La Sombra – 9 – Transfer and youth special

This is post nine of a wider series. To instead start at post one, please click here.

“A fine example of when a foreign player and his new club’s ethos feel like a match made in heaven.”


Rayismo

16 July 2024

It is no secret that Rayo Vallecano traditionally operated differently to other clubs in Spain.

Journalist James Robinson once referred to the approach as Rayo’s “sustainable revolving door.” He was referring to the delicate and perilous financial balancing act of the club’s continuous recruitment cycle. The reality was that it was less of a deliberate strategy and more a perpetual clamber to have enough players of appropriate quality on the books ahead of any given football season. Players would leave El Rayo for bigger and better clubs after a strong season or two, and the gaps would be backfilled with loans and rejected journeymen. It was how the club had to be in order to compete survive.

Recent success and LaLiga stability under Fernando Teixidó over the last four years may have changed this for good.

There are many other unique aspects of how Rayo Vallecano are run. For example, we at theangrylinesmen have previously covered how the community-centred club’s new signings are met personally by their passionate yet ultimately divisive supporter group the Bukaneros, to introduce them to the neighbourhood. The concept is for the players to meet the working-class people who are pobre con orgullo (poor but proud) and whose voices will not be silenced; either on the terraces or in the nearby streets. It strengthens the connection between club and community. It shows the player that the contract they have recently signed is not just a footballing one, but simultaneously a social agreement by default.

This is one of several unique Rayisms.

Robbie Dunne is the author of ‘Working Class Heroes,’ a wonderful book about Rayo Vallecano‘s origins, ostensibly socialist values and captivating aura. He probably summed it up best when he wrote, “If soccer really is a ‘a slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people’ as declared by the Sunday Times in 1985 after the Bradford fire disaster that took 56 lives, then Rayo Vallecano wear their slum affiliation like a badge of honour.”

Los pequeños franjirrojos

Rayo could have been forgiven had they overlooked their youth academy setup in the last couple of years.

Since their promotion to LaLiga at the end of the 2020/21 season, sports economists suggest that the club has risen in value from £15.5million to an eye-watering £627million, as of July 2024. Although the £20.5million spent on player recruitment by Fernando Teixidó in that time is a drop in the ocean by LaLiga standards and cancelled out by the £25.5million generated in player sales in those four years, spending of any significance is a relative novelty to the historically underfunded club. Rayo could now afford to pluck relatively expensive players from the transfer market, should they wish. To no longer rely on developing talent from within to fill future team-sheets and ultimately to generate revenue via inevitable player sales. Historically, this was the only way the club could remain sustainable.

This complacency will never be the case in Vallecas. To operate in any other way would contravene Rayo’s principles.

The club are currently building the imaginatively titled Rayo Vallecano Stadium nearby the club’s frankly dilapidated previous marching ground, Estadio de Vallecas. The modern arena will house some 25,233 seats while the old stadium held 14,708. The currently shared Getafe stadium seats just over 17,000. The build is scheduled to be complete in summer 2026.

To the shock of many Rayistas, the famously financially conservative Rayo owner Raúl Martín Presa has continued to re-invest funds into the continued development of the club. Not just in a new stadium, but crucially in the complete upheaval of youth development facilities. Let us take a closer look.

Wonderful progression over a relatively short space of time.

Despite this significant investment and incredible rise in club value, Rayo still do not spend lavishly on player salaries or bonuses. In fact, despite their three European qualification league finishes in a row (6th, 7th and 2nd respectively), the club still are in a lowly 16th in the salary spend table for LaLiga ahead of the 24/25 campaign. Rayo have football’s moneymen scratching their heads at their evident overperformance.

To have an exceptional academy bear fruit does not happen overnight. Even the best facilities and coaches cannot create first-team ready superstars in a laboratory. It is a labour of love, and patience is a crucial requirement.

Considering this reality, Rayo Vallecano have also invested around £4million in four years on incoming transfers of players who are still teenagers. Some are plying their trade in Rayo’s under 19 squad, others in their B team and a few elsewhere on loan. The truly homegrown talents will appear in time, and when I caught up briefly with new Rayo Head of Youth Development, Fernando Cinto, that is exactly what he promised.

In true theangrylinesmen fashion, here is a round-up of a hand-picked selection of young Rayo players to be aware of. There are some other more established high quality young players at Rayo, such as 21-year olds Ömer Beyaz, Diogo Nascimento and Thijme Verheijen, but our focus here is on those still in their teenage years.

Some of these young players may become household names in future. Every Rayista is certainly hoping so.

Þorsteinn Björnsson

19 year old midfielder, Valur Reykjavík, £12.5k

At a cost that may as well have been zero (literally twelve thousand five hundred pounds), Björnsson already has five caps for his native Iceland and a mental toughness that belies his tender years. This is coupled with well-rounded athleticism and wonderful technique. He is slightly short at five foot nine, but this should not hinder the all-round midfielder’s progress. Björnsson is the only player in this report who has already been named in Teixidó’s first-team squad for the upcoming campaign.

Abel Barata

19 year old midfielder, Estrela da Amadora, £100,000

Barata is a similarly hard-working midfielder in the Björnsson mould. Also 19 years old and five foot nine in height, Barata may require more development time to become as consistent and physical as his Icelandic teammate, but shades his technical profile marginally, according to club coaches. A great tackler with wonderful balance, the Portuguese is one to watch.

Gaoussou Traoré

17 year old striker, Huesca, £1million

Having already scored once for the Rayo Vallecano first team to become a record breaker, it is fair to say that “GT” looks one of the prospects most likely to be a success. Selfless and well-balanced, the young Spaniard has already been likened to a young Karim Benzema or Alvaro Morata. Most notably by me, right here in theangrylinesemen. Quite simply, Traoré looks to have all the ingredients required to be an elite striker, in time.

Francisco Pereira

19 year old striker, Amarante, £32k

Last but certainly not least is Francisco Pereira. Snapped up from Portuguese semi-professional outfit Amarante for the ridiculously low sum of £32k, Pereira will be loaned out to LaLiga newcomers Tenerife for the 24/25 season. A committed team player with a wonderful right foot he regularly uses to flick the ball, elastico-style, past defenders, the Portuguese teenager is already technically impressive while physically well-rounded. While there may be question marks about his focus and application across 90 minutes, Francisco Pereira looks like another Rayo youngster to keep tabs on.

Honourable mentions

Click on any of the images above for a closer look. Particular mention has to go to the final three mentioned – Noé Becerra, Francisco Hernando and Felipe. Two are 16 years old and the other has recently turned 17. This trio were discovered in the most recent youth intake at Rayo Vallecano. Fully home-grown and the first examples of an intake where new Head of Youth Development Fernando Cinto actively played a part in the identification and promotion of these particular players.

There are clearly bright times ahead at Rayo, and I for one am excited to see where this young crop of talent end up.

Who do you think looks most likely to succeed?

Tom Phillips for theangrylinesmen


17 July 2024

Rayo Vallecano Transfer News

Ahead of Fernando Teixidó‘s fifth season in charge of Rayo Vallecano (the 2024/2025 campaign), the Peruvian coach has completed a quintet of first-team signings in an unprecedented haul of incoming talent.

With ex-Boca Juniors midfielder Julián Chicco, 26, moving on to Alavés for £2.3million after three solid but unspectacular years at Rayo and 30-year old Croatia cap and fringe defender Mateo Barac joining Huesca in Spain’s second tier for £450,000, there were a few squad gaps needing addressed.

Algeria international goalkeeper Luca Zidane has long been a part of the squad in Vallecas but has never shown the ability required to really put pressure on first choice stopper Stole Dimitrievski for the number 1 shirt. With El Rayo‘s maiden campaign in the UEFA Champions League on the horizon, it was logical for Teixidó to go to market to capture another keeper, not least as healthy competition for the Macedonian.

Alban Lafont

25 year old goalkeeper, Fiorentina, £1.2million

For a long, long time, Alban Lafont had been mentioned in almost every discussion around the potential identity of the natural successor to Hugo Lloris as France’s first choice goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Lafont, international caps have been hard impossible to come by. He has six under 21 caps but as yet none for the senior side. Despite eventually rising to prominence as Fiorentina‘s first choice keeper last year (10 clean sheets in 37 Serie A appearances in the 23/24 campaign) after serving over five years at the Italian club, Cesare Prandelli seemingly remained unconvinced. This summer, the now 25-year old found himself on a plane to Madrid, transferred to Rayo for the lowly sum of £1.2million. While hardly having to ‘rebuild’ his career as his best years as a keeper are certainly still ahead of him, it will be interesting to see if he is the one to finally wrestle the gloves from Dimitrievski’s hands after over six years as Rayo’s first choice stopper.

Ross McCrorie

26 year old defensive midfielder, Aberdeen, free transfer

Scotland vice-captain Ross McCrorie is a fine example of when a foreign player and his new club’s ethos feel like a match made in heaven. A fearless and determined battler, the versatile Scottish midfielder covers every blade of grass and can fit in capably at both centre back and right back as well as in the heart of midfield. Such is his tenacity and work ethic, Teixidó boldly named McCrorie, 26 as Rayo Vallecano understudy to newly appointed captain Nemanja Radoja shortly after his arrival. The Scot also takes the number 6 shirt. Expect crunching tackles and a warrior spirit from the no-nonsense leader.

Juan Miranda

24 year old defender, Barcelona, £2.9million

Juan Miranda was once considered to be the only contender to Marc Cucurella in becoming the long-term successor to Jordi Alba as the permanent left back in Barcelona‘s first eleven. With Cucurella joining French giants PSG this summer from Villarreal for nearly £35million, and Barcelona eventually sticking with £45m Englishman Ben Chilwell in the left back berth, Miranda, now 24, quickly became a forgotten man at the Camp Nou. After a surprising loan spell last season in Germany’s second tier with Holsten Kiel, Miranda has returned to Spain, costing Rayo Vallecano £2.9million in the process. A strong tackler unafraid to proactively hunt for the ball (Miranda made just over 3 clean and successful tackles per 90 last season), at six foot one he is more imposing in the air than most full-backs, and his five assists in Germany will be a benchmark he will surely aim to better in a Rayo shirt at the other end of the pitch.

Harvey Griffiths

21 year old attacking midfielder, Manchester City, free transfer

Oldham-born Harvey Griffiths, 21, had been at Manchester City since the age of eight. A composed midfielder in possession of the ball, the Englishman is also capable of striking the ball cleanly and accurately with both the inside and outside of his gifted right foot. Agile and well-balanced, Griffiths was tipped to follow Phil Foden into the City and England line-up, but it unfortunately was not to be. Not yet, anyway. After bravely upping sticks for Spain after so many years so close to home, when joining Rayo Vallecano on a free transfer, Griffiths shared that he was excited to be part of “building of something special in Vallecas.” His only spell of consistent senior football was a season-long loan spell at Crewe Alexandra, where he showed a knack for incisive progressive passes from deep. I do not envisage instant fireworks from the young Englishman, but he is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Antoñín

24 year old striker, Granada, £1.6million

The last but certainly not least “new” face at Rayo this summer could arguably prove a Teixidó masterstroke. Antoñín spent three years on loan at Rayo Vallecano from 2020 to 2023, scoring 52 goals across Teixidó’s first trio of campaigns in charge. The striker even won the prestigious FIFA Best U21 Player in the world award in 2021. What unfolded next however, was odd to say the least. Antoñín‘s parent club Granada did not want to allow him to return to Rayo on loan for a fourth consecutive season, and understandably demanded a significant fee for the impressive striker’s permanent registration. When this fee was said to be in the region of £13million, Rayo of course would not, and in all probability could not, cough this up (Rayo’s record transfer is the £4million paid to Coimbra for Diogo Nascimento in summer 2023 and at the time was the £3.3m paid for Eden Kartsev). Instead, the player returned to Granada, where manager Ronald Koeman said Antoñín would be a “key part of his plans” for 2023/24.

Fast forward six months and the striker had played the sum total of zero minutes in a Granada shirt and was consequently bizarrely shipped out on loan to Real Oviedo, in Spain’s third tier. Five goals in twelve appearances followed and upon his return in the summer, Koeman made him available for a cut-price transfer. After all this pushing and pulling, the Rayo fan favourite finally made his long-awaited return to the club this month for just £1.6million. Expectations are high that the pacey and confident hitman will hit the ground running and return to his previous form. With last season’s strike pairing of Astrit Selmani and Felix Platte notching 59 goals between them in all competitions however, he has a tough job ahead of him displacing either.

Carl Hagedorn for theangrylinesmen


Thanks for reading.

FM Stag

2 thoughts on “La Sombra – 9 – Transfer and youth special

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