One could claim that there hasn’t truly been a world class left-back in global football since the days of Roberto Carlos and Paolo Maldini, however Valencia seemingly has a production line of excellent left-back after excellent left-back for the past few years; perhaps the most successful of these being Jordi Alba, a key component of both Barcelona and Spain.
What is also particularly interesting is that Valencia have never been able to hold onto these players, thus the need to continuously produce decent left-backs whilst a bonus, is also a necessity.
It’s not a great surprise that Valencia is producing such good players so often with their youth team or ‘cantera’ being regarded as one of the best in the world, they are of course the club that produced David Silva and Juan Mata along with current madridista Isco.
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As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Silva, Mata and Isco are all of the same position, an attacking midfield of sorts, however I would say this is more of a cultural thing, as Spain as a nation is famous for producing brilliant attacking midfielders, the case of the left-back is something much more curious.
1. Jordi Alba
First off the production line of Valencian left-backs is perhaps the most famous of them, Barcelona’s Jordi Alba. Jordi Alba Ramos, whilst initially part of Barcelona’s youth set up from ages 9-16 years old, he was released by Barcelona aged 16.
Following this disappointment Alba would go on to join Los Che where his true footballing career would develop. Alba made his debut for Valencia in 2008 under manager Unai Emery and would go on to make 26 total appearances for the club in his debut season. When he first began to play for Valencia he was often battling with Frenchman and now fellow Barcelona teammate Jérémy Mathieu for the position of left-back, hence his low league appearances in hist first season (just 15).
It wasn’t until Alba’s second and third season that he truly made the left-back position his own, not only this but he began to develop a much more well rounded style of play, with Emery allowing him to venture forward as a marauding wing back rather than a defensive full back. It was also at Valencia that Alba made his debut for La Roja’s (Spain’s international squad). Ever since his debut in 2011 against Scotland, Alba has announced himself as somewhat undroppable, fitting in to Spain’s style of play effortlessly, no doubt due to his footballing education with both Barcelona and Valencia.
With Spain he has won the 2012 Euro Championship, scoring a goal in the final against Italy completely typical of both Alba and the national team, a lightning fast counter attack finished with a sublime, weight perfect pass from Xavi onto the seemingly tireless number 18, Jordi Alba.
Alba’s story with Valencia unfortunately finishes there, his goal in the final confirmed his status as one of the leading full backs in the country, and with that Barcelona snapped him up for €14 million in the summer of 2012, having made 110 appearances for Valencia and having scored six goals. Jordi Alba has gone on to make 114 appearances for Barcelona since his transfer along with 35 appearances for Spain.
2. Juan Bernat
And so with Alba gone, Valencia needed to replace him and much rather than looking into the transfer market for a replacement, they instead looked internally at their ‘cantera’ and found Juan Bernat Velasco.
Bernat was quite the opposite of Alba, whereas Alba started off defensively and eventually pushed further forward, Bernat was initially a left winger who around the 2012/2013 season became more of a full back rather than winger. However Bernat was only part of Valencia’s first team for three seasons and made considerably less appearances than Alba with 74 total appearances. This does not lessen his quality though as the reason he made less appearances is simply that he was picked up much quicker, this time by Bavarian power house Bayern Munich in the summer of 2014, signing a five year contract.
This has been Bernat’s first season for Bayern Munich, and one would have to regard it as a huge success. Juan Bernat has made developed into one of Bayern’s most important players, making 43 appearances in total, and playing the second most amount of minutes in the whole squad, only bested by ‘keeper Manuel Neuer. Not only that but Bernat makes on average the third highest amount of tackles in the squad and racking up a very impressive 90.3% successful pass percentage. Bernat’s breakthrough at both Valencia and Bayern Munich has also gained him international recognition, having now played for Spain six times, however the left-back position is still his Valencian predecessor, Jordi Alba!
3. José Luis Gayà
José Luis Gayà is perhaps the most exciting of the three discussed here, this is mainly because he is still at Valencia and is still very young at 20 years old, even I’m older than him! Albeit only by 16 months…Gaya’s development into a left-back is the most interesting of the three as well, having previously played as a striker and successfully scoring over 60 goals in one season as a youth player! However, as is the trend, Gaya was convinced to start playing left-back and I doubt he has looked back.
Considering this has been Gaya’s first venture into the starting 11 he has done remarkably well, notching up 35 appearances, with two goals and an impressive six assists which is the joint highest in the squad, considering he’s a left-back this is very impressive indeed. Not only is Gaya a threat going forward (also attempting 0.9 dribbles on average per game) he is also very solid at the back, with the second highest amount of tackles per game with 2.8.
One could argue that Gaya had a great deal to do with Valencia’s successful season, coming third in La Liga, fittingly scoring the third highest amount in the league as well as conceding the third least. Luckily for Valencia it looks like Gaya will be staying for at least another season as well, having recently signed a five year deal with the club. Gaya no doubt will continue to impress and soon will be contesting the left-back position at an international level, personally I have a soft spot for Gaya as I’ve managed him on football manager a lot!
These three left-backs are all exceptional players within their own right and all will continue to make a considerable impact on both spanish and continental football in the upcoming season. Not only this but Gaya already has an understudy, Antonio Latorre, yet to make his debut for Valencia but I have heard nothing but good things, hopefully he can continue in the shape of these three successes.
The future is certainly bright for Los Che.