Cut-price La Liga talent is fuelling Swansea’s bright start
Watching a plethora of spotless white shirts with a number of Spanish names gold-embroidered on the back, it was easy to mistake Swansea City for Real Madrid as they tore West Ham to pieces on Saturday, cruising to a 3-0 victory.
The performance was all the more encouraging as it came a week after the Swans’ 5-0 demolition of QPR at Loftus Road. Two weeks in and new manager Michael Laudrup – a former Real player himself – has made a tidy start. One of the secrets to the Swansea boss’ success, it would appear, is something that should have interested more Premier League managers: bargain buys from La Liga.
The “this is the best league in the world” debate can be a tiresome one, but for all its undoubted flaws, La Liga proved its depth of quality last season: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid and Valencia joined Real and Barcelona in ensuring a record five Spanish clubs made the semi-finals of European competitions. Add in an unbalanced TV deal that sees clubs outside Spain’s big two receive a fraction of their English counterparts, plus a generally desperate financial crisis, and Spanish clubs have talent ripe for the picking at low prices.
Yet the inflated English market remains in demand. Wolves received a staggering £22m for the sale of Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis, while Swansea themselves sold Joe Allen for the same £15m price as a double European Championship winner (Santi Cazorla, who joined Arsenal from Málaga).
Laudrup, though, has expertly exploited the gap in the market. Chico Flores was a key member of the Mallorca defence that kept five clean sheets in seven games to nearly push them into Europe with a late run of form last season, while Jonathan de Guzmán cost Villarreal €8m only a year ago, then was freely available on loan as the Yellow Submarine tried to dump his salary after relegation. The latest recruit from La Liga, Pablo Hernández, should also provide ample cover for Scott Sinclair following his move to Manchester City. The former Valencia man doesn’t quite offer the same value for money, at £5.5m, but he has pace, a good eye for a pass and offers a goal threat cutting in from either wing.
The real steal of the summer, however, has been Miguel Pérez Cuesta (pictured, centre), or Michu as he’s commonly known, bought from Rayo Vallecano for just £2m. To put this into perspective, the 26-year-old midfielder scored as many goals as Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta and Mesut Özil combined last season – in a side that only escaped relegation thanks to a last-minute goal in the last game of the campaign.
The old question of whether Spanish players can cope with the pace and physicality of the Premier League has been set aside by the success in recent years of the likes of Fàbregas, David Silva and Juan Mata, but for Swansea it’s even more important that they go after these type of players, who can quickly adapt to play in the highly technical, possession-based system at the Liberty Stadium. Laudrup claims he is simply following the path trodden by Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martínez: “The style has been created,” he says. “We are just trying to continue from last season.”
“Their strength is their quality on the ball,” confirms Angel Rangel, another Welsh-based Spaniard. He has lived through the whole process, having been bought by Martínez and represented the Swans through the League One and Championship promotions, and now into the top-flight. “They’ve all come from a league in Spain so they all know to keep the ball. They’re very intelligent on the pitch as well, and I think this is making the difference for us.”
Laudrup isn’t getting carried away with Swansea’s stellar start, however – he insists there will be “bad days, bad weeks, maybe even a bad month, but what you have they can’t take away from you”. And with six points and eight goals scored after two games, what they have isn’t bad at all.
Follow Life’s A Pitch on Twitter @BTLifesaPitch
Watch Swansea live on BT Vision:
Swansea v Everton, 12.30pm, 22 September, Sky Sports 2
Don’t have BT Vision? Find out how to get it