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It may be a slight on the lack of strength in depth of La Liga that its most poverty-stricken clubs can fight competitively to continue to demand a place in Spain’s top league. It is a miracle that Eibar, the city with a population of 28,000 and the club whose stadium hosts just 5,200 fans, even reached La Liga for the first ever time last summer and now possess a chance of surviving with three games left.
Elche have failed to pay their players since January amidst crippling debts that may yet see them relegated, but they sit 10 points clear of the relegation zone. Getafe, Levante and Almeria are the other clubs on miniscule incomes who are again set to beat the drop, following the standard set by Rayo Vallecano in the fight to get to by on meagre resources. Promoted back to the Primera in 2011 after an 8 year absence, Rayo have battled to finish 15th, 8th, and 12th and now currently lie in 11th place despite again going with a squad patched together with free transfers and loans.
It is fifteen years since Vallecano last spent money on a transfer, £1.76 million to bring in Elvir Bolic from Fenerbahce in 2000, but continue to punch their weight in a league that boasts the luxury of Neymar, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale. Of that list, Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, occupy three of the top four spots in La Liga’s goal-scoring charts while Antoine Griezmann, who cost Atletico Madrid £24 million last summer, is third. Suarez cost Barcelona £75 million and has scored 16, a figure that only puts him joint-6th together with Alberto Bueno, one of the many players begged, stole and borrowed by Vallecano and their manager Paco Jemez over the years.
Bueno’s 16 goals means he has chipped in with 40% of Rayo’s total goal horde so far in a remarkable campaign for the striker who before moving to the Vallecas in 2013 had never managed more than seven in a single season. Jemez’s ability to produce the best form out of journeymen and unwanted cast-offs has again been present in Bueno, who has now hit 27 goals across his two seasons with Vallecano after previously scoring 18 across three terms with Real Valladolid and a season-long loan with Derby County.
The fifteen-minute four-goal blitz against Levante, in which he notched a perfect hat-trick in the space of 6 minutes, remains the scarcely believable highlight of the season for Bueno but a brace in a 2-2 draw with Deportivo, winners over Celta Vigo and Villarreal as well as goals in recent games with relegation rivals Eibar and Granada have been hugely important to Vallecano’s fate. He has laid on 4 goals for others, a stat only bettered in the Vallecano squad by Gael Kakuta, while the French winger and Roberto Trashorras are the only players to create more chances than Bueno’s 24.
Nobody has more shots than Bueno’s 86, with which the 27 year old has been accurate with almost 50% of, and they are stats that have been produced with Bueno not even playing as a conventional striker. Jemez has preferred Bueno in a support role to the more physical Leo Baptistao but with the Brazilian only managing seven goals so far, the true star of Vallecano’s season has undisputedly been the Spaniard that had previously been written-off.
It will be a shame for Vallecano to lose Bueno to Porto at the end of the season (Bueno’s contract expires in the summer), but with Rayo acknowledging they simply can’t offer the same terms as the Portuguese giants, they are likely to step aside and watch him go, full of appreciation and gratitude for his two years of service in the outskirts of Madrid.
Colombian Jackson Martinez is primed to leave the Estadio Dragao on the back of his own impressive goal-scoring exploits of 88 goals in 128 games in three seasons with Porto and while Bueno may not be a designated replacement, he will be a cheap and attractive addition to the squad having finally shown his ability to score consistently in a top European league.
The transfer to Porto will see him reunited with Julen Lopetegui, the coach who was in charge of Real Madrid’s Castilla when Bueno was in his last year with the club in 2008-09. Fabio Capello fast-tracked the striker to train with the likes of David Beckham and Luis Figo in 06-07 but despite making his league and Champions League debuts two seasons later, it quickly became apparent he would have to move elsewhere to forge a successful first-team career.
That season also proved to be the end of a promising youth career that saw Bueno win the 2006 under-19 European Championship with Spain before competing in the under-20 World Cup in 2007. His transformation into senior football hasn’t quite gone with quite the same level of success, but now at the age of 27 he is starting to rediscover his talent. Jemez has helped him to do that at Vallecano and now Lopetegui is poised to carry the job on with Porto.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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