, just where is he best utilized? The 21 year old has operated in three different positions for Las Palmas this season; attacking midfield, deep-lying centre midfield, and finally as a centre forward. From my point of view his playmaking abilities in attacking midfield have seen him prosper most, as the deep-lying role might be a little too mature/refined for him at such a young age. The player himself too, seems have have more zest when in the final third. Viera has been born with great technique, and a flair to go with that which see’s the confidence ooze from his 1.70m frame while even without great pace, his intelligence alone bypasses most opponents. His distrobution too, has improved as the season has gone on and slowly but surely the weighting and timing of passes has become a much more refined measure.
Future: Chelsea sent scouts to watch Viera earlier in the year, after being alerted to his talent by their connections in Spain while Real Madrid and Barcelona were both linked. Moves to any of these clubs could be a bad move though, as he’s entirely capable of playing regularly now and needs the experience of playing games on a consistent basis. The clubs in group outisde of Spain’s top two could be ideal destinations, as could a move lower down to teams like Getafe or Espanyol.