It’s no secret that things didn’t quite work out for Borja Valero during his sojourn in English football.
Signed by West Bromwich Albion for £4.7 million back in 2008, the Throstles figured they had stumbled upon a gem of the European game. A product of the Real Madrid academy coming off a sterling season for Real Mallorca in La Liga, Valero had the pedigree and the momentum to be a genuine success in England.
However, while the Baggies are today held up as a shining example of a club that knows how to make the most of European talent and understands the virtue of maximising its resources, Valero’s brief stint in England gave little indication of their prudence. The prospect of playing in the Championship didn’t appeal, and despite initially professing his loyalty to the club, he was soon off.
Following his unhappy year, he returned to Spain, initially with Mallorca and subsequently Villarreal. Gradually, his confidence returned, and he once more began to display the talents that had prompted the Albion to shell out for him previously.
His form earned him a call-up to the Spanish national team—a genuine feat when one considers their plethora of talented central midfielders and the culture of success and triumph that had developed among the incumbents back in 2011. He was also named Spanish Player of the Year in 2010, the last-ever figure to receive the accolade.
Following El Submarino Amarillo’s relegation in 2012, Valero sought pastures new and once again decided to try his hand in another of Europe’s major leagues. He was part of a mass exodus from the Spanish side to Fiorentina, joining teammates Giuseppe Rossi and Gonzalo Rodriguez in swapping Castellon for Tuscany.
As he is now 28, it is a case of now-or-never if Valero wants to finally realise the potential that made him so admired as a youngster and play at the highest level of European competition.
His influence in Italy this season has been admirable. While several players have contributed to Fiorentina’s reputation for stylish, attacking football, Borja has been one of the club’s chief creative figures. He currently sits third in Serie A’s assists chart—behind only Marek Hamsik and Francesco Totti—and has dovetailed beautifully with other talents such as Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic.
With his sterling work this season having pushed the Viola into fourth place in the table, it may be that he can feature in the Champions League without having to switch teams. Only three teams qualify from the Italian top flight, but with Fiorentina sitting only one point behind an unconvincing Milan team, they are likely to fancy their chances over the remaining four games.
Failure to take third spot may mean a search for pastures new. Arsenal have been linked to the playmaker—who could certainly act as a replacement for the ageing Mikel Arteta, while the reported squad overhaul to take place at Manchester City this summer could well offer an English return for the one-time Spanish international.
Could the addition of Valero add some stability and clarity to a midfield that has, at times, been overrun and caught out of sorts this season? And could his signing perhaps give Yaya Toure the licence to roam forward as he did so devastatingly last season? Gareth Barry, Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell are unlikely to be the men to wrest the title back from Manchester United, while Valero could give City an added impetus and intelligence in Europe.
It has also been reported that Tottenham Hotspur have sent scouts to assess the midfielder’s suitability to Andres Villas-Boas’s North London project. While the playmaker may well fit into AVB’s cosmopolitan approach, Spurs aren’t exactly short of central midfield talent—Sandro, Moussa Dembele, Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, Gareth Bale, Lucas Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jake Livermore have all, at times, been in contention for central-midfield berths.
Bearing in mind that the Portuguese manager has occasionally opted for a 4-4-2 this season, it becomes hard to imagine a concrete future for Valero at White Hart Lane.
He may not be the strongest player around, but Valero can both dazzle with his long-range passing, and effectively recycle the play and keep a team in motion with his closer involvement. He is also a terrific reader of the game and perceptively develops his side’s approach to a contest through a measured and delicate involvement.
Football Italiano have suggested that £10 million might be a reasonable asking price for the player, and while this seems a little steep for a 28-year-old who has already failed to make the grade in England, the inference is that players of Valero’s composure and unruffled diligence are fairly hard to uncover.
Ultimately, Champions League or no Champions League, it may be that Valero remains in Tuscany. The player’s agent has indicated that he has no desire to exchange Serie A for the Premier League, and indeed, having experienced tough times previously in his career, may be hesitant to risk it all again for the uncertainty of a new setting.
Clearly, the process of leaving Segunda-bound Villarreal was an emotional wrench for Valero, and so the sensible money ought to be on the Spaniard sticking rather than twisting. England’s loss may well be the Viola’s gain.