Why West Brom Need To Snap Up Free Agent Claudio Yacob

In Argentina he might have a reputation for being a pretty boy, but he's nothing if not tenacious in midfield, and The Baggies could do a lot worse than pick him up on a free transfer
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In Argentina he might have a reputation for being a pretty boy, but he's nothing if not tenacious in midfield, and The Baggies could do a lot worse than pick him up on a free transfer

Claudio Yacob’s nickname in the Racing dressing room was ‘Skinny Girl’ (La Flaca). West Brom, who are reportedly interested in signing him, may or may not be aware of that fact, but they need not be turned off by it. The Argentine midfielder is no sissified waif; in fact his determined style is quite the opposite. The moniker actually refers to Yacob’s dreamy good looks, which will likely be an inconvenience to him should he ever end up in prison, but fortunately do not affect his ability to anchor a midfield.

Skinny Girl wears the number ‘5’ on his back at Racing, which is the second most prestigious number in Argentinian football. These are the players who sit at in front of the defence, breaking down opposition attacks and initiating offensive moves for their own team. Think Mascherano, Gago and Cambiasso. Sergio Busquets is the European version and the prime example in football today.

This type of defensive midfielder, in order to climb to the top of the tree in Argentinian football, must possess a fine all-round game and Yacob does have the required attributes. He may lack the fierceness of Javier Mascherano, but his positional sense, purpose and stamina make him a very effective defensive shield.

He frequently forces turnovers, and then has the ball control to break out of tight situations and instigate attacks. When given possession with a little more time to work with, Skinny Girl is adept at distributing from deep, either through short lateral passes or more ‘vertical’ through balls. He does not score often (it’s not really his job), though he can unleash thunderbolts from distance, and is surprisingly useful in the box from set pieces.

Yacob covers considerable ground in the middle, though is not especially quick. At 1.83m and 76kg he is not a minor presence, but nor is he often dominant in physical battles with players of similar stature. This is an area of his game he might need to work on should a European move transpire, though much will depend on how managers use him and what they expect from him.

Since he debuted at Racing Club in 2006, successive managers have come to expect a great deal.

Hailing from Santa Fe province, where the soil must be ideal for producing talented footballers (see Messrs Batistuta, Banega and Messi), Yacob initially trialled with Boca Juniors as a youngster before getting homesick and going back to his family. Later he would return to Buenos Aires to join the Racing youth system, and it is at the Avellaneda club that he has remained ever since. He was also a key part of Argentina’s title winning team at the U20 World Championships in Canada.

Though he is only 24 now, Yacob had been Racing captain since the 2008 Apertura. This is a testament to perhaps his most distinguishing features as a player, his strong personality and leadership qualities. He is regularly cited as the one of the most influential players at the club by teammates and managers alike.

And as if being a pretty boy footballer isn’t enough to impress the ladies, he enjoys painting and playing guitar in his spare time. Sigh.

Racing currently have a glut of quality ‘number 5s’ competing with Skinny Girl for a place in the starting lineup. Argentinian clubs survive by selling their most talented players, and Racing are keen to offload Yacob, who has Italian citizenship, before he gets much older.

Though his contract expires in six months, he has stated that he would be willing to renew to ensure Racing receive a fair price for him when they do sell, as a sign of gratitude to the club that made him.

Yacob could be an excellent acquisition for the Baggies, especially since he is on a free, though his success could largely depend on how he is utilised. He is not a frenetic box-to-box bomber like Steven Gerrard, nor is he a David Silva-style playmaker. He is a leader from the back of midfield, however, who is both tenacious and skilful. And there are many clubs who could do with a player like that.

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