Chris Moar covers Spanish football for various outlets, including @BeInSports and @MailSport. He was good enough to answer a few questions on big Albentosa for us – welcome, Raúl!
DCB: The Albentosa story was a surprise to us all here in England when it broke, although the player had been linked to a few Premier League teams in the tabloids – so clearly somebody was trying to drum up a market for him to move here. You’ve tweeted to say that the deal is a ‘coup’ for Derby – could you expand on why you feel that way?
CM: The deal is a coup because Derby are gaining a defender who understands the tough task of chasing promotion. In fact, he was promoted with Eibar last season. So, not only are Derby acquiring a good defender, but also a very strong mentality that could rub off on other players.
DCB: Derby’s style is to try to play out from the back, with the centre backs expected to be happy to receive the ball and look to use it, rather than clear it. Will this suit Albentosa, or might he have to adapt?
CM: In this regard, he will fit Derby’s defence like a glove. Playing from the back suits Albentosa excellently – it’s one of his main traits. He often steps a few yards outside of the defensive line to prevent attacks with interceptions and tackles. Once winning the ball, his distribution is quite strong. It allowed Eibar to recycle possession and they used him as a proxy defensive midfielder at times. He may not possess the best passing accuracy [67%, inline with Eibar’s team average for the season – DCB], but this is sometimes down to having to hoof the ball when Eibar are on the ropes.
DCB: In England, it would be impossible for a Premier League team to lose its key central defender to a Championship side. How come Albentosa was available for €600,000 (about £470,000)?
CM: In terms of the fee, I think one has to consider the club you are dealing with. Eibar are the smallest club in the top two divisions and, although they are financially healthy, they are by no means rich. €600,000 will do them the world of good, especially with their upcoming stadium renovations.
DCB: It seems that Albentosa was overcome with emotion at his final press conference at Eibar. Can you explain why he would be so sad to leave? What is special about Los Armeros?
CM: Eibar gave Albentosa a chance to play at the highest level. Prior to that, he was becoming somewhat of a journeyman in the lower divisions. The squad unity at the Basque club is something worth commending – every player knows they are important, whether as a starter or on the bench and the fans give them a lot of love. It’s a family club and that could be the reason why he was overcome with emotion.
DCB: Can you give me a bit of background on just how small Eibar is as a club – from what I’ve read, it seems to be almost the equivalent of Alfreton Town flourishing in the Premier League…
CM: Eibar are, as I said, the smallest club in the top two divisions. Ipurua (their stadium) holds just 5,200 – they’re trying to expand on this, but that would involve knocking down people’s houses, as the stadium is surrounded by various domiciles.
Up until two seasons ago, Eibar were a third division side with no real quality or ambition. Enter Gaizka Garitano – their 39-year-old manager – and fast forward a couple of years… He gets Eibar into the first division for the first time in their history by finishing first in what was one of the tightest second division seasons ever.
After promotion, they had to raise €2m to ensure that they could meet a (harsh) financial quota imposed by the Spanish football governing body. A small fee for many clubs, but Eibar had to crowdsource – I think that is a testament to their size [former Eibar loanees David Silva and Xabi Alonso both contributed. For more on this, read Will Unwin’s article in the latest issue of The Blizzard – DCB]. But what they lack in stature, they make up for in heart.
DCB: There’s been a bit of confusion about the technicalities of the deal – I understand that the buy-out money had to be lodged with the league by the player, rather than being paid directly to the selling club. However, Derby reportedly paused at that point and tried to deal with Eibar directly. What difference did it make?
CM: Dealing with Spanish clubs is the devil, in all honesty. You have to bypass buyout clauses, deal with the LFP and RFEF (the governing bodies) and then the player has to pay out his clause to coincide with the tax quotas. I think Derby wanted a simpler, more direct transfer because it is quicker and less alien to the club. Derby are used to making straight deals between clubs within England – it may just be that they do not want to dive into untested waters. Ultimately, you get the player either way, it just means that the Spanish way will take a few more days and it’s a bit of a pain for the player.