With not a lot of cash to splash and the big boys sitting it out, a few La Liga clubs used the winter window to change their destinies this season
In a particularly uninspired winter transfer market, Spanish La Liga sides scrambled to sign world-class players and, instead, had to reluctantly accept a handful of low-profile transfers to aid them in the second half of the season.
Most of the signings were on loan, with only a few players being transferred permanently. Not every team had the same sense of urgency, though: Leganes and Granada, for instance, keenly wanted to change their collective bleak fates with a whopping seven and six new faces, respectively. On the other hand, title contenders such as Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid and current leader Real Madrid didn’t bother enhancing their rosters. Not that Madrid could, anyway due to a FIFA ban.
Anyway, let’s cut the chitchat. Which five players stand out in this season’s winter market frenzy?
5) Lacina Traoré – an African ‘tower’ for a struggling Sporting
I must admit this one may be something of a curve ball, but again, I warned that there weren’t that many memorable names in this year’s too-predictable moves. Sporting de Gijón wanders around in La Liga’s depths, looking for some sort of beacon of hope that may help pull it out of the relegation spots. Who better to play the role than a huge, two-metre-tall African striker?
Born in the Ivory Coast, Traoré is quite a lively traveler and has already played in many eclectic tournaments such as the Romanian, Russian and English Premier Leagues. Monaco spent $10 million on him in 2014, but since then the forward has failed to justify the hype. Gijón may be the perfect place to start again.
4) Adalberto Peñaranda – the Venezuelan sensation looks to shine again in Málaga
Twelve months ago, Peñaranda was flying high during a solid season in Granada, whose owners (the Pozzo family) play a similar role in the Italian side of Udinese. After playing for both teams and a series of loans, ups and downs, the speedy Venezuelan attacker was transferred to the family’s third club, Watford, with the desire of exploding in the Premier League.
One year later, Peñaranda travels to the south of Spain once again, this time with sunny Malaga as his destination, and the challenge of regaining some of his credit after a disappointing run in England. If he succeeds and improves his performance and his team’s results, Málaga have the option of extending the loan one more season.
3) Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana – Valencia CF doubles down on its offense
Fans demanded a handful of signings to enhance a depressed squad. Coach Cesare Prandelli walked after feeling betrayed by the club’s management. Sporting director Suso García Pitarch resigned after feeling that the owner paid zero attention to his advice. Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim’s answer to the ruckus inside his own club? Polishing and energizing his offense, of course, even if the team seems actually to be lacking both at the back and midfield.
Both players have been loaned to Mestalla but will probably have their transfers made permanent by June. Italian national player Zaza will seek better luck after disappointing at West Ham ($16 million), while Chilean winger Orellana ought to start with a clean slate following a tumultuous exit from Celta, clash with coach Eduardo Berizzo included ($3 million).
2) Stevan Jovetic – Sevilla hits the jackpot once again
Just how does he do it? ‘He’, as in Sevilla’s genius sporting director Monchi, who maneuvered around some tricky pitfalls before closing one of the biggest deals of the market with Inter Milan: the arrival of forward Stevan Jovetic, starved of opportunities in Italy but who seized his chance upon arrival to his new home in the Sánchez Pizjuán.
Three goals in the first handful of games speak volumes about how quickly the forward has adapted to his new home. Monchi, meanwhile, seems doubly pleased with his job: not only is the Montenegro striker already helping Sevilla to be a title contender but, if his performance keeps up that level of brilliance, Sevilla will have the option of buying him permanently for some $14 million. A sum that, in a few months, might seem one of the biggest bargains in the market.
1) Jesé Rodríguez – a Canarian talent unable to resist the temptation of going home
The most hyped transfer of this market actually came quite late in the game, a few hours before the window closed. Jesé proved back in the day that the pressure of playing in such a demanding squad as Real Madrid didn’t scare him. Lacking the opportunities he felt he deserved, he trooped north into the unknown challenges of the French league, at a huge side (PSG) where everyone expected nothing short of greatness.
Unfortunately, the chemistry between the talented Canarian and coach Unai Emery was never quite right. Enter Las Palmas, possibly the team with more imagination and sheer skill amongst its players in Spain’s elite. Big names such as Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jonathan Viera or Roque Mesa elevate this side as one of the strongest middle-tiered clubs in La Liga. Now, after securing on loan talents such as wonder-kid Allen Halilovic or Jesé himself, Las Palmas seems ready to climb the ladder and pursue more ambitious goals this season.