It has been a tough few years for Villarreal having been relegated in 2012 before having to rebuild after a mass squad exodus as a result of their slip to the Spanish Segunda Division. Now the Yellow Submarine are back in La Liga and once again on an upward curve under the guise of Marcelino Garcia Toral, who has forged a bright and ambitious squad on a modest budget after the subsequent financial downscaling related to debts and their season away from the revenues of the Spanish top flight.
Around £9 million was spent to sign Giovani Dos Santos and Tomas Pina from Mallorca, £4.4 million to sign Sergio Asenjo from Atletico Madrid last summer as well as the £4.8 million to land Luciano Vietto, La Liga’s player of the month for December, from Racing Club of Argentina, though mostly it has been shrewd scouting and bargain deals that have formed a vibrant squad now casting their eyes towards a return to the Champions League.
Mario Gaspar, Juame Costa, Manu Trigueros, Gerard Moreno and Moi Gomez have all emerged from the club’s youth system while the loan market has been utilised successfully with the signings of Denis Cheryshev from Real Madrid and defender Victor Ruiz from Valencia. Ruiz’s partnering centre-half in a side that has shipped just 17 goals in 19 La Liga matches- only Real Madrid and Barcelona have shipped less- was a sub-£3 million acquisition from Esporte Vitoria in Brazil. After just 18 months in Spain, Gabriel Paulista is readying himself for a move to England with Arsenal the interested party.
An initial £6 million bid has been made for the 24 year old, though Villarreal are holding out for a figure more like the €20 million written into the release clause in his contract. Arsenal are however buoyed in negotiations by their awareness that Gabriel is keen to join them, with the defender saying the prospect of playing Premier League football is “one of my dreams” and that he has “spoken to my agent about this”.
One must have sympathy to Villarreal and the larger problems arising from the January market that, particularly in this case, is stacked towards the bigger fish in the footballing pond. Here is the prospect of Villarreal suddenly losing a player who has appeared in every one of their 19 games so far and has played an integral role in their recent 15-match unbeaten run that has positioned the club on the edge of the Champions League qualification spots.
With the lure of Champions League football already on offer, the ability to pay treble the amount of his current salary and the option of using Joel Campbell, the Costa Rican striker interesting Villarreal, as a bargaining tool, Arsenal hold the aces, indicating the folly of the January window.
Similarly to Garry Monk at Swansea with the £25 million departure of Wilfreid Bony to Manchester City, Marcelino faces disruption to his squad as a result of a more prosperous club casting admiring glances at one of his most vital players. Hindered not only by the gross inequality of La Liga’s distribution of television income, but by by Financial Fair Play regulations that have already forced them to sell the likes of Christian Zapata, Borja Valero, Giuseppe Rossi, Nilmar and Jonathon De Guzman in order to balance the books, Villarreal can rely on nothing more than a relatively small budget (they spent a net £4 million last summer) and shrewd judgement and clever coaching to get them into the Champions League once again.
In contrast Arsenal, recipients of a total £92 million thanks to the new bumper Premier League television deal, were allowed to spend around the same amount in a summer spree that saw them land Alexis Sanchez for £37 million from Barcelona and Danny Welbeck from Manchester United for £17 million. Villarreal are unable to compete with such wealth so despite having Gabriel tied to a five year deal, they face losing him halfway through only his second season at El Madrigal because Arsenal are in a position to offer a more attractive package to the defender and his agent.
Modern football is riddled with inequality because of this very nature, but Villarreal and Marcelino, plus maybe Monk and Swansea, are entitled to wonder why they are not able to maintain their settled, in-form side at least until the end of the season, giving them the chance to achieve what they are aiming for before negotiating in the off-season.
In Arsenal’s case, the prospect of getting an assured and gifted all-round defender for as little as £6 million is certainly appealing, should they of course bypass the UK’s comical restrictions on work permits and receive one for Gabriel, despite having not earned a single cap for his native Brazil. The “exceptional talent” pre-requisite will almost inevitably be filled by his election as the best central-defender in the 2013 Campeanato Baiano tournament that he helped Vitoria to win.
When the paperwork is sorted, they will possess a tenacious, yet technically-gifted centre-half, both strong and enthusiastic in the tackle and able to carry or pass the ball, a completion rate of 84% is impressive for a central defender, out from the back. Standing in excess of 6ft he is a strong physical presence, especially in the air where he has won 60% of his headers, and a fine reader of the game, averaging an interception every 24 minutes on the pitch. His total of 68 interceptions is the highest in La Liga at the mid-way point of 19 games.
Compared to Arsenal’s current centre-half options, his dogged, snapping-at-the-striker’s-ankles style is most akin to Laurent Koscielny, though with Arsene Wenger targeting a new defender as he deems it “too much of a risk” to go without one, Gabriel’s signing is more likely to be a cover option to all potential gaps. His ability to play both left and right back is also a huge plus for Wenger who is also looking for an option to plug the holes left behind by injuries to Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, who has only just returned after a lengthy lay-off.
Winston Reid and Mats Hummels have also been linked to the Emirates in Arsenal’s centre-half search but it looks more and more likely to be Gabriel. “We are a big attraction, of course we are. If it was easy we would do it”, says the Arsenal coach “we have made enquiries but then you have the second handicap – who wants to sell their best player, especially a central defender, in the middle of the season? They say, ‘come back in June or July’.”
In this instance Villarreal will tell him that only applies to the few, not the many clubs at the mercy of far more powerful, more affluent clubs. If Financial Fair Play truly has fairness at its central aim, then it may be time to do away with the January window.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow him on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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