While Real Madrid continues their policy of buying up the world’s most high-profile talent, other clubs have undoubtedly profited by signing those players cast aside by the Spanish giants. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are perhaps the most famous examples, each winning the European Cup after being deemed surplus to requirements at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Even the club’s youth products have enjoyed success elsewhere, with Álvaro Morata – profiled in this column last week – now a regular in the Juventus starting XI, while Borja Valero is also thriving on the peninsula. His path was much longer however, playing for the Real Madrid first team just twice back in 2006 before being released just twelve months later after spending twelve years with the club.
Picked up by Mallorca, the midfielder was quickly on the move again, signed by newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion for a then-club record fee of €7 million. The Baggies would be relegated from the Premier League just a year later, with the player demanding a transfer as he “preferred not to be in the second division in England.” He would return to Mallorca on loan, finally beginning to deliver on the talent his career had long since promised as he was named the Best Spanish Player in La Liga by Don Balón.
The Palma-based club could not afford to make his move permanent, and ambitious Villarreal would instead snap him up, a move that would propel Valero to even greater prominence. In his first season at El Madrigal, he would help ‘The Yellow Submarine’ finish fourth and secure a place in the Champions League, only for injuries to decimate the side during the following campaign which would end in their relegation.
That would see the Spanish side sell off their better players, with Valero on the move once again, this time landing at Fiorentina. It was an unfortunate series of events which brought him to the Renaissance city, but it appears to have been the making of the midfielder, who finally looks to have found a home. In the two and a half seasons since arriving, he has become beloved by the Viola faithful, and is trusted implicitly by Coach Vincenzo Montella who has often given him the captain’s armband.
A video of his young son singing the club’s anthem may have secured him a place in the hearts of supporters, but it is his performances on the field for which he is most revered. Something of an unknown quantity when he landed on the peninsula, Valero has matured into one of Serie A’s finest midfielders, and a player who will surely cause problems for Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday evening.
His passing is a match for any of his more widely-lauded compatriots, possessing the same unerring accuracy that has become the hallmark of Spanish football. Averaging almost sixty passes per game over his first two full seasons with La Viola, the 30 year old also protects his defence well, averaging around two tackles and one interception per game last term according to stats site WhoScored.com.
With injuries ruling out Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi, Valero also took on some of the scoring burden last term, recording career-highs for both goals (seven) and assists (eleven). When Rossi has been fit, the understanding between the pair – forged during their time together at Villarreal – has been a huge boost, and the Italian hopes to be back on the field soon, although he is not expected to be available for the two ties against Spurs.
Yet Valero is far from the only player shining in Rossi’s absence, and perhaps the most notable positive for the Viola heading into the meeting with Tottenham is the return to form of Gomez. The German is once again becoming a major factor after rediscovering his scoring touch with five goals in his last four games. The striker is certainly a player to fear, while Fiorentina’s ability to move on following the sale of Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea has been similarly impressive, as it was expected they would be much less a force without the Colombian who was previously their most influential player. The instant impact of the man who moved in the opposite direction – midfielder Mohamed Salah – has helped to lessen the blow of his exit as he notched a goal and an assist against Sassuolo this past weekend.
Their newest signing has given them yet another reason to believe they can reach the next round too, discussing his previous encounters with the North London club shortly after arriving in Florence. "I have already played against Tottenham twice in the Europa League and scored a very important goal for me and for Basle," Salah told reporters at his unveiling earlier this month. "I also provided five assists in that competition. I am really excited about that meeting."
Given the way the club is playing with the Egyptian in the side, the Viola should arrive in England full of confidence this week, buoyed by an impressive run of domestic form which has seen them lose just once since November. Montella and his squad should be immensely proud of that streak, and the Italian side – inspired by Borja Valero – could well provide a stern test for Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs.