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?
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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.

Can Only Klopp Unlock The Sahin Enigma?

Nuri Sahin: Back where he belongs?

The Bundesliga returned last weekend, and in the process welcomed back its player of the year from two seasons ago. Nuri Sahin’s failure to flourish after leaving Germany is a surprise. Whether it says more about him or the coaching he received during his sojourn is something we may be about to find out.

Sahin is no stranger to strong coaches. After all, his excellent spell as the driving force of Borussia Dortmund’s rise to the top of the German game was achieved under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, an idealogue who is no shrinking violet. Yet once he left Klopp’s domain, neither Jose Mourinho or Brendan Rodgers were able to get anything like the best out of him.

To be fair to Sahin and The Special One, untimely injuries didn’t aid his time at the Bernabeu: he managed just 24 minutes in La Liga before the winter break last season.

Mourinho’s treatment of him wasn’t terribly helpful either though. The Portuguese auteur’s recent adventures in the world of man management hardly reveal a man who prefers a softly-softly approach, as Sergio Ramos, Mezut Ozil, Iker Casillas and most recently Cristiano Ronaldo have been very publicly put down.

In comparison Sahin certainly didn’t have much to complain about. However, Mourinho clearly didn’t have much trust in the Turkish midfielder, and wasn’t looking to fast track him into his side when he was fit. He only got as far as the bench for a quarter of the side’s matches, and Mourinho’s persistent pursuit of Luca Modric showed that he wasn’t about to give Sahin a run in the team.

Mourinho’s eagerness to offload him on loan last Summer spoke volumes, despite Sahin declaring at the end of June:

“Since I arrived here, it has been like living a dream.

“It is one of the best clubs in the world and for this reason I do not see why I should go. I have no intention of leaving.”

Perhaps Mourinho detected complacency in such talk from a player who wasn’t getting pitch time, or maybe he wanted to see Sahin firing on all cylinders somewhere else before trusting him in his own team. Whatever the reason, it was clear he was surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu and he ended up decamping to Liverpool.

Back at Dortmund, Sahin’s nose is back in joint.

Like Mourinho, Rodgers is not a man to hide his light under a bushel. Anyone who announces “I am not a magician” wants one of two things from his audience: sympathy or a resounding chorus of “Oh yes you are!” Rodgers clearly hopes for the latter.

Rodgers made the claim this month in drawing attention to his much-vaunted ability to get the best out of his players. There’s a great deal more than mere self-aggrandisement in that statement: he’s rather immodestly put his finger on the main factor in the rise of his reputation. Rodgers is an excellent coach, and certainly does improve players. The performance of his Swansea side is evidence of this: while he built on sound foundations, clearly this was a squad performing above and beyond its pedigree.

Equally, there’s a great deal of validity to his claim that he has made the most of the lot he inherited at Anfield by improving the players at his disposal after the transfer window slammed shut on his fingers as he tried to pull a striker through:

“It is all about the materials….I will be able to improve players – that is my work and I have confidence in that. If I look at the first six months, I believe there has been improvement in a lot of the players.

“I will be able to rinse everything that I possibly can out of them, but the bottom line is about talent. If you don’t initially have that then it can be difficult. That is also why I was brought in here, because we will get talents and we will try to maximise what we can out of players.

“You look at Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and José Enrique since the start of the season and we have added value back to them. Absolutely. That is the job of the manager and the coach, as well as winning games.”

That’s not the full story though. His failure to live up to the billing he has created for himself with Sahin, probably the most promising raw material he had at the club, is genuinely surprising.

Sahin seemed a perfect fit for Rodgers’ philosophy. A busy midfield anchor man, adept at keeping the ball moving and reading the game intelligently. Snatching him from Madrid looked like a coup for a coach able to get the most out of his charges. But it didn’t happen.

Sahin’s pitch time was limited, his arrival in close proximity to a similar player in Joe Allen, who was Rodgers’ protege and most expensive Summer indulgence, baffling.

When Sahin got onto the pitch he showed snatches of his passing range but he tended to be restricted to low profile games, amounting essentially to a match winning performance against WBA in the Capital One Cup and some moderate Europa League performances.

Furthermore, he was often utilised in an attacking midfield position, and told Liverpool’s official website:

“I’ve played my whole career deeper and that’s my position,” said the 24-year-old. “But I have also played as a No.10 here. It was new for me but I tried to help the team and do my best.

“But if I could choose a position it would be holding as I feel more comfortable playing deeper.”

Those comments came in the context of a positive interview on the challenges of adapting to a new league, but soon German paper Sportsbild were claiming darker realities, of betrayal, lies and jealousy.

“Şahin has been betrayed at Liverpool because coach Brendan Rodgers lied to him when he signed, telling him that he would be the club’s number six.

“Steven Gerrard is said to have also been jealous of Sahin, and when they played together, Sahin barely got the ball.”

These sentiments weren’t direct quotes, but before long the article’s claim that he was returning to Dortmund came true.

Some of the comments coming out of the Westfalenstadion following Sahin’s return made you wonder if he was ever going to prosper once he strayed from the nest. Indeed, he seemed reluctant to go to Madrid in the first place, even announcing he was inviting Borussia’s playing and coaching staff plus the general manager to the Classico the following season!

“I am delighted to be back home. My contact with the bosses, the players and the coaching team of Dortmund has never broken down over these last 18 months.”

Perhaps Sahin has been misunderstood by two of the game’s most modern coaches and renowned motivators. Perhaps his injury means he’s not quite the player he was. Perhaps he simply can’t settle down away from home.

And perhaps Borussia, their high energy pressing game draining their thin squad’s resources as they look to compete on two fronts, have pulled off the European transfer coup of the season. I wonder if Klopp will take Sahin with him back to the Bernabeu this Summer!