Gap years abroad

Rodrigo and Aspas are now stalwarts in the Spain squad.
Rodrigo and Aspas are now stalwarts in the Spain squad. / EFE
  • opinion

  • Some Spanish clubs have made a fortune selling players to English teams, then getting them back for a fraction of the price

I've seen the future! One day the giant European teams will have nurseries set up miles away from base, taking the club to the player rather than the player to the club.

As I prepared for commentary on a series of European games this week it struck me just how many talented players have been identified by major clubs, particularly those from the Premier League, taken from their homes and discarded just as they were old enough to sport a designer beard.

Gerard Piqué never quite adapted to life in Manchester and headed back to Spain. Now he's a legend. Mohammed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were allowed to leave Chelsea yet fulfilled their potential elsewhere and are now truly world class.

Paul Pogba was sent packing by Sir Alex Ferguson yet returned as a 105-million-euro superstar four years later. Hold on... that may not be a good example!

Look around the Liga sides over the past few years and you will see examples players at many clubs enjoying their football in sunny Spain after leaving England under a cloud.

One director of football at a top Liga side wasn't joking when he said they develop the talent, maximise the price to sell to desperate 'quick-fix' English clubs and wait patiently for the player to hanker for a return to his homeland approximately a season later. It's an industry.

Premier League clubs are happy to gamble a few million on a player of promise if it saves them a heavy investment in matured and proven talent.

Rodrigo is now regarded as international class and leads the Spain strike force yet few remember him leading the line for Bolton Wanderers. Diego Forlán and Iago Aspas were flops on cold Tuesday nights in the British Isles but basked in goals in the heat of Spain.

Suso signed a professional contract at Liverpool on his 17th birthday but didn't develop in the eyes of the decision makers and headed for AC Milan who have nurtured his talents.

I was at Tottenham this week where few people remember the name of Pau López. Effectively it was a gap year in London for a goalkeeper regarded as one of the best for his age in Europe.

The problem is the lack of patience and care of a player in his formative years. As a kid I was a sought after schoolboy goalkeeper, courted by many clubs. I signed for Derby County just four years after they'd won the English title. At 15, I was playing at Old Trafford in the FA Youth Cup and under the Baseball Ground lights for the Rams reserves.

Yet when I moved from Hull to Derby post-school, hardly Malaga to Manchester, there was no plan. I recall playing just half a dozen games because of circumstances between August and Christmas and my confidence was blown. When I did play, I was a wreck.

My path brought me to these pages - luckily the path of the players above led to rejuvenated careers!

The job allows me to see the next big things and a top scout at a leading Premier League club tells me that the French market, rather than the Spanish market is the one where the value is right now.

Keep an eye out for Bertrand Traoré and Florian Thauvin. Just turned 23, Traoré is fulfilling the potential that Chelsea saw yet allowed to escape. Lyon will be expecting bids very soon.

The same for Florian Thauvin who failed to score in thirteen appearances for Newcastle United. Last summer he was part of the France World Cup winning team and now the 25-year-old is the leading scorer in French football. The Marseille striker is on radar of every major club.

So my tip for talented little Johnny or Juan is to stay at home, resist the bright lights, finish your education (academic and sporting) and your time will come.