Messi makes history, but a Betis star is born

vadillo Messi makes history, but a Betis star is born
Here’s something I wrote for Soccerlens

Lionel Messi hogged the headlines, of course, when he finally broke Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a calendar year.

Although the Madrid papers were delighted that Radomel Falcao gave them an excuse not to lead on this astonishing achievement: AS led on “Insatiable Falcao” and tucked Messi into the top left corner, Marca’s online edition’s top two stories were on the Colombian.

However, while Messi was rightly the centre of attention in Sevilla, something happened on the other side which might turn out to be of genuine significance. Real Betis’ bright young hope sparkled excitingly.

While the angle the press took was naturally that Messi had finally done it, the actual story of the match was less straightforward. He didn’t have the happiest of games apart from those two goals: an absurd notion, but a reflection of how much Betis troubled Barcelona.

They had to show courage to haul themselves back into the game though. Messi’s two strikes deflated Los Verdiblancos and even managed to suck the life out of the typically fearsome atmosphere the ever-fervent Béticos had created at the Benito Villamarin.

It almost seemed as if they felt it would be the churlish for the hosts to intrude on Messi’s party; at 2-0 Betis appeared on the verge of collapse, scared of asking their pushy guests for their ball back.

However, a brave move by Betis coach Pepe Mel turned things around. When his left–sided attacker Juan Carlos pulled up he ignored the two obvious options on the bench, Jorge Molina and Alejandro Pozuelo, and instead threw on eighteen-year-old Álvaro Vadillo. He would be rewarded for his boldness.

Vadillo was elegant, played with his head up and brought incision to Betis’ creative department. With Beñat beavering away superbly behind him (and probably putting another €5 million on the price tag for any prospective January bidders!) the tide turned.

Switching flanks comfortably, Vadillo always posed a threat. He provided the assist as Rubén Castro pulled one back, drifting laterally before delivering a lovely disguised reverse ball to send the striker one-on-one with Víctor Valdés.

It was a refined moment, combining technique and confidence: the kid had entered the game like he belonged there. After the year he’s had, it was an announcement that an exciting talent had returned.

Vadillo has history, despite his youth. He was hailed as a hot prospect when he broke through at the start of last season, becoming the youngest player in the history of the club and the second youngest in La Liga when he made his debut in an opening day derby win at Granada sixteen days before his seventeenth birthday.

Pepe Mel was clearly looking to ease the youngster into the first team picture and gave him two fairly lengthy substitute appearances in the next five matches before deciding to be bold and starting him at the Bernabeu. It would prove to be a fateful decision.

Twenty one minutes into the match Sergio Ramos clattered into him with typical subtlety. The result: massive damage to his anterior cruciate ligament and a serious setback to a sparkling talent.

Vadillo’s injury might have hampered his development, but equally it took him off the market. Fiorentina, Real Madrid and Manchester United had all made bids for the prodigy, United offering €3 million to take him to Old Trafford.

Betis rejected the deals, and local boy Vadillo pledged his loyalty to the club. He certainly has genuine Bético credentials, but the fact that he attended English classes during his recuperation implied he knew his long term future probably lay elsewhere.

He finally returned thirteen months later, for a Copa del Rey tie against Real Valladolid, and dispelled any doubts that he might not be himself with a superb thirty minutes from the bench, setting up two goals as Betis overturned a first leg deficit to go through 3-1.

Vadillo then made his first bow of the league campaign last weekend, coming on with half an hour left, shortly after his side had squandered a 2-0 lead at Deportivo, and helped them go on to win 3-2. He followed that up with his exciting supporting role at Messi’s big show.

Betis are enjoying a fine campaign, and have plenty of talent in the line behind the striker. It’s the perfect scenario for Pepe Mel to bring Vadillo through without rushing him, although there’ll be a real temptation to throw caution to the wind if he continues to captivate like he did against Barcelona.

Vicente Iborra (Levante)

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?

Rumour has it Vicente Iborra is high up on Brendan Rodgers’ wanted list for the January transfer window. We all know that Rodgers is more Football Manager devotee than Harry Redknapp-style punter, with a very clear idea of the attributes he requires from players in each position. So which of Brendan’s boxes does Iborra tick?

Well, he’s a solid midfielder with some similar attributes to Joe Allen, able to break play up and use the ball but inclined to sit in rather than press with the sort of energy Rodgers likes.

An upright, tall midfielder, his strengths lie in breaking up play and maintaining the side’s shape when they haven’t got the ball, as you might expect from a Levante player: their success has been built on defensive solidity and an ability to break effectively.

Iborra doesn’t tend to join in the counter attacks, but he can be an important attacking weapon. He’s often the springboard of a swift attack and has a good range of passing: although he’s right footed he can pass accurately over distance with his left as well. He has good vision and is able to play long, accurate balls down the channels for the likes of Obafemi Martins to run onto: Luis Suarez would enjoy that sort of service!

This rather eclectic video I found on youtube offers some idea of his strengths, particularly the first section, where he spreads some languid passes around, and the latter clip of a Villarreal attack which he covers without making a challenge, slotting into Zone 14 to reduce space.

The last match Iborra played in probably didn’t offer the best opportunity to judge his strengths: Levante’s home game against Barcelona required an even more solid defensive set-up than usual from Juan Ignacio Jiminez. As a result, Iborra’s role in the central midfield duo of a 4-2-3-1 required him to stand on the toes of the centre backs and ensure there was no space between the lines for Lionel Messi and his pals to roam. As a result, he didn’t get to touch the ball until 10 minutes and 48 seconds into the match!

However, the game did show certain key attributes. He was certainly tactically disciplined, never straying from his post, and he showcased his ability to read play and intercept, nipping in ahead of Barcelona players as he read passes swiftly.


So would he fit into the Rodgers way? Yes, but whether he’s a wise January target is a different matter. Looking at the Liverpool squad, you’d think he’d be used in rotation rather than be a first choice, with Allen and Nuri Sahin ahead of him in the pecking order. One would assume Rodgers will be looking for upgrades in the transfer window: squad depth can wait until the Summer. Waiting until the close season and then seeing first whether a deal could be cut for Sahin,  a player with a much broader passing range, seems a more obvious course of action.