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Cani for La Roja!! (and Bruno, and Borja Valero!)

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Cani, Borja, Bruno celebrating in yellow.  They'd look good in the red of Spain, too!  (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
Cani, Borja, Bruno celebrating in yellow. They'd look good in the red of Spain, too! (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
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     Vicente del Bosque, he of the brotherhood of the turnip, was in Vila-real recently to watch the Europa League semifinal, presumably keeping tabs on existing La Roja players (Capdevila, Santi Cazorla, Marchena) but also looking at some other Villarreal players for possible inclusion in the national squad. 

Particularly with all the concern about the four clasicós creating rifts in the national team, it's a good time to bring in some fresh blood from clubs apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid and test them out in the upcoming friendlies against the USA and Venezuela.  And what better club to draw from than the Yellow Submarine?  Here are three Villarreal players I'd LOVE to see play in front of me and 50,000+ other fans in Foxborough next month.  

 

(1) Rubén Gracia Calmache "Cani"

   VDB said earlier this year Cani was 'knocking on the door' for a place in the national side, and he's only improved since then.  His goal from the halfway line against Osasuna made many highlight reels, but what recommends him is his ability to work in tight spaces and create room for a shot, as well as his passing ability.  

The criticism of him has always been that he didn't play well against good teams, but that's no longer true.  He's not a prolific goal scorer in Villarreal's system (4 in the league, 4 in the Europa League, 1 in the Copa del Rey this season) but almost all have been important strikes against quality opposition (such as Porto and Real Madrid).

When the tiki-taka starts to get bogged down, Cani is the one who can "make things happen".  He looks for his shot more often than many Spanish midfielders, but he also has that intangible understanding of the game--he can make excellent passes you don't see coming.  And he tracks back and is willing to fight to regain the ball, too.

 He is a late bloomer (30 in August) and he hasn't started consistently for Villarreal, but that's a reflection of tactics, not lack of skill.  And as for pride, intensity, and heart--this guy had the cojones to take on prize ass José Mourinho. Yes, he Cani !!!

The next two players have been called up to the national team, but only briefly.  They deserve another callup and more game time.

(2) Bruno Soriano Llido

Against Mallorca Bruno made a bad pass.  I remember it, because it has been such a rare occurrence this year.  If ever there is a guy who should be playing for Spain, it's Bruno Soriano--the defensive minded-midfielder whose passing statistics are right up there with Xavi and Iniesta.  Bruno has been an absolute ROCK for Villarreal, and a true 'pivote'.  He can support in attack, and is especially important in breaking up potential counterattacks, recovering the ball and making a quick pass to one of the attacking midfielders to start things again.

 

But he also has the speed to track back quickly to support the defenders when a ball is played over him, and the positional awareness to be in the right place at the right time to intercept an attempted cross, pass, or whatever.  Quite simply, he takes care of whatever responsibilities you give him--he even filled in on the back line after Angel's injury, and played in the middle of defense against Porto--and makes everyone around him better. 

Quite honestly, he's simply been incomparable in his role.  And unlike Sergio Busquets, you'll never catch Bruno feigning injury to draw a yellow card. He's a quiet, humble guy who came through Villarreal's cantera system.

The highest compliment I can give Bruno is to say that not having grown up with the game, I struggle to describe just how good he has been this season.  But if I could only have one Villarreal player on my "all-star team" based on this year's play, it would be Bruno.

He might take time to settle in with players he doesn't know well...all the more reason to include him in the national side now.

 

(3) Borja Valero Iglesias

And yet another midfielder!  Borja Valero's work rate is tremendous, his attitude selfless, and as for his stamina--he is seemingly tireless.  He nearly got Mallorca into the Champions League last year (winning a Don Balón award in the process), and there's no way Villarreal would have gotten into the CL this year without him.

 

Like many others, I suspected this might be a special year even before the season started, when Villarreal traveled to London and demolished Tottenham Hotspur 4-1.  Borja came on that night in the second half and my comment was "WOW. Tremendous field vision, pinpoint passing" in my recap. 

Borja showed that all year.  There was a big debate on our old site about where he works best, inside or outside, but wherever he officially plays in midfield he's just tireless.  He can be outmuscled one-on-one sometimes, but he's strong in the legs and heart.  Like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps going...and going....

But what really separates him from the pack is his field vision and his accurate delivery.  On a counterattack, he storms down the right (usually) and pings a perfect pass to an attacker for a great goal-scoring opportunity.  On a buildup in the opposition end, he's the guy who finds a way to put an inch-perfect cross on an attacker's head or play a perfect ball to feet....he has eight assists in La Liga this year and three in the Europa League matches.  And he's an excellent corner-kick taker, too.

Not primarily a goal-scorer (three in La Liga, two in the Europa League) but has a fine shot, and in a different system could probably score 8-10 goals a year.  Spain is blessed with attacking midfielders, so competition for the national team is intense, but Borja is one of the best.  What better place to give him a shot than in this post-season tour!