Given the plight of Spain’s transfer market as a whole, the free market has become along with the loan market, the most important and decisive aspect of the transfer window. Players are seeing their contracts expire for two reasons, with either a) the club they’re contracted to simply not being able to afford a healthier renewal and b) the player simply wishes to leave and get a better contract and/or move up to a more prestigious club. It means clubs are more than ever aggressively engaging in this market, as seen with the pursuit of players such as Xabi Etxeita, Javi Fuego, Joan Verdú, Piti.
Two players who moved last summer were both players I’d been watching for awhile with great interest. Both were under 25-years-old, and both were centre-backs. The players in question were Alejandro Arribas and Alejandro Gálvez. Ironic in a sense that the eventual movement of one, would allow the other to replace him. Arribas was one of many players at Rayo Vallecano with an expiring deal the club couldn’t afford to renew, while the case was similar with Gálvez at Sporting Gijón. In turn, Arribas’ move to Osasuna on a free transfer vacated a slot in Rayo’s team and Galvéz came in – on a free transfer of course.
Gálvez had been a player I watched often due to the fact he played for Sporting, my team in Spain (some would say unluckily). He stood out because of his ‘extra abilities’. While not at the level of Gerard Piqué or Thiago Silva, it was refreshing to see a player like Gálvez come from Sporting’s academy Mareo who was a ball playing centre-back. Most that came through were basic in the sense they were adept in the air, strong in the tackle and harnessed more traditional centre-back attributes. Gálvez always looked a bit different, quite literally. Because of his height and gangly frame, a misconception existed that he was poor across the ground/in possession. The reality was far from the truth, with Gálvez proving extremely composed and having the ability to view the game ahead of him. Paco Jémez noticed what many didn’t at Sporting and made Gálvez the bridge to his pivot of Javi Fuego and Roberto Trashorras. Jémez’s teams are based on that pivot, and Gálvez’s tactical understanding allowed Rayo to flourish in the second half of the season alongside Jordi Amat after a first half of the season in which they were vulnerable at the back.
He was efficient with his usage of the long ball, careful in possession when making that step out of defence and brought more tactical nous to the defence. What he maybe didn’t have in pace or coverage, Amat stepped in well making the pair extremely cohesive. Gálvez on the flip side still has those traditional values of decent positional sense, thorough in the tackle and a leader in the interception column. As you expect of someone at 1.88m too, the player is dominant aerially and uses his body well. While composed on the ball and appealing to Jémez in that sense, he can be overly aggressive as seen with 11 yellow cards in 28 games with the 1 red card. It’s a troublesome area, and one Gálvez will need to smooth up.
Borussia Dortmund have already come with an offer this summer of €2m, but Rayo are maintaining he won’t be sold unless his release clause of €4m is met.
The other player is Alejandro Arribas, and here is a player I firmly believe should be operating at a higher level. Osasuna struck gold in signing Arribas in general, never mind for free. To balance this out however, they made a horrendous decision one year ago to not put up the extra €200,000 required for Javi Fuego. But, back to Arribas. He’s now had two consecutively excellent seasons in La Liga, and on both occasions with teams fighting relegation. This will be interesting if he does move, given the change in level and pressures of battling for different prizes. Others have been competent at a lower level as such, but regressed when making a bigger move.
The hope is Arribas wouldn’t fall into the same trap, and the signs are he wouldn’t. The 24-year-old is a gritty centre-back, in the old English shape of being more than happy to put a foot in – and a head, where it matters most and may hurt. It sounds simple and basic but few in this style and more importantly with such competency, exist. Arribas is not one for individual errors or letting down his team. He ticks boxes, he digs in, is disciplined and a very important piece from a tactical sense for Osasuna. José Luis Mendilibar’s system has been one where the defence sits in deep and pushes out with great caution, springing a calculated counter. Arribas has slotted in perfectly and become a player handing out instructions from his central post.
He’s the sort of player a Valencia or Sevilla have cried out for years. Someone the respective clubs have not had since the days of Roberto Ayala and Javi Navarro. Instead, unfocused and overly-eager centre-backs have come through the doors when a player like Arribas has been ignored. Valencia could’ve sold Rami on for a €10m+ figure last summer and brought the man in from Rayo on a free transfer. Not only is that a financial coup, but a sporting one too. Arribas won’t piss and moan to the media either, like the aforementioned Frenchman. Sevilla are interested as are others in Germany, but for now Osasuna are insisting he won’t be sold – unless his €5m clause is activated.
So there we have it, two players a year ago that both left on free transfers to little or no acclaim. My feeling is we’re going to be talking about Xabi Etxeita in the same regard next summer, a player who Athletic Bilbao signed for free and more than makes up more for the loss of a high risk Fernando Amorebieta in reliability. I spent time with Elche last season for a 3-5 day spell and was notified about his verbal agreement with Athletic, though this didn’t put off suitors such as Valencia, Sevilla, Atlético Madrid and others who all had extensive reports on the player.
Etxeita like Arribas and Gálvez before him, is low risk with immensely high potential reward.