Jefferson Montero is one of my favorite world footballers. I was thrilled with his 2009 arrival in Vila-real, and he was arguably the best player on last season's loaded B team. He scored 10 goals, led the only filial in Segunda A to a 7th-place finish, and took a punch after a brace in Elche. Not bad at age 20.
This season presented a different challenge: rounding into a complete player and finding a niche in a deep and talented midfield. The arrival of Borja Valero and promotion of teammates Cristóbal and Matilla complicated matters, but I felt that Montero had a shot at playing time. With Cani's resurgence, however, the reality has been very different.
As a result, Montero was a hot commodity in the winter transfer window. To further the Ecuadorean international's development, the club sent him on a six-month loan to our neighbors Levante UD. Since Jeffrey's arrival, Levante has moved into third gear, picking up 17(!) points in its last 8 matches. For comparison, Villarreal has amassed a meager 9 points in that stretch. Champions League form for Levante: is it the singing?
As a direct consequence, Jeffrey has not been able to crack the starting XI. However, manager Luis García Plaza has used him as the first substitute off the bench, consistently giving him around 30 minutes of playing time. At a minimum, it's a much better situation than Jozy Altidore's ill-fated loan to then-Segunda leaders Xerez.
But I have a nagging doubt about our handling of Montero, based on perhaps the club's all-time biggest personnel blunder. The club rarely sets a foot wrong in the transfer market, but there was one big fish that got away: Ecuadorean winger Luis Antonio Valencia. L.A. Valencia completed a permanent move to EPL side Wigan Athletic in January 2008; a mere 18 months later, he had turned down Real Madrid to sign for Manchester United (as Ronaldo's replacement). Oops.
My argument is not that Montero is as good as L.A. Valencia. For starters, we will not know how Montero's ability pans out for a few more years. But perhaps the club's inability to utilize these types of players' strengths-- include Matías Fernández in that discussion-- reveals something about the Villarreal way.
Allen made an astute observation: our success with South Americans has been greater with reclamation projects (Riquelme, Sorín, Forlán, even Nilmar) than younger players (Gonzalo, Ruben, Musacchio). The chasm is particularly wide with respect to players not from Argentina and Brazil. Let's consider this dichotomy in the case of Montero.
Jeffrey came to Spain on the heels of second-division success in Ecuador and a brief loan spell in Mexico. He also played one season in Ecuador's top flight at age 18. His development may have been stunted by his club's desire to cash in on his talents. Put another way, Jeffrey either was going to Europe for big bucks or remaining in the shadows in Ecuador. An obvious talent, but plenty of polishing was required.
On the other hand, Jeffrey was given opportunities in the primera vuelta to prove himself. A humble kid, by all accounts, he may not have trained hard enough to force Garrido's hand. In spot duty, he scored against Athletic in La Liga and Poli Ejido in the Copa, but his commitment to defending was questionable, at best. At an all-for-one club like Villarreal, that sort of behavior will earn you a plush spot on the bench.
How do you see the Montero story ending? Will he play a significant role for Villarreal next season? In the long run?