Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)

Scouting isn’t rocket science! Every time a Premier League side signs a good foreign player the nation goes crazy. Who is this mystery guy? Where did he come from? Anyone with a decent knowledge of the game outside the UK would have known that the likes of Santi Cazorla, Oscar and Papisse Demba Cissé were likely to succeed, and there are plenty more of them out there. So who’s the next “secret” star to watch out for? Who is the next Cabaye?
iag_aspas_1
Now here’s a player who, through the course of the season, has sent me from pillar to post as I try to work out just how highly I rate him. With a move to Anfield apparently done and dusted, it’s time for me to make a final decision so I can spend next season seeing if my judgement was accurate or not!

Around Christmas I thought made a bit of a mistake about Iago Aspas. Writing a preview for the excellent Forza Futbol I rather lazily followed the judgement of an ex-player rather than my own instincts, and suggested that although Celta’s Iago Aspas was gifted, he lacked the intelligence to make the step up to a higher level. I was going against my gut instinct as he’d enjoyed a good start to the season. Soon I suspected I should have stuck to my guns: Aspas continued to appear to have class. Then the Galician derby came along and made me reassess him once more!

Aspas really caught the eye in the Spanish second division last season, when his prolific form was the key factor in Celta’s return to the top division. This season, he’s been their chief hope of survival.

iago_aspas_2Going into today’s final, decisive match of the season he has twelve goals and six assists, not bad for a club which has struggled all year. The fact that five of those goals have come on the road speaks well of him too: Celta have been moderate at home and dreadful away, but at least Aspas has been turning up when the going has been tough rather than performing in home games when circumstances have been easier.

However, just when my positive opinion of him was solidifying, along came the crucial derby at Deportivo. The stakes were massive, with both sides in dire danger of relegation. At the time it felt like only a win would be good enough for either side. You certainly couldn’t accuse Aspas of not caring. The problem is, just when Celta needed a big performance from their star player, he cared too much!

Expulsión de Aspas by Samuyamismo

His act of madness, a crazy headbutt on Carlos Marchena, came in the 29th minute when Depor were leading 1-0. It led to his sending off, Celta went on to lose 3-1 and he picked up a four game suspension.

He’s come back into the side and looked to make amends, with two goals in five games, but can he be trusted in pressure-cooker matches? He’s never scored in the Galician derby which means so much to him, and disciplinary problems have dogged his career. Marchena is as crafty as they come and no doubt ensnared him in one of his non-too-subtle Machiavellian ploys; Aspas will find plenty of players in the Premiership who will look to provoke him if word of a suspect temperament spreads.

He’s worked hard this season to contain his temper – until that derby – but has tended in the past to open his mouth before thinking. Maybe moving to a country where he doesn’t speak the language well enough to get himself into trouble won’t be a bad thing.


A classy striker, happy dropping deep, deadly on his left foot, Aspas has made the transition to the highest level smoothly this season. In fact, he’s shown many of the attributes Luis Suarez has shown for Liverpool: he’s a similar player in many ways, happy to roam in the second line and cut in from the flanks, but possessing the penalty area instincts to play as a Number Nine. Pity his similarities with Luis Suarez don’t end on the pitch.

He might not possess those positive attributes to quite the same level as Suarez, but has been fairly prolific as he drifts around, feeding off the likes of Michael Krohn-Dehli, so he ought to find the improved service from Steven Gerrard and co to his liking.


There was a lot of talk of Arsenal having a look at him earlier in the season, and it made perfect sense to me. He needed to make a move to that level of club. Now he has, it’ll be fascinating to see how he adapts.

The Inevitable Demise of Jose Antonio Reyes

From Soccerlens
When Jose Antonio Reyes scored the fastest goal in the history of the Seville derby last weekend, snatching that record from opposing manager Pepe Mel in the process, it seemed too good to be true.

Jose Antonio Reyes celebrates during Sevilla’s remarkable derby win

When he added another goal and an assist before half time Sevilla fans wondered if they’d died and gone to heaven.

By the time of the final whistle, when a final score of 5-1 was confirmed, ending the home side’s disappointing win-less run against their great rivals, it must have felt like football just couldn’t get any better.

Sadly, it was too good to be true, and things won’t get any better. Sevilla will return to mediocrity, and Reyes will revert to being a disappointment, starting this weekend when he returns to Atletico Madrid with the world waiting to see what he does next. It’s the cruel way football is.

Some basic, unbreachable laws of football are sacrosanct. Reyes’ goals might have raised hopes among the Sevillistas of a wonderful, touching resurrection, but it isn’t going to happen. Football doesn’t work that way.

Jose Antonio Reyes was the golden boy of Sevilla in his youth: a lifelong fan of the club who made the transition to the pitch and immediately established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting young talents with his searing pace and dazzling footwork.

And what did he spend his money on once he hit the big time? A mosaic of the Sevilla badge in the bottom of his swimming pool. Even when he was embroiled in  moments of controversy, they only served to enhance his cult hero status: a brilliant goal led to team mate Francisco Gallardo embarking on a highly unorthodox celebration, going down on his knees and then going down on Reyes!

The Spanish media erupted, but the bemused Reyes merely had another crinkle added to his public persona.

In terms of his game, things were going swimmingly. With a youthful Dani Alves in support and Julio Baptista feeding off him, Reyes was at the heart of a template which would serve Sevilla well in their decade of glory, a side with width and pace, devastating on the break.

Of course, it couldn’t last. Jose Antonio Reyes was destined for better things. The big clubs of Europe were lurking, and they were not to be denied. Arsenal had been long term suitors, and seemed the ideal location for a boy with a small town mentality with their reputation for nurturing young talent and playing constructive passing football in the hurly-burly of the Premier League. The deal went through.

reyes The inevitable demise of Jose Antonio Reyes

Reyes celebrating in an Arsenal shirt

It didn’t work out. Reyes actually didn’t play too badly, but the perception of him as an unhappy export was accurate. He wasn’t happy, but the tie had been cut. He was now operating in a higher sphere than Sevilla’s, trapped in the spiral of an itinerant existence, schlepping around Europe, never finding his form, never finding happiness.

His return to Sevilla last season, his currency reduced, was greeted with delight. But that glee ignored a key tenet of football: you should never go back. He has failed to catch fire at all at the Sanchez Pizjuan, surely leaving Sevillistas wishing he’d not returned, and they could have been left with warm memories of his greatness rather than constant, if fleeting, reminders of how his promise was never fulfilled.

Until El Derbi Andaluz, Reyes’ performance was bewitching. In taking Mel’s record for fastest goal in the fixture he not only set the tone for the match, he also stuck it to one of the totemic figures of Seviila’s great enemy, and to fans that sort of thing matters. A lot.

And that’s why that performance is so cruel. It represents a false dawn. Jose Antonio Reyes won’t hit those heights again. This isn’t the beginning of his rebirth. Sevilla fans will be buoyed by the hope that he can maintain this level, but the fact is that his display was a fluke, an isolated bubble of memory rising from the wreck of a promising career.

It won’t happen again and the fans’ expectations that it will merely adds to this self-fulfilling prophesy: the pressure to repeat will ensure Reyes can’t do it. He’s not cut from that sort of cloth. Defiance isn’t in his nature.

In the future, the last spasm of Reyes’ talent will be revered by Sevilla fans. The perspective of memory changes everything, and long after Reyes has retired, his legacy will be created and his career reinvented. He will be recalled as the kid genius who went off to see the world, but returned to set up one of the club’s greatest moments.

Living through the mediocrity, the disappointment, the bitter betrayal of thinking he was back but finding he wasn’t will be forgotten. It’s like when cricket fans deify Ian Botham, lionising his great feats but selectively forgetting his long, impotent decline in a weak England side.

Jose Antonio Reyes will disappoint. Football disappoints. If you don’t know that yet, you’re young. But you’ll learn.