Last Sunday in La Liga, Sevilla were struggling to break down a stubborn 10 man Valencia defence, when rojiblanco playmaker Ever Banega flighted a perfect ball into space behind the back line.
The outside of the boot pass seemed to hover in the air and just beg to be hit. Overlapping full-back Sergio Escudero took the gift and slammed in his first goal for Sevilla. That was enough for three points for the Andalusians - and was further confirmation of just how important their Argentine playmaker is to Unai Emery’s side.
Banega has now scored twice and assisted twice in his last three La Liga outings - each of which Sevilla have won - 5-0 against Getafe, 3-2 against Real Madrid, and 1-0 versus Valencia. Fitness issues means he missed their other two most recent games - which both brought a defeat at Villarreal and another loss at struggling Real Sociedad.
Despite being troubled by injury, Banega has put in a string of impressive performances through the first four months of the season. He scored a superb free kick in August’s memorable European Supercup, only being overshadowed by his long-time friend and fellow Rosario native Lionel Messi as Barcelona somehow won 5-4.
Banega was also outstanding in the unfortunate 2-1 defeat at Manchester City in the Champions League in October, with the English champions only really getting control of the game after he was substituted midway through the second half. Another fine display included a key goal as Madrid were beaten 3-2 at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan last month.
Such outstanding form is pretty well timed, as the 27-year-old is out of contract next summer, and currently weighing up what could be the most important [financially for sure] decision of his career.
Sevilla want Banega to sign a new deal and commit to them, while Premier League clubs Everton, Tottenham and Manchester City are also apparently monitoring the situation, and City especially could offer a salary which would likely dwarf what his current club can afford.
The Argentine can be a frustrating player to watch [and surely to coach], but he seems to have matured on and off the pitch since being reunited with former Valencia coach Emery in summer 2014. After being one of the Argentina players to miss a penalty in the summer’s Copa America final shoot-out defeat to Chile, he showed real leadership to step up and score from the spot in a 3-0 Champions League win over Borussia Monchengladbach in September.
His level headedness at the press conference ahead of last week’s CL return in Monchengladbach, when asked about his future, was also impressive.
“The club and my agents are talking,” Banega said. “There is a good feeling, but the important thing is three points tomorrow. They know what I want. I am delighted at my club, focused on my club that is the important thing.”
Banega does seem happier at the moment than at any previous time in his career. While his talent has never been in doubt, his temperament has often been questioned over the years. He first came to many observers’ attention in an infamous webcam incident back in 2008, soon after joining Valencia from Boca Juniors for €18 million. An attempt to stop his car rolling away by sticking out a foot , after he had forgot to apply the handbrake at a filling station, lead to six months on the sidelines in 2012.
His time at Mestalla also included a quite large number of controversies involving late nights and missed training sessions - and Valencia appeared to lose patience when he was sent back to Argentina for a loan spell at Newells Old Boys in January 2014.
His former Los Che coach kept believing though - and Banega surprisingly joined Sevilla in a cut-price €2.5 million deal in summer 2014. The reunion with Emery took a while to work out happily, but their first season back together ended with a man of the match performance in the final as Sevilla retained the Europa League.
The idea that Banega would be well advised to remain at the Sanchez Pizjuan and not risk falling back off the wagon has been put forward recently by Sevilla president Jose Castro, who told local paper Estadio Deportivo that he was “optimistic” the player and his agent would realise that life elsewhere would not be as positive.
“Banega has found here his true football and I hope he stays,” Castro said. “A player who has found the best place for him should not then leave. There is a good relationship, a good 'feeling', we are working on it. I am optimistic. We hope it can all get sorted with both parties satisfied.”
That sounded a bit like Castro advising Banega to accept a lower salary deal from his current club, rather than accept more money but a higher risk of distraction elsewhere.
The rojiblanco president must also be worried about his perpetually financially troubled club losing a key player valued at €15 million for nothing next summer. So if Banega does have his sights set on leaving, any significant bid from the Premier League might well be accepted this coming January.
Whatever happens, Banega’s situation will be closely watched when the winter transfer window opens next month. His recent performances have shown a new sense of control and timing on the pitch. Now he and his advisors have a huge decision to make off it.