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A balancing act

Eusebio Sacristán and David Moyes have had contrasting times at Anoeta.
Eusebio Sacristán and David Moyes have had contrasting times at Anoeta. / EFE / REUTERS
  • a look at laliga

  • David Moyes understood the issues at play at Real Sociedad but couldn’t get to grips with them in the same way Eusebio has

Right now there's one team that's pound for pound ahead of the rest in La Liga; and it's the British pound that has been significant in the reconstruction of the team.

In fact it was probably the Scottish pound that was responsible for instigating the Real Sociedad revival. Since they paid off David Moyes the club has ascended steadily.

Three wins in the opening three La Liga games is almost certainly a false dawn but it shows just how far the Basque club has come since Eusebio Sacristán took over in November 2015. Back then they were teetering just above the relegation zone in 16th place. The team had lost its identity.

I spoke with David Moyes frequently during his time in San Sebastián and grew to appreciate his issues.

There was one game when he deliberated whether to select a striker who was the product of the club or the expensive foreign signing. His heart said go with the Brazilian but his head had worked out that it would mean the team had six non-Basque players and five from the out of region. He went with the local boy, kept the balance favourable, but lost the game.

Moyes, maybe subconsciously influenced by his Celtic roots, wanted to keep the team as regional as possible. I pointed out that Real Sociedad have far more academy players than their great rivals Athletic Bilbao. Athletic pride themselves on being all-Basque but many of their players are signed from elsewhere.

Eusebio has managed to pull off the balancing act. Of the eleven that started the game against Deportivo La Coruña, seven were from the Basque region. His secret has been to tap into the club’s excellent youth system and compliment it with signings of imagination.

The best four foreign players in his squad cost British pounds although none of them made an impression in the Premier League.

The latest is Adnan Januzaj whose undisciplined talents sent Louis Van Gaal barmy, frustrated David Moyes and teased supporters rather than defenders. Now at the age of 21 he has a chance to become a man in northern Spain.

His journey isn’t unlike that of Carlos Vela. The Mexican was surplus at Arsenal and his relationship with Moyes wasn’t too harmonious. He’s been reborn under Eusebio and will be a big influence until he heads to the MLS in the winter.

Juanmi didn’t register a Premier League goal in his season at Southampton and was trusted with just 32 minutes of action after December 2016. At Real Sociedad he’s transformed into one of the most consistent players. He was last season’s leading scorer and has led with three goals in the opening three games of the season.

The other Premier League signing was goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli. It was a complex transfer from Manchester City, a club that I doubt he ever actually visited. In a paper exercise he moved there for a couple of days in between his loan and actual transfer to Real Sociedad. I suspect the English club have a buy-back clause for one of the top young keepers in the world and it was no surprise that Napoli were chasing him last summer.

So, it’s no slight on Moyes to say that Eusebio has managed the rules of leading Real Sociedad with a greater understanding.