Since we’re starting to get into discussions about what our roster might look like in fall 2018 (though we still have some big matches left), here’s my look at our keeper and centerbacks: who we have, our needs and some potential names to bring in, and so on. Front six will follow later.
Disclaimer: When it comes to potential players to bring in, outside Spain I tend to pay attention to Serie A and Ligue Un. I feel as though these leagues are the most similar to La Liga and Ligue Un, especially, still offers bargains. There may be good EPL choices, but too expensive; Bundesliga players don’t move around a lot and I find it hard to assess the league since it’s Bayern and everybody else. Turkey may have some good opportunities but I don’t follow it, same for South American clubs mostly. Keep in mind we’ve had really good success with Serie A players in recent years, and Bakambu had significant time in Ligue Un.
That said, feel free to generate lots of alternative transfer targets!!!
Goalkeepers: Sergio Asenjo. Still only 28, and under contract to 2022. No reason to change anything as far as this guy is concerned, the only concern is his durability.
Andrés Fernández. 31 years old, contract to 2021. When he’s good, he’s really good, but he has concentration lapses. Still, a decent backup, and someone who can start in the Copa and Europa league group games.
Mariano Barbosa. 33 years old, contract to 2020. Same as Andrés, really. A good insurance policy to have on hand.
Summer activity: None expected, unless some club comes in with a big offer for Asenjo. If so, we’d look for a replacement for sure. Otherwise, we’re set and can let our cantera keepers develop over the next couple of years. Ander Cantero has looked good for our B team in the Segunda B; if they aren’t promoted, a loan to a Segunda A team might make sense next season.
Center back: “You can never have too many centerbacks.”—siempre riquelme
Now let’s talk about an obvious need, but it’s not obvious how to fill it. I’m not going to include Rubén Semedo, since he’s suspended without pay and even if he somehow gets out of his legal troubles I doubt he has a future with Villarreal.
Victor Ruiz is the guy many Villarreal supporters feel could or should be moved on this summer. The timing makes sense: he’s 29 years old and under contract until 2019. So if you can’t or won’t agree to an extension now, you need to move him or risk losing him for free the following summer. Ruiz has been hard to rate over the years: he came up in the Espanyol youth system, they sold him to Napoli in January 2011, but the next August they sold him to Valencia. He had pretty much fallen out of favor there, and in fall 2014 he was loaned to Villarreal, the deal being made permanent the following year.
Ruiz certainly worked well with Marcelino as his coach; this year, he’s been caught out of position more often, exposing his lack of pace. He’s still been one of our mainstays this season— whoscored has him rated above our other CB’s where La Liga action is concerned, though I imagine many Villarreal supporters would be surprised to learn that.
Álvaro González has mostly flown under the radar since arriving from Espanyol in August 2016, but one suspects that’s just fine with him. He’s not flashy, but gets the job done. Unlike Ruiz, who has had an up-and-down trajectory in his career, Alvaro came up in Racing Santander’s cantera, moved to Zaragoza and then Espanyol in 2014, and he’s continued to improve at Villarreal. He’s currently 28 and under contract to 2021.
Daniele Bonera has been our third centerback. Everyone loves Il Capo; here’s a guy who we signed on a free from AC Milan right at the end of the summer 2015 transfer window, he’s played over 1000 minutes (all competitions) each of the last three years, and he’s played even more this year than last. He has the same problems as our other centerbacks—he’s not fast, he’s not a great tackler, and he can lose focus—but he offers immense experience, is a fine shot blocker and was our best centerback in the Europa League this season. Expect to see him sign another one-year deal with us, and look for him to move into coaching with us at some point when his playing career is over.
The problem for me is that Álvaro and Ruiz are too much alike. Each is a perfectly good centerback, but they have similar attributes—good at blocking shots, similar physical characteristics, but neither is a strong tackler, both lack discipline at times, and neither is particularly strong in the air. It’s easy to see why we went for first Bailly, and later Semedo to complement these two.
Predicted summer activity:
Are we happy with the status quo? Obviously not. We expected Semedo to be the tough-tackling beast-type centerback who could play up the pitch like Bailly did, and that didn’t work out. So, we have to find that player this summer.
Players like Toulouse’s Issa Diop would be great—he’s a tough-tackling 21 year old, but he’d cost €25m+ and is attracting interest from clubs like Barca, Arsenal and Tottenham. Not likely we can compete if that interest is serious, and we would prefer to spend less anyhow. So let’s look at cheaper alternatives.
There are some experienced centerbacks who would cost between €5-10m at most; a player like David López from Espanyol falls in this group. Funnily enough, he also has Napoli experience, having moved there in 2014 from Espanyol and returning to the parakeets in 2016. He’s under contract to 2020 with an option year; given our success with Espanyol centerbacks, I am sure we are looking closely at him. He is a strong tackler, though like our other CB’s he’s not strong in the air and is similar in age (29 in September).
One intriguing name that hasn’t been kicked around much as far as I know is a Senegalese international currently playing for Dijon in Ligue 1, Papy Djilobodji—not an easy name TO kick around! He’s also 29, but is going to be looking for a club because Sunderland, who loaned him to Dijon, have been relegated from the English Championship; no way Papy D will end up back there. He’s a decent tackler, and he adds strength in the air and ball interception skills—two things we could certainly use.
Depor’s Sidnei and Fabian Schär are others whose club have been relegated so might be available for not a lot—Schär is two years younger (26) so would be a better choice in my mind. His La Liga experience is short, and I’m not overwhelmed by him, but he could be a decent fit.
I’m going to throw one more name out there—Luca Ceppitelli, another 28 year-old who currently plays for Cagliari Calcio. He’s been the best player on a poor team (Cagliari are currently 16th in Serie A), is under contract until 2020, and I would not expect him to be expensive if he were interested in moving. He’s never played outside Italy, but he’s good in the air, tackles well, and has pretty good discipline (only five yellows for the season). He’d provide value for money, and I’d think Bonera could certainly take him under his wing.
To my mind, the first decision is what to do with Ruiz. If we renew his contract, then we need the hard-tackling CB to go with. If we go cheap and mid-to-late twenties—Lopez, Schär, Papy D, Ceppitelli, whomever— we would have an experienced group of three 27-29 year-old CB’s plus Bonera. Then probably in 2019 we look to add a younger player.
Alternatively, we signed Semedo at age 23, hoping he could be the guy. So, maybe instead of a Schär we look for a young, physical CB we can develop, similar to what we thought Semedo would be. Nice’s Marlon, Caen’s Alexander Djiku, or Yerry Mina (would have to be on loan) from Barcelona are examples. More risk, but more upside too.
If we decide to move Ruiz for €10m or so (transfermarkt values him at €12m currently), then we’re looking for two positions. I personally think we will extend him to 2021 unless there is real interest from somewhere at a reasonable price, and we’ll try to pick up a CB who offers something different and can be part of a three-man CB rotation with Ruiz and Alvaro.
I don’t know what we’ll do, obviously: Marlon, Papy D, or Ceppitelli seem the most interesting, maybe even exciting options to me, but as I have said before, real life is not Football Manager. Some of these players may have no interest in moving, some may already have significant from other clubs, and ultimately our scouts have to prioritize and take it from there. Who else ya got?