Enes Ünal joined Villarreal in the summer of 2017, signed from Manchester City for €14m. He signed a Villarreal contract through 2022, and that contract included an escalating buyback clause—somewhere around €20m or more.
Manchester City and Chelsea, especially, have become experts at locking up young players like Ünal who are unlikely ever to feature for their first team. They develop players by loaning them out and then eventually reap the benefits of the signing through a large transfer fee. City were unable to get a work permit for Ünal, but there were no shortage of teams hoping to sign him. (Ex-Villarreal cantera starlet Aleix García, whom the Blues signed from us for €4m back in 2015, is another player caught in this system, currently loaned to Mouscron in Belgium.)
But to return to Ünal. Villarreal won the competition for his services—but how has that worked out? His first season showed some promise—five goals for Villarreal, including two as a substitute against Atletico Madrid that gave us a famous victory (see below):
But he only had about 1100 minutes as a Villarreal player that season, though we loaned him for a month to Levante, who were undergoing an injury crisis, and he played 600 minutes there, scoring once.
Clearly we wanted to develop him more by giving him more minutes, and Valladolid stepped forward and took him on loan last year, and then this year as well.
Ünal’s statistics with Valladolid are not impressive—four goals this season, six last—until you realize the type of team he’s playing for. Valladolid’s strength is in defense, period. Their offense is essentially built around playing long balls forward toward Enes, which he can either head himself or flick on to strike partner Sergi Guardiola. Ünal’s WhoScored rating as a starter—7.03—may not seem great, but it’s the highest on the team.
Coach Sergio likes him and requested him on loan again this year (and wasn’t interested in terminating the loan early after Toko Ekambi left, by some reports) and maybe that says more about his performance than anything else. He works selflessly and works hard for a limited team. And he can pull off strikes like this one against Mallorca last week.
So where to from here? After two years at Valladolid, he’s surely ready to come back to Villarreal and compete for a starting striker spot. He’s done well enough at Valladolid to merit that, for sure, but he hasn’t done so well that teams are going to be beating our door down either—and Man City is unlikely to exercise their buyback option at this point, especially since the same rules that denied him a work permit the first time still exist. (Transfermarkt shows his value at €4m, which is surely low, but he’s not worth €20m right now, either).
My personal preference would be to extend his Villarreal contract for several more years and let him grow in our first team. He’s still only 22 (he turns 23 in May). As an old-fashioned center forward, he gives us a different attacking style than Gerard or Paco. Next year, we should take advantage of his skills and let’s see what he can do in a squad with a lot of attacking talent. I think that €14m could turn out to be a very good investment.