They may be on target to win the title but there's no disguising that Manchester United have some rebuilding to do. They could do a lot worse that this lot.
Midfielder - Villarreal - Pass-master, dead-ball wizard, no hair.
In an alternate universe, a happy Borja Valero is the king-pin playmaker in the centre of West Brom’s midfield, guiding the Baggies towards a top six finish and all the footballer-lusting floozies the squad could ever need. Unfortunately, the real world is largely a sucky one which is why Valero couldn’t be tempted back to the West Midlands, last summer, after a loan spell with Mallorca after the apparent horrors suffered in England in the 2008-2009 season and WBA are facing relegation. And maybe one or two nights too many for the players with just naughty magazines for company.
However things couldn’t be going better for the former Real Madrid man who had signed a four year deal with the English club in 2008, with Valero’s brilliant midfield work for Mallorca guiding the cash-strapped club to a remarkable fifth place last season.
It was enough to attract the attentions of Champions League chasing Villarreal who took the balding Borja off West Brom’s hands to have an outstanding campaign for the Yellow Submarine and a call-up to the Spain squad - not bad going at all in a country already stuffed to bursting point with classy playmakers.
Midfielder - Real Sociedad - String-puller extraordinaire
Not that fast, can’t really beat people and not overly prolific aside from the odd penalty - none of these minor defects that sums up the average English midfielder over the past decade have prevented hushed talk of the Basque midfielder getting a call-up for Spain for the first time at the age of 27. Hack Prieto’s head off on the pitch and you will probably be facing serious criminal charges - or at least the risk of a stadium ban - but also wiping bright, red blood off your face that has more than a hint of blue-and-white too, the colours of his beloved club.
When Xabi Prieto’s Real Sociedad - as they are officially known in the Basque Country, these days - went down to la Segunda in 2007, the club captain could have jumped ship. There were certainly no shortage of eager sides willing to give him a berth. But Prieto stayed loyal to the San Sebastian outfit and dragged la Real back to la Primera.
It is a captain’s performance once again in pulling the strings, running the show, offering up eight assists so far this season and being so darned classy that makes Real Sociedad safe bets for survival already. This man could make up for the loss of Fabregas if the Arsenal lynchpin leaves for Barcelona this summer.
Big hair and big performances from the Canadian midfielder are keeping Mallorca safely in mid-table despite the club being borderline bankrupt and forced to sell any footballer worth any money at any point.
Athletic Bilbao - Striker - Irritating, scampish, Basque prodigy
Unaccustomed to the luxury of buying in their footballing talent due to self-imposed restraints, Basque legends Athletic Bilbao have to grow their own players. After the recent success of Javi Martínez and Fernando Llorente the club has come up trumps once again with the 18-year-old Iker Muniain, who was the youngest kiddie ever to play for Athletic when he made his debut at the age of 16 years and seven months.
Muniain is a bad-boy Enid Blyton character, a scamp, an urchin, a terror, the local chav who is never afraid to give some lip to his elders and betters, the stealer of your ginger beer. On the pitch, the Athletic forward is a speedy, hustling, bundle of energy - like Alan Smith in his young pomp trying to pick up ten ASBOs in one week. But Muniain is also a spectacular talent who now faces a testing spell of having to develop from being one of the promising young talents in Spain to a player that delivers.
Almería - Forward - Tiny goalscoring terror
Being 21-years-old, small, and blessed with sublime goalscoring prowess - not to mention Argentinean - makes Piatti the new, new, new, new Leo Messi for many Primera pundits. The fact that he has been stuck at a relegation-threatened minnow for two-and-a-half seasons after a move from Estudiantes may suggest otherwise but that shouldn’t take anything away from a forward who is perhaps the fastest player in la Primera and looking odds on to win the goal of the season competition with a series of truly sensational strikes.
Oh. One more thing. Piatti actually makes Messi look tall, being some six centimetres smaller than not so little Leo. Could replace Samir Nasri if the Arsenal schemer chooses not to resign.
Jonathan De Guzman
Mallorca - Midfielder - Power, precision and a bit of pace thrown in
Big hair and big performances from the Canadian midfielder are keeping Mallorca safely in mid-table despite the club being borderline bankrupt and forced to sell any footballer worth any money at any point. The former Feyenoord man was tempted to the Balearics last summer by coach, Michael Laudrup, with the midfielder looking to rebuild a once promising career that has been blighted by injuries. Ever since a sparkling display on the opening display of the season that helped hold Real Madrid to a goalless draw, De Guzman has been the star of the show for Mallorca in a year that many expected to see end with relegation.
Mallorca’s constant need for cash to keep the lights on in the Balearics sees De Guzman’s stay at his current one being quite a short one if the midfielder keeps up his football form.
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