Depth of leagues across Europe is a conversation that has become more prominent over the past few years, as the debate as to which league is the best rages on. Traditionally, La Liga has been a league with incredible depth despite Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid being the only teams to win titles in the last 10 years. Outside of the top three, the race for the final Champions League spot becomes closer every year. The three Europa League spots are contested between an average of 7 teams, as demonstrated last year.
But below this race for Europe there is a wealth of talent that goes unnoticed. Either because they are veterans that have plied their trade in the lower reaches of the league for the majority of their careers, have moved to other leagues before returning or have simply dropped out of the academies of bigger clubs to further their experience. Spain has always had a tremendous depth of player talent due to the large amount of talent that processes through the academies of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia only to not make it to first team level and drop to smaller clubs. Below are 4 players from the bottom reaches of La Liga who are set to make a name for themselves this year.
Ruben Castro – Real Betis
For those who have watched La Liga for a long time, Ruben Castro is a familiar name having played for Real Betis for the last six years as their main striker. Despite his advancing years Castro recorded his best goal scoring return for Betis last year in La Segunda with a 32 goal haul. This earned him the famous ‘Pichichi’ trophy and as Betis return to the first division after a years exodus they will rely heavily on his goals. Despite being the apple of Betis fans eyes, Castro is a controversial figure who was booed extensively in their relegation year for a seeming lack of effort, and had a charge pressed against him for domestic violence. The return of Joaquin, and transfer of Rafael van der Vaart will ensure that Castro has plenty of creativity behind him as he looks to keep Betis up this season.
Patrick Ebert – Rayo Vallecano
Another familiar name for those who watch Spanish football, Ebert will be remembered for his two year stint with Real Valladolid. The German joins Rayo Vallecano on a two year deal from Spartak Moscow and seems to suit the madness that comes with the Madrid club. He was sent off during his second appearance for Rayo for foul and abusive language towards an official as they lost 3-1 at home to Deportivo La Coruna. However, Ebert does possess a lot of talent, and was by far the standout player for a particularly dull Valladolid team in their relegation year. He has electrifying pace and can operate down either flank, as with many wingers Ebert players with a lot of flair and incorporates a lot of skill into his game. Ebert will certainly add some spice to the expansive football that is already played by Paco Jemez’ team.
Alen Halilovic – Sporting Gijon
Halilovic joins Sporting Gijon on loan from FC Barcelona for the season to gain some vital experience as the Catalan club try to mould him into the next Andres Iniesta. Despite reported interest from West Ham, the Croatian joins the recently promoted Asturians and immediately becomes one of their key players. Gijon have retained the squad that gave them promotion back into the top flight, and frustrated Real Madrid with an opening day 0-0 draw. Halilovic will bring creativity and control to a team whose main objective is to stay in the league. Despite not scoring in the league as yet, Gijon will rely on Halilovic’s guile, pace and vision to create chances for them. Capped for the senior Croatian side at 17 years old.
Juan Carlos Valerón – UD Las Palmas
Off the coast of Spain, on the island of Gran Canaria a 40 year old legend embarks on what could be his final season in La Liga. Juan Carlos Valeron is best remembered for his magnificent displays in a Deportivo La Coruna shirt during the early 2000’s as their team experienced significant success in the Champions League and domestically under the tutelage of Javier Irureta. Valeron is a creative midfielder, with pin point passing and immense technical ability, who can can find and create space despite his advancing years. He continues to play a key role in a UD Las Palmas team who have just rejoined La Liga following their promotion. Las Palmas’ squad is comprised of players who hail from the Island and his wealth of experience will be key in their survival. Alongside the likes of Jonathan Viera, goal scorer Sergio Araujo and Nabil El Zhar, UD promise to be an exciting team to watch.
About the Author – Ben Jarman
Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.