Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Argentine watch: transfers round-up

It's been a while since I posted about the Albicelestes (mostly because there hasn't been too much to write about). But with the opening of the January transfer window, Argentineans seem to have become hot property all over Europe. Below is my round-up of transfer activity involving Argentinean players, both rumoured and confirmed, organised by league of origin.


Espanyol's excellent young right-back/left-back/attacking midfielder Pablo Zabaleta, who captained the U20 World Championship winning Argentina side of 2005, has been linked to...wait for it...AC Milan! Of course, the Italian giants have been linked with every single able defender in the world under the age of 35 recently, so this is probably just a wild rumour, but contrary to my usual stance on young Argentineans moving to big clubs in Europe, I think this wouldn't be too bad if it were true. Zabaleta's always been a mature lad - he has handled his own contract negotiations since he was a teenager - and he's been playing in Europe for a while, so there's less of an adaption issue.

The owner of Milan's other team has long had his beady eyes on the young Argentinean plying his trade for Barcelona's other team. Moratti's monthly ponderings about how much he wants Lionel Messi to move to Inter have gotten just a bit creepy lately, as his declarations begin sounding ever more desperate - which is funny, since Inter aren't exactly a side in need of a saviour (or Messi-ah, even, ha ha) at the moment. Barca, for their part, haven't even bothered denying the rumours of an 100 million euro bid, or 40 million plus Adriano, or whatever it is this week. Bottom line: if the current management are stupid enough to even think about selling Messi, there will be probably be a riot. So there's that one dealt with.

On to the more troublesome of Barca's two Argentines, Javier Saviola, who seems to have a knack for picking the most horrible agents in the world - I was barely done being thankful that he fired the greedy bastard who screwed up his relationship with Barca and profited enormously from his transfer when his new one started talking like an asshole. Along with Mascherano, Tevez, and Fernando Cavenaghi, he's the finest example of what mismanagement can do to the promise of young talent. Of course, he's still a fine player, and his career could still pick up if he goes to a club that works for him.

To me, that club seems to be Villarreal. I might be a bit biased because the Yellow Submarines are my second team, but it seems like the perfect solution. Saviola himself has stated that he wants to stay in Spain, so that rules out the outlandish talk about Juventus, as well as Spartak Moscow's interest. The Russian club, who have seemingly not learnt from the Cavenaghi fiasco, are reportedly willing to pay 10 million euros for his services. Undoubtedly Barca would be pleased with such a sum, but I really don't see Saviola being attracted to the Russian league despite the good wages Spartak can pay. Besides, they want him in January, which I don't think is going to happen, given Saviola's own insistence on staying til the end of his contract and Barca's need for striking cover.

So that leaves the Spanish clubs. Espanyol seems a distant possibility to me - Barca will probably do all they can to stop it, for one, and I doubt they'd be able to pay a level of wages that would be satisfying to Saviola. Sevilla has been bought up time and time again, but they've already got quite a few strikers sitting on the bench and just bought a couple more. I don't think the demand is there.

Villarreal on the other hand apparently want Saviola on loan in January, which neither Barca nor Saviola will like, but they would seem to be a sensible destination for El Conejo in the summer. Of Villarreal's strikers, Jose Mari is inconsistent, Franco can't hit a cow's arse with a banjo, and in my opinion Nihat and Forlan don't seem compatible. They've got money in the shape of their club owner, and plenty of ambition too. Besides, it's a South American haven, has a good record for rehabilitating the careers of former Barca players, and they have a cordial relationship with Barca management.

Roberto Ayala has fallen out of favour yet again at Valencia, despite the coach Flores asking the board to renew his contract. Sporting director Carboni - who I have a healthy lack of respect for - hasn't made a habit of actually listening to the needs of his coach, though, and want to ship him out the door. Kind of the opposite of how he signed Tavano over Flores' head, when the coach hadn't asked for yet another striker, but even more annoying. Carboni makes Barca's sometimes-frustrating technical director seem like a model professional. But anyway, back to El Raton. Likely destinations are either Liverpool or Chelsea, although I'm hoping the Villarreal move mooted earlier this year is still on. They need a good center-back since young Argie Gonzalo Rodriguez is still injured, and their offence is less threatening than a kitten banishing a wilted daisy at the moment.

The Yellow Submarines are a club in a bit of trouble at the moment, though, with reports of unrest between the players, the coach and the club president. Occasional captain and Argentinean left-back Arruabarrena is going to be out of contract in the summer and he hasn't been offered a renewal, prompting the usual speculation. Espanyol have been mentioned, but I have no idea how reliable that is.

There's also been a lot of speculation about Argentines moving back to the Argentinean league, which makes me wonder where they're getting all that money from, since even clubs like Boca and River are supposed to have financial problem - hence the quick cashing-in on talented young players. Deportivo defender Aldo Duscher (infamous for breaking Beckham's metatarsal) and Zaragoza defender Leandro Ponzio have both been linked with moves to River Plate, while part-time comedy defender and occasional competent midfielder Lionel Scaloni, currently plying his trade at Racing Santander, has been linked with a move to Boca.


AC Milan have already signed one young Argentinean this season, although I'm guessing most people won't have heard of him. Full-back Leandro Grimi, 21, turned up in Milan and promptly announced that he had the potential to become the new Maldini. Which...okay. Right.

24-year-old Rodrigo Palacio of Boca Juniors, who has just become the highest paid player in Argentina has been persistently linked with Barcelona. He's something of an anomaly, Palacio. Normally the best young players in the Argentinean league can't wait to move to Europe (and make no mistake, Palacio was/is the best striker in the Argentinean league, his team's general malaise in the Opening season notwithstanding) but he seems pretty patient. Maybe that's for the best. Personally, I can't see where he's going to fit in at Barca, if we do sign him, unless he can play as a wing-forward. Even then, he'd be holding up the progress of promising youth team players like Gio Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic. For all intents and purposes, though, the deal appears to be off for now.

Another transfer that the Barca press are very keen on is that of young Argentinean international (okay, third choice, but still) 'keeper Oscar Ustari. This is actually one I'm quite excited about. Ustari is very, very good, not to mention incredibly composed and mature for his age. Barca number one Valdes' current backup Jorquera is solid enough, but he's older than Valdes, not as quick and I wouldn't be very comfortable having him for more than the occasional match. If this transfer does eventually come off, which looks likely (maybe in the summer) Valdes could have some actual competition on his hands, which would be no bad thing.

(If Ustari does come to Barca, all of Argentina's international 'keepers would ply their trade in La Liga. There's El Pato, who's doing so well at Getafe; Leo Franco, great as ever at Atletico, and German Lux was said to be moving to Mallorca, although I'm not sure what has happened to that transfer.)

Real Madrid's new management has continued the club's time-honoured tradition of drawn-out transfers, but at least this time Calderon actually delivered the three South American youngsters he promised. The two Argentineans, 19 year old striker Gonzalo Higuain of River Plate and 21 year old defensive midfielder Fernando Gago of Boca, took a bit more wrangling than the Brazilian defender Marcelo.

I regarded these two moves with varying levels of disapproval, it must be said, and not just because they were going to Real. At first glance, Gago seems to be better placed for playing time since Capello's formation demands two defensive midfielders - and the current squad only has two, Diarra who is out of favour and Emerson, who the fans don't like. Poor Gago did indeed get a start against Deportivo alongside Emerson, but it all went horribly wrong for him. It's rather strange that he was given a start - Real haven't won in the Riazor for 14 years, and it's not the ideal type of match to throw a young man who has never played in La Liga into. Left to his own devices - meaning without Calderon's declaration during the transfer saga that Gago would be playing against Depor - I'm not sure Capello would have made the same decision.

But at least it looks like Gago will be getting plenty of games, if he can manage to improve on this performance, which is surely not beyond a player with his natural talent, and fight off the pressure of ridiculous expectations which comes with both the 'new Redondo' hype and his price tag.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what's going to happen to Higuain. He's undoubtedly very talented, but I can't help feeling that he's moved too soon. There was still room for him to grow in Argentina. But what can you do when Real Madrid come knocking? The problem now is that even with Cassano out of favour, and Ronaldo lacking match sharpness (although he can still score goals with superb positioning and touch alone) I can't see him starting. Van Nistelrooy is far too important to Capello's Madrid, and if Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy aren't compatible, Higuain and Van Nistelrooy would be even worse. Maybe he'll play some Copa del Rey matches, but what a waste that would be. On the other hand, Van Nistelrooy isn't getting any younger...

Real's city rivals Atletico were cruelly described by one paper as having had the door slammed repeatedly in their faces during attempts at strengthening the injury-hit squad. The latest target seems to be Estudiantes midfielder Jose Sosa, who has built up a bit of a reputation for himself in Argentina this season. So that seems like a pretty smart move, Atletico offering 5 million euros for his services. The only problem is that Estudiantes (no doubt learning from the way in which Boca and River did their business with Real) want double that. So we'll see how deep Atletico's pockets are, having (somehow) managed to shell out year after year for a host of expensive signings. They're kind of like the Newcastle of La Liga, in a way, although to be fair to Atletico they're actually doing quite well at the moment.

Relegation battlers Real Sociedad need all the help they can get right now, especially on the cheap. They've signed central defender Victor Lopez from Argentinian club Arsenal (who incidentally have a co-operation agreement with Barca) and are reportedly looking to sign striker Federico Higuain (Gonzalo's older brother) from River Plate. The potential stumbling block for the latter being that Federico is currently on loan at Argentinean club Nueva Chicago, who will be less than pleased to see him go.


I had high hopes for young Argentinean defender Gabriel Paletta when he joined Liverpool. His take-no-prisoners style and physical presence seemed ideally suited to the Premiership, and while I harboured the same misgivings I always have when young Argentineans join big clubs - will they end up not acclimatizing quickly enough, rotting on the bench or in the reserves - I thought maybe he could follow in the footsteps of Heinze, who had such a promising debut season at Manchester United and earned the affection of the fans with his wholehearted approach to the game (as opposed to, say, Rio Ferdinard).

Anyway, Paletta fell victim to the fate I feared for him. But it's not all bad news - the team rooted to the bottom of the league table in La Liga want him on loan.

No, really. It's not as bad as it sounds. The new 'Nastic coach is apparently a pal of Rafa Benitez and wants a couple of players on loan to boost the Catalan minnows in their relegation battle. It would be good for Paletta to actually get some experience under his belt instead of tolling away in Liverpool's reserves, even if turns out to be experience fighting relegation. The biggest problem I can see with this is that Paletta's tough-tackling style might get him sent off quite a lot in La Liga.

Speaking of Gabriel Heinze, he's not been having the best time at Manchester United this season, what with being kept on the bench by Patrice Evra and all. He has taken it pretty well, which I assume will last right up until he drops out of contention for Argentina. The one thing I admire the most about Heinze has always been his commitment to the Albicelestes. He won't sit around and wait to be dropped by Argentinean coach Basile for not playing regularly enough.

Luckily, a host of clubs have been watching Heinze's situation, ready to spirit him away to fill holes in their own defences. These reportedly include his former club PSG, Valencia and the obligatory Juve and Milan links (Juve being the more concrete, since the coach has expressed interest). There are also reports that Bayern could be his destination in a part-swap deal that will finally end the Owen Hargreaves saga, which would probably happen in the summer. Can't see where he'd play at Bayern, personally, but certainly some of the other names mentioned look very possible.

And then there's the turkey of the season so far, poor Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Tevez actually looks like he will be staying with the Hammers til the end of the season, and has looked good when he's been let out to play. Masche though has been rotting in West Ham reserves and has had enough. Curiously enough, I've seen Hammers fans complaining about how bad he has been, but I've also seen Hammers fans complain about how little playing time he's had to demonstrate his actual ability. Anyway, he's desperate to move, and everyone involved in his dodgy ownership deal will be glad to get some money out of this whole disaster.

As has been widely reported, Juvenus were apparently interested, but the suits there were put off by the complexity of his ownership. (Juve suits daunted by dodgy dealings? Imagine!) But good old Rafa Benitez is ready to come to the rescue with a loan deal and an option to buy attached, if only FIFA are willing to bend their own rules a bit.


Leandro Romagnoli - anybody remember him? Promising attacking midfielder, part of the 2001 World Youth Championship-winning U-20s along with Saviola and D'Alessandro? Anyway, he's owned by Mexican club Veracruz but has been on loan with Sporting Lisbon for a while. There's talk of him joining Getafe on loan now. Apparently some other clubs were keen on him, but he wanted to play in La Liga. Smart lad.

Fernando Cavenaghi looked to be joining Romagnoli as another entry in the formerly promising, now forgotten book. Fortunately, as I've mentioned before, he's now heading out of Spartak Moscow. In La Liga, Racing Santander are apparently interested, presumably as striking cover for their comical but successful strike pairing of Zigic and Munitis. With clubs in Italy, France and Portugal also reportedly interested, the Russian club have made it clear that how much a club can offer Spartak will be the key to this transfer.

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