The Rock of Eibar (pt2) – Blizzard writer Will Unwin on Derby County’s new defender Raúl Albentosa

The latest issue of The Blizzard contains a great article about Eibar, the ultimate footballing underdogs – go buy it to find out more about their fascinating tale.  I was cheeky enough to ask the author of that piece, Will Unwin, if he could give us a bit of insight on Albentosa and he very kindly responded.  Cheers, Will….

Welcome, Raúl!

Derby County Blog: Recently, you tweeted: “Derby signing Albentosa from Eibar is officially the best transfer of the January window”. Could you give a bit more on why you think so?  How important has Albentosa been in Los Armeros’ rise?

Will Unwin: The main reason I enjoyed the original rumour of this deal is that Albentosa signing for Derby shows how far Eibar have come.  A man moving from a tiny town like Eibar to the Championship has a unique quality about it.

He’s a good defender. He reads the game well, is great in the air and is about as committed as I’ve seen a defender in recent years.  He lacks a bit of pace, but it’s not critical.

Albentosa has been a mainstay for the last year and a half since joining Eibar, after a pretty mediocre career before that.  Eibar’s defensive performance in La Liga is testament to his abilities.

DCB: €600,000 (£470,000) seems like an incredibly low sum to pay for a good centre back. I assume that this is to do with the surprise nature of Eibar’s incredible journey from the third division to La Liga – so because his contract was agreed when he was a second division player and he hasn’t renegotiated?

WU: Eibar don’t have a long history of selling players for big money and when someone joins an – at the time – average second division team, it’s rarely considered what the buyout clause should be, especially as barely anyone outside the big teams can afford transfer fees in Spain.

DCB: The whole buy-out system seems very convoluted, from an English perspective.  Do you know why it is that the player has to lodge the transfer fee with the league, rather than the buyer simply paying the seller?  Derby were reportedly keen to to cut out the middleman, but Eibar refused to deal direct.  

WU: The club, I believe, can pay the fee, but it’s generally a sense of club pride to officially reject bids, forcing the player to pay the figure himself and thus making him look like the bad guy. Athletic Bilbao did this with Ander Herrera and Javi Martínez.

DCB: I read your piece in The Blizzard about Eibar and it’s a wonderful story, which makes me feel slightly guilty about my club helping to dismantle the team that achieved promotion and is doing so well in the top flight.  But with a wage cap of €500,000 per year (about £7,500 per week), I guess it’s inevitable that they will lose other key players.  Can they compete long-term in La Liga, or is this simply a very special chapter in the club’s history?

WU: Eibar can’t compete with bigger clubs financially – their ground can fit 6,000 in on a good day.  They’re doing so well due to their team ethos, but if players start getting picked off, they might struggle to replace them.  The Spanish league from sixth place down has a lack of consistently good teams, so there’s no reason why they can’t keep going in the top flight and it will be fascinating to see.

DCB: Albentosa was reportedly overcome with emotion after his final game for Eibar and almost in tears. I guess this says something about how special Eibar is as a club, that he would be so sad to leave?

WU: The whole town and country is captivated by what Eibar have achieved against the odds.  The players are recognised for performing a miracle thanks to team unity, so leaving that behind is hard.

DCB: Just finally – and this is totally subjective, but I thought it would be interesting to get your take – Derby are at home to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, in the East Midlands Derby. It’ll be a 33,000 sell-out and is the most important game of the season for most Rams fans and literally a cup final – the teams play for the Brian Clough Trophy – with much more local resonance than is reflected by the mere three league points on offer. Knowing what you do about Albentosa as a player – do you throw him straight in for his debut, or do you let him watch this one from the bench?

WU: If he’s available, there’s no reason why he can’t perform well.  He’s played against Messi and Ronaldo this season, so should be able to cope with an out-of-sorts Forest side.  Slotting straight into a defence is, in my opinion, one of the harder things to do in football, but he’s used to adjusting to different surroundings.

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