By Paul Macdonald
With Barcelona fans salivating at the prospect of landing luxury signings from their revered list of targets, los Cules could be forgiven for glossing over their pursuit of Sporting Gijon full-back Jose Angel Valdes.
After all, with Barca currently resting at the pinnacle of the European game, any player with a modicum of ambition wants to test their talents at Camp Nou. But while bids for Cesc Fabregas, Giuseppe Rossi and Alexis Sanchez would provide scintillating alternatives in Pep Guardiola's squad, Jose Angel's addition appears to be rather more functional. The left side has long been an area of weakness for the Catalan giants, and Guardiola wants to inject young blood with a player he believes will be able to fulfil, eventually, what is needed from a full-back at Barcelona.
But just who is this 21-year-old? The stopper is unlikely to be well-known outside Spanish borders - apart from in Rome, where newly-appointed coach Luis Enrique is also thought to be an admirer - but he has quietly turned heads with his understated approach and composure on the left flank for his hometown club of Sporting.
He began his career predominantly employed as a left-midfielder, apparent in the comfortable nature with which he controls the ball, and attempts to build constructively. Ironically, his debut appearance in La Liga for the Asturians arrived in a 3-1 defeat to Barca in 2009, and as he has rose to prominence, he has shown that he has steel on his side - highlighted in his gritty defensive performances in a narrow 1-0 defeat at Camp Nou this season, and also in Sporting's now-infamous win at Santiago Bernabeu that ended Jose Mourinho's nine-year unbeaten record at home. Malaga were alerted to his talents in January, but were unable to complete a deal, and he remained at Sporting - but seems unlikely to hang around for another season.
|SNAPSHOT | JOSE ANGEL (Sporting Gijon & Spain U21)
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Angel seems, then, to be the perfect hybrid; competent in his duties as a defender, but accomplished enough to play a role further forward if required. Not to make a comparison in any way, but Dani Alves combines these duties to devastating effect on the right flank, and Guardiola clearly believes that with development the raw talent could eventually be congruous with the club's ideals, and evolve into a suitable option on the opposite side. Furthermore, with Barca working on a tight budget, a cut-price deal for an impressionable young star with Primera Division experience makes his capture all the more enticing.
Jose Angel has also experienced success at the European Under-21 Championship in Denmark in the past month, despite finding himself playing second fiddle to AC Milan's Didac Vila in the starting XI, and will be aware that with Joan Capdevila's international career coming to an end, there will be an intense battle to become first choice for the full national side across the next few years. A move to Barcelona, even to compete in their hugely successful B team, would be a football education that would unquestionably stand him in good stead.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, however; Jose Angel is not yet ready for regular first-team duties at a club such as Barcelona. Eric Abidal is set to sign a new contract to operate on that side for another two years, while Adriano remains an option as back-up. Thus, Barca's B squad in the Segunda next season may prove to be his first port of call should a deal eventually be completed.
Barca's initial approach for the player was rebuked by Sporting, who are holding out for a fee closer to €4 million, and their demands have led to a delay in business being concluded - allowing Roma to potentially hijack the deal. Enrique is searching for an alternative to John Arne Riise in the event the Norwegian departs the Stadio Olimpico, and it is no coincidence that the former coach of Barcelona's second-string has also targeted the full-back as he looks to bring a similar brand of football to the Italian capital.
But the player himself has stressed a desire to join the European champions, recently stating: "Barcelona are a great club and I am confident I could make a lot of progress there. I hope that Sporting will reconsider Barcelona's offer and eventually accept it." With all the extravagant sums the Spanish giants are speculated to be spending, Jose Angel's purchase is most definitely one with the future in mind, and may also, in time, represent an astute piece of business.
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