Three years of battling off the drop is beginning to take its toll on management in Osasuna. The players have decided that they might actually want to show they can play professionally though…
This has to be the most frustrating job I’ve ever done. It’s been five years and the only tangible progress we’ve made is getting promoted and improving on our league position once. Every green shoot of progress always seems to get cut down in the New Year and then it’s reboot and try again. At this point it just feels like I’m throwing sh*t at a wall and hoping something sticks. Mind you some of the players we’ve had have been sh*t *cough* Menno Koch *cough*.
Now, since I’m five years in as well, I’ve realised that I’ve skipped over large parts of important information that people might find interesting. Things like youth intake and just a little more detail in general might make this a more enjoyable read so I’ve decided to segment it so I don’t miss anything out. I’d probably suggest getting comfortable and maybe a drink as well because this could take a while.
As is my way, I identified needs straight away. We need defenders. We’ve needed defenders since we got into the top flight. So naturally I ignored that completely and blew my load on wingers. I’m not even kidding. We’ll get to that though.
First in the door were the Bosmans – Macedonian attacker Aleksandar Trajkovski from Genk and Portuguese midfielder Leandro Silva from Trabzonspor. Trajkovski was appealing because of his versatility. He could play across the front four and in a variety of roles and he had the ability to perform them all to a decent level. For a squad player he was perfect. Silva was added for his ability. He was a guy I felt could be a midfield star for us especially with my faith in Antonio Otegui wavering horribly after his red card spate last season.
Then I had money to burn and burn it I did. In one go. On a winger. I need to get my head seen to I think. Anyway, Cali Daniel was brought in from Vitesse for an eye-watering £3.7 million. Breaking the bank over here. At 21, he has room to grow but he can play out wide and up top which was an added bonus. He should be good.
Next in were two loan signings – left back Issiaga Sylla from Bordeaux and centre back Joachim van Damme from Derby. Sylla was a long-term target of mine and unwanted at Bordeaux so, with Jonathan Parr’s reign of terror aging, I brought in an actual replacement two seasons too late. van Damme on the other hand was a panic loan. I had limited funds and he was the best I could get. That he barely played in the Championship meant nothing, I needed a centre back.
Then I found some change down the back of the sofa and threw £700,000 at Real Betis for left winger Ignacio Abeledo. He was cheap and unwanted and looked decent enough so I thought why not? He can’t be terrible right?
This summer was not one of mass exit. Rather ineffective, expensive backups were moved on and youngsters who needed games were loaned to clubs where they would play. Permanent departures started with the sale of Miguel Olavide. Almeria gave me £375,000 for a player that literally had no goals or assists from midfield for over two seasons. An original player at the club he somehow managed to con a paycheck as I convinced myself he’d come good. He did not.
Then a couple of sadder departures to Granada for a combined £1.2 million. First out was Matej Pucko. The Slovenian had been a loyal servant since the first day I’d arrived but last season was a really poor one for him and he wasn’t going to take us to the next level so to get £825,000 for him was a good deal for me.
Following Pucko to the regional television station was Italian defender Simone Benedetti. Shored up our backline to help us to promotion and a solid servant in the top tier, he wanted to be a first team regular and I couldn’t guarantee him that at all. Granada were interested and bid £400,000 and Simone was off. Gone but fondly remembered.
The loans contained the usual truck load of lower league loans but the notable names to look out for as loanees are midfielder Gorka Perez to Belenenses in Portugal, Pedro Jose Miguel and Oscar Perez to Alcorcon and Andoni Martin to Cadiz. All of them and a couple more will be covered when I talk about the academy later on.
Honestly, this may have been one of the most frustrating starts and I honestly thought this would be the final killer season for me at Osasuna. An opening day defeat at newly promoted Getafe in stoppage time was sickening as was the defeats in Betis and Barcelona. We also managed to be edged out by Valencia at El Sadar but wins over Las Palmas and Villarreal kept us out of the drop zone early on.
A home draw with a good Atletico Madrid side was a positive as was the consecutive wins over newly promoted sides Real Oviedo and Murcia but consecutive defeats to Athletic and Sevilla put us back in our place. So far, so predicatable. It’s not that we were bad, it’s that we were stagnating despite some of the talent at my disposal. It just wasn’t enjoyable for anyone. Then Tenerife happened.
To set the scene for you, Tenerife have bugged me since I got into the top tier. Their narrow 4-3-3 always was a pain in the backside and I could never quite seem to figure out how to beat them. Until that fateful early November meeting. I decided that the only way to take them on was to play them at their own game and then take the game to them. A high tempo, attacking 4-3-3 was set up for this one game as a test of what my team could do and boy did they respond. Tenerife (sitting third at the time) couldn’t handle our speed of movement and willingness to cover huge distances. Mo Yattara, William Burgos and Cali Daniel ran riot up front and we blitzed them 4-1. It was amazing and the launching point for one of the most incredible seasons I’ve ever seen.
It got off to a stuttering start as we had to salvage a 2-2 draw at Celta in the last ten minutes before throwing away a lead to lose at Espanyol. It wasn’t that we played bad, we just couldn’t defend. It was almost helpful that we had a cup game against second tier Almeria next. We smashed them from pillar to post with Mo Yattara scoring FIVE in a 6-2 away win. I watched in amazement wondering if this was the same side that had fumble f*cked it’s way to near relegation three time. Three more wins followed over Levante, Eibar and Almeria again without conceding before a draw at Granada saw us end the year in tenth with much promise ahead.
Then January happened…
January saw four first team departures for varying reasons. First out the door was, rather sadly, Keko. The winger who had served us brilliantly for four and a half seasons was sold to French side Tolouse for an initial £1.1 million that could go to £1.5 million with clauses. It was a hard choice to make for me personally because he was a brilliant Bosman signing but the change in system had to come with a cost and no wingers meant no place for Keko despite a couple of experiments at full back that went averagely.
Next out was vice-captain Roberto Torres on a free. Another original member of the side, he’d been a brilliant leader and inspiration in midfield but he came to me in October saying he wanted a new challenge and I allowed it as he was way down the pecking order anyway. CSMS Iasi of Romania were the side that convinced him to join in the end. He didn’t leave though until the 25th though which was handy as we had a couple of injuries in midfield. Antonio Otegui became vice-captain in his place.
The other free departure was Jonathan Parr. Another deal done early, he left technically at the start of February for Poland’s Lechia Gdansk. How he’d hung on so long is a testament to my inability to actually buy players I need and blow my money on players that are not very good. Four and a half seasons of terror over as the Norwegian is gone.
And that, I assumed was that. The Spanish window had closed on the 29th and I settled in for the rest of the season. We’d heard teams sniffing around the likes of Burgos and Otegui but we’d kept them and I was happy. Then Dortmund activated Otegui’s release clause on their deadline day and within a week I had lost two vice-captains. I was £14.75 million richer but my god it stung and it stung hard. They just ripped him away from me and I was heartbroken. Despite last season, he’d calmed down and was playing the best football of his career. And now he was gone and I only had free agents to get some cover now. Ugh. Drazen Begic is now vice-captain.
Busy on the outs and I was a little busy on the ins as well. I decided to do some personal scouting of national teams around the world to find some talent and boy did I find some. The main one for Osasuna anyway was the signing of Japanese international centre back Shintaro Tasaka from Ballena Shizuoka for just £475,000. At 18, he’s a decent La Liga centre back and at 6’6″ he reminds me of Drazen Begic and if he turns out to be half as good as Begic then I’ll be happy.
Next in was a bit of a punt in Amadou Sidibe from Lens for £350,000. Another 18 year old, the Frenchman was wanted by Barcelona, Real Madrid and many, many more but I swooped in quick after seeing a news item on him and then realising he was transfer listed. Probably going to be the best signing I ever make in terms of value and resale profit.
Then I brought in two central midfielders on frees just as cover since we lost Otegui. First was Joe Allen who, at 31, is actually a bit of a coup for us. We cut a decent deal and he looks to have all the tools Otegui had. Also in was Slovakan Juraj Kucka as a player-coach. He was a panic buy. He’s just kind of there. He’s not terrible but I’d be surprised if he lasts past the summer.
After Christmas, we got given a right doozy of a schedule. First, we managed to beat Real Sociedad away from home 2-1 as we rolled on and then had to deal with two cup games with Barcelona sandwiching a home tie with Real Madrid. Two creditable home draws and a narrow defeat at the Nou Camp were promising as we exited the Copa del Rey in the Fifth Round once more.
We recovered from that by getting revenge on Getafe with academy player Pablo Herrera scoring his first senior goal for the club. Inconsistency reared its ugly head though as we lost at home to Betis because we couldn’t take our chances before a wonderful rearguard peformance led by Begic to get a 1-0 win at Villarreal before we got demolished 3-0 at Las Palmas.
Now in past seasons that defeat in early February would send us spiraling down the table and into a relegation battle but not this season. That Las Palmas defeat was our last one for 14 games as we put together one of the most ridiculous unbeaten runs I’ve ever seen. We were unfortunate to draw with Barcelona – a last second Busquets goal being the kicker – before a battling 0-0 with Valencia and coming from two down at Atletico. We eased past Murcia before five consecutive draws left us lingering in ninth place but with a small gap to sixth and seventh.
We were ready to pounce and the away game against Tenerife was a nice test to see how far we had come and if we were serious about this run of form. We tore them apart again. 4-1 was flattering to the home side as William Burgos ran them ragged. A good win at Levante was followed by a 5-2 home mauling of struggling Granada that featured a Burgos hat-trick. A late win over Sociedad followed too to leave us with a real chance of European football thanks to Emyr Huws’ first ever goal for the club.
A dull 0-0 at Eibar left us a point ahead of Tenerife in eighth and with Barcelona and Athletic contesting the cup final and both already in Europe, it meant seventh was now a Europa League spot. It was between us and Tenerife. They were at home, we were away. They had Atletico, we had Real. It was a tense final day and the boys crumbled in the first half. Two down at half time and it should have been seven or eight. Memphis and Martial were horrendous finishers and we clawed it back in the second half through Herrera and Burgos before a late goal from a set piece meant we lost 3-2. It didn’t matter though as Tenerife could only draw and we qualified for the Europa League! Seriously!
William Burgos – 41 games, 19 goals, 12 assists, 7.40
This season was Burgos’ coming out party. 19 goals and 12 assists are both Osasuna records according to the game while his nine man of the matches are also a record. He was consistently brilliant all season, a wonderful all-round player who, at 21, is destined for the top. I knew. when he signed at 18, we had something special and this season he’s shown the world he is special and the world wants him now sadly. His £15 million release clause will more than likely be met by one of the bigger sides sniffing around and we can’t give him what he wants financially so this will probably be a goodbye sadly. Voted Player and Young Player of the Season by the fans
Drazen Begic – 36 games, 1 assist, 7.24
The heart of our defence is maturing into one of the best centre backs in La Liga. Hard to believe he’s 23 but he’s been with us for four years now and has rarely missed a game or a step. Commanding and excellent, he’s marshaled the defence to its best performance under me and did so impressively. Earned a new deal at the end of the season for his efforts.
Carlos Vigaray – 24 games, 2 assists, 7.50
The best average rating at the club goes to Vigaray who shared right back duties with Bunuel once again this season. Our new system lends itself to high ratings for full backs but Vigaray has certainly shown his worth to me with his performances this season. One of the most competitive position battles we have.
Aitor Bunuel – 24 games, 5 assists, 7.35
The other right back in the squad, Bunuel had another top season. The product of the academy had been here since the start and offers far more going forward than Vigaray with plenty room to improve as well.
Special mention too for Mo Yattara who bagged 17 goals in all competitions this season. For someone who might have been a three month wonder story like Titi Camara, he’s proven that he’s worthy of being part of our team outscoring the supposedly better Felipe Pardo massively.
Felipe Pardo – 20 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 6.77
The Colombian had a great start to his career after signing last summer but now he’s just overpaid and sits on the bench. Had a spell where he looked like he was recovering some form but that quickly died along with any hope he has of staying past this summer. A major disappointment.
Emyr Huws – 31 games, 1 goal, 6.97
This might seem harsh but for me this was the season where Huws went from a starter to a squad player which is never a good thing. Very rarely trusted now to start despite getting his first goal for the club. Will be kept around though as he wasn’t terrible, just a disappointing year for him.
Leandro Silva – 7
The Portuguese midfielder had a rough start to his time with us, playing about four or five games due to injury and poor form in the first half of the season but the change of system and a run in the side meant he got his confidence back and flourished in our midfield three. Injuries were his only issue but hopefully he continues in the same vein.
Aleksandar Trajkovski – 6
Split duty with Cali Daniel as the false nine mostly which means he only got five goals and five assists but an OK debut season. When he played well, he was a creative menace however he can also be hopelessly anonymous.
Cali Daniel – 6
The step up in class was handled decently by Daniel but his form tailed off badly at the end of the season. Floats in and out of games and can inconsistent, something which will hopefully change over time.
Issiaga Sylla – 8
What a signing Sylla was on loan. Started shakily but very quickly established himself as number one at left back. Played almost every game and was excellent defensively and getting forward. His performances mean cutting another deal with Bordeaux was almost impossible.
Joachim van Damme – 6
Hit and miss really. van Damme to his credit did better than I expected him to and early on did well beside Begic. The reemergence of David Garcia and the arrival of Tasaka pushed down the order and when he came back in, he didn’t quite hit the levels again. Will not be returning.
Ignacio Abeledo – 5
Harshly. Did well when he played in the beginning but a long injury followed by a change in system meant he was the odd one out. Tried to reintegrate him into the team but he just didn’t work or fit what we now do. Will probably leave in the summer.
Shintaro Tasaka – 5
Getting to grips with Spain is how his arrival can be described. Played at the Nou Camp and Bernabeu already and should come good but for now he needs to adapt to the rigours and higher quality of La Liga.
Amadou Sidibe – 7
If he goes on like this Sidibe will be incredible. It’s easy to see why big clubs wanted him and hard to fathom why Lens sold on the cheap. Hard working professional with incredible quality, £350,000 is tantamount to robbery for the French youth international.
Joe Allen – 6
Did OK but took a little bit to get match fit as he’d been without a club for six months. Damaged his spine at Eibar but has a summer to recover. Promising.
Juraj Kucka – 2
He was… just… there really.
I thought I’d touch on the youth academy we have because there are a couple of names that might become familiar in the next couple of seasons. The intakes have been very poor mostly with a few exceptions. Jesus Maria Martinez is vying for the number one jersey, Aitor Simon was sold for a hefty fee after impressing in the first team, Ibon Jaka was sold young and is making waves at Athletic – all products of our academy.
There are also a couple of huge talents that should be promoted this season. Gorka Perez, who spent the season on loan in Portugal, had a top year and has already played ten games in La Liga and he will add depth in midfield. Andoni Martin and Oscar Lopez are two talented defenders who are close to making the breakthrough while Pedro Jose Miguel (signed last season) has first team experience.
The academy also has exciting prospects in midfielder Igor Vera and full back Andoni Lopez. There are a couple of disappointing stories too – Igor Lopez is now 20 and has not kicked on despite playing some first team football while midfielder Angel Santamaria’s lack of application has hurt his potential.
Improvements are being done to the facilities which hopefully should increase our chances of more home-grown talents.
European football is coming to Osasuna next season and I’ve already made two exciting signings. Well, I made them in February when we got loads of money from the sale of Otegui. Anyway, first we have Spanish left back Benito Cascallar costing me a cool £3.8 million from Deportivo in the second tier. He looks to be a pretty good young full back and he’s played plenty games for Depor so I’m excited.
I’ve also signed Ukrainian Ivan Godovanyi from Chornomorets on a Bosman. He’s 18 and look at some of those stats! He’s going to be brilliant I think.
Anyway that’s all from this part of The Osasuna Adventure. Thanks for sticking with this post til the end and stay tuned to see how badly we falter next season.
That’s got me thinking. I could make a TV show about this – It’s Always Optimistic At Osasuna!