CITYWATCH: Five forgotten Spanish Blues

Originally featured on CityWatch

When you pair Manchester City and Spain in the same sentence, fans will understandably often draw their own thoughts and make their own assumptions about the relationship between the two. For starters we do now have Pep Guardiola, a man who gained his prestige in world football through his dominance both as a player and manager in La Liga. Likewise there are the many Spanish teams who City have faced in the Champions League in recent years, with somewhat contrasting outcomes. Whilst the recent victory over FC Barcelona in many ways felt like a coming of age for the club, City will have inevitably learnt from their Champions League clashes with Villarreal, Sevilla and defeats at the hands of the El Clásico duo in recent years. Yet perhaps most importantly however, City fans will surely now associate the club with Spain through the abundance of Spanish players to have embraced the shirt. As City’s youth development programme begins to bear fruit, the more established Spaniards David Silva and Jesus Navas could soon be ending up fending off competition for both club and country with the likes of Pablo Maffeo, Aleix Garcia and Brahim Diaz merely forming a small part of a wider network of exciting, young Spanish talent at the club.

Whether the recent increase of Spanish players at Manchester City is merely a sign of the times through the modernisation and growth of both the club and the transfer market or just simply different policies in youth recruitment remains up for debate. However for the older football fan, they will know that it hasn’t always been that way and at one time, Spanish players at the club were few and far between. Therefore let us take a trip down memory lane and see if you can remember any of these five forgotten Spanish blues.

1) Joan Angel Roman

After starting out his career at Spanish side RCD Espanyol, joining at the age of 10, the Spanish midfielder moved to Manchester City in 2009 at the age of 16 for a mere £1 million. According to the Daily Mail, it was Pablo Zabaleta was initially so impressed with Joan Roman during his time playing for the La Liga side and with his recommendation; the club then purchased the promising midfielder. Yet in his three years spent at the club, Roman’s appearances were limited solely to the reserves and as an unused substitute in the UEFA Cup against Sporting Lisbon.

With first-team football a priority for a player clearly intent on progressing in the game, Roman was presented with the opportunity to move return to his native Spain, describing his move in a series of tweets as ‘not being an easy decision to make’ but ‘the best option’ for his career and subsequently signed a professional contract with Barcelona B. However in a similar fashion to his time at Manchester City, despite a promising start to life in Spain with regular appearances for Barcelona B and a resulting loan move to Villarreal in 2014, Roman only spent three years with Barcelona before joining Sporting Braga after his contract had expired. Since joining the Portuguese side in July 2015, Roman has made a total of six appearances for Braga and has since been loaned out twice to fellow Primeira Liga team Nacional during the latter part of the 2015-16 season and more recently Slask Wroclaw of the Polish Ekstraklasa, where he can be currently found playing.

2) Javier Garrido

Spanish left-back Javier Garrido signed for Manchester City for £1.5 million during the summer of 2007, a period remembered widely for Sven-Göran Eriksson’s overhaul and full-scale rebuilding of the squad. Alongside the likes of Martin Petrov, Geovanni and Vedran Corluka, Garrido joined and played his part in one of City’s best ever starts to the Premier League season with four victories and four clean sheets from the opening six games. Lack of first-team opportunities following competition with Michael Ball for a starting position however meant that his first goal for the club did not come until October 2008, although it was certainly worth the wait with Garrido scoring a memorable free-kick in a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool. Yet as City went from strength to strength, Garrido soon found himself further and further down the pecking order and quickly became confined to the substitute’s bench. From the bench during the first Manchester Derby of the 2009-10 season, you may recall the Spaniard was struck by an object during City’s 4-3 defeat, to which Garrido described the occasion as a ‘climate of hostility’.

Soon Garrido swapped the Premier League for Serie A, joining Lazio following Aleksandar Kolarov’s arrival at the club, for the same price that City had originally paid for him after making 49 appearances. Injuries however seemed to get the better of Garrido and after few first-team opportunities at Lazio, Garrido initially joined Norwich City on loan during the 2012-13 season before making his move permanent a season later. Despite sticking with the Canaries following their relegation from the top flight, Garrido did later move back to his native Spain in 2015 with Las Palmas and can now be found as a first-team regular, flying high at the top of the Cypriot first division with AEK Larnaca.

3) Javi Garcia

A former product of Real Madrid’s youth system and a domestic league and cup winner with Portuguese side SL Benfica, Javi Garcia joined Manchester City in the dying embers of the 2012 summer transfer window for £15.8 million. After scoring in his league debut with a header straight from a Carlos Tevez free-kick in a 1-1 away draw against Stoke City, the future initially looked bright for the Spanish midfielder who was undoubtedly looking to justify his price-tag and become a first-team regular for the club as soon possible. Injuries and several under-par performances did however mean that the jury would soon be on Garcia’s case and with Manuel Pellegrini’s side looking for instant success, Fernandinho’s arrival at the club made an uphill battle for the Spaniard that little bit steeper. The writing proved well and truly to be on the wall after the arrival of FC Porto duo Fernando and Eliaquim Mangala, consequently meaning that not only was Garcia further behind the pecking order for a starting position in his natural midfield role but Mangala’s arrivial all but confirmed that his makeshift performances at centre-back in times were far from the quality City desired.

The final nail in the coffin came with Pellegrini’s squad reductions for the UEFA Champions League and Garcia quickly departed the club after two seasons, joining Russian side Zenit St Petersburg for £12 million plus a further £800,000 in add-ons. Presently Javi Garcia still remains a Zenit player, a mainstay in the Zenit side and featuring regularly in the Champions League during two of his three seasons at the Russian outfit. Yet with regards to his time at City, whether you look back at Garcia during his two years at the club as a player that was only useful for squad rotation or a underwhelming transfer flop, at least he has a Premier League medal to his name and to show for his time in England.

4) Albert Riera

Now cast your mind back 11 years to the 2005-06 season for a real throwback; days where the Etihad Stadium was only ever known as the City of Manchester Stadium, Charlton Athletic finished higher than City in the Premier League and Kelechi Iheanacho would only have been nine years of age. After starting his footballing career in his hometown for RCD Mallorca, City’s Spanish loanee during the 2005-06 season came via Ligue 1 after making over 50 appearances for Bordeaux before earning himself a move back to Spain with RCD Espanyol – that man was Albert Riera. Due to scarce amount of first-team opportunities, Albert Riera was soon loaned out to Manchester City during the 2006 winter transfer window and amassed a total of 15 appearances for the Sky Blues. His only goal for the club came in a 3-0 home victory over Newcastle United with Riera opening the scoring and slotting home with a left-foot finish from 20 yards out.

Although Riera joined on loan with a view to a permanent move, the club however opted not to sign the Spaniard and Riera consequently returned to Spain before embarking on a career which saw the Spaniard return to the Premier League with Liverpool from 2008-10 as well playing in Greece, Turkey and Italy for Olympiacos, Galatasaray and Udinese respectively. Nowadays, at the age of 34, it would be highly unlikely to think that Riera would ever dream of returning for another crack at the English game at any level and without any first-team appearance for current club FC Koper in the Slovenian PrvaLiga this season and a total of 825 minutes played last season, perhaps retirement may soon be on the cards for Albert. Shame really, I always thought he was pretty good – oh what could have been!

5) Denis Suarez

Finally perhaps the player who needs the least of an introduction and can loosely be described as a forgotten Spanish blue could be Denis Suarez, given his well publicised homecoming return to FC Barcelona in the previous transfer window. Conversely after being lured away from Manchester by Barcelona B in 2013, the Spanish midfielder initially disappeared from our radar screens, quietly getting on with business beneath the surface. An impressive season at Sevilla during a loan spell soon led to a permanent move to fellow La Liga competitors Villarreal where Suarez continued his rich vein of form and gradually began to reach his potential. As well as featuring regularly for Villarreal in all competitions, often chipping in which goals, assists and performances which have been largely attributed to helping Villarreal earn European football this season, the master was again reunited with his apprentice at national level, with Denis Suarez replacing former City teammate David Silva in a friendly match against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With all of this in mind, his performances therefore recaptured the imagination of former club Barcelona who exercised their buy back clause this summer, paying a mere €3.5 million and signing Suarez a four year contract. Fittingly, Suarez recently came full circle with his return to the Etihad Stadium during FC Barcelona’s 3-1 away defeat. In light of Suarez’ comments to The Guardian, describing City s transforming from an ‘English club’ during his time there, to a much more ‘globalised club’ at present, it would seem that his departure not only came at the right time but proved the right decision for both parties. As Manchester City have gone from strength to strength, it has however been both refreshing and in a strange rewarding to see one of our own to reach their full potential, making waves for both club and country. And if he is ever in search of first-team football, I am sure just like FC Barcelona did this Summer, a buy back would certainly not be out of the question for Manchester City… would it?

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