There was a time when most La Liga to English Premier League transfers could be mapped to the top six or seven clubs in England’s top tier. However, with their ever-increasing TV revenues, English teams from lower reaches in the table have also started attracting talent from the Spanish top tier over the last five-six years. During the 2015-16 season, Stoke City fans started calling their team Stokecelona, as their team had more La Masia graduates than Barcelona’s first team. Swansea played very attractive football and won the League Cup in 2013 when Michu in attack and Chico Flores in defence lit up their season. It seems this season it is Watford’s turn to bring in talent from Spain.
It began with Watford appointing Javi Gracia in January 2018, immediately after sacking the “distracted” Marco Silva. Gracia had extensive management experience including at Malaga in the Spanish league and Rubin Kazan in Russia. Between June 2016 and June 2017, he had managed Rubin through 34 games, getting 1.38 points per game. Prior to that stint, Gracia had managed Malaga for 84 games between 2014 and 2016, with his team getting 1.26 points per game. He has also managed teams such as Osasuna and UD Almeria in the Segunda division as well as in La Liga. Gracia has also managed Greek team AO Kerkyra in the Greek Super League for 21 games. Clearly, Gracia brought all the experience that Watford needed to make sure that they did not have to fear relegation too much. Now that his target for the 2017-18 season is met, the Spaniard is looking to improve the Hornets’ position in 2018-19 and it seems that he trusts his compatriots to accomplish this.
Gerard Deulofeu – Barcelona and AC Milan Pedigree
The Spaniard’s first transfer move in January was to bring in Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona on loan. Watford have now signed the La Masia graduate on a permanent, long-term deal. While Deulofeu has appeared 29 times for Barcelona, including 17 times during the first half of last season, getting first-team football, where the likes of Messi, Dembele and now Coutinho play on the wings was always going to be tough.
While Deulofeu is a versatile attacking midfielder who can play on either wing or behind the striker, he has played most of his football in the attacking midfield on the right or as a right wing forward. Other than the obvious pedigree that comes with being a La Masia graduate, Deulofeu also brings with him the experience of playing across multiple leagues. He has experience of playing in the Premier League when he was on loan at Everton for one and half seasons between 2015-16 and 2016-17. The first season in that spell was actually very productive for Deulofeu as he provided 8 assists and scored 2 goals in 26 appearances. However, by the second spell, the goals and assists dried up, which in turn saw him being loaned out to AC Milan. At Milan, in the second half of 2016-17, he scored 4 goals and assisted 3.
When Dembele was injured at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Deulofeu had the chance to establish himself at Barcelona but he failed in doing so, resulting in him being loaned to Watford for the second half of the season. While he was not as successful as he had been at Everton and AC Milan initially – scored only one goal in seven appearances, Javi Gracia did see merit in signing him for a longer term. Both Deulofeu and Garcia will be hoping that the winger has a better second season at Vicarage Road.
Marc Navarro from Espanyol
After completing the Deulofeu deal, the Hornets or possibly Garcia turned towards another Spaniard and La Masia Graduate. The Hornets signed Marc Navarro from Espanyol earlier this month. The 22-year old has appeared 36 times for Barcelona’s local rivals in the last two season, scoring three goals and assisting one during that time.
Navarro progressed through the youth system at Barcelona before moving to the local rivals Espanyol at 16. He is a talented full-back who can also play in central defence. For Espanyol during the last season, he put in 0.8 crosses per game, while he also put in 0.5 key passes per game i.e. he enabled a shot every other game. In his core job of defence, he was equally effective as he put in 1.1 tackles per game while intercepting 1.2 passes per game while putting in 0.6 clearances and 0.3 blocks per game. Clearly, he is something who can put in a no-nonsense defensive shift, while also offering a slight attacking threat.
It does seem likely that imports from La Liga are going to play a significant role at Watford in 2018-19 and possibly beyond. While Javi Gracia has brought in two La Liga players early in the transfer window, further moves from La Liga to Vicarage Road cannot be ruled out. It will be interesting to see how many La Masia graduates end up at Watford this season.