Last season was underpinned by what many people thought of as the “Spanish Experiment”. Blues had a Spanish head coach, two Spanish assistant head coaches in Paco Herrera and Alberto Escobar and former Cornella boss Xavi Calm nominally taking charge of the under-23s.
On the pitch Blues brought in Alvaro Gimenez and Fran Villalba into the first team along with Miguel Fernandez and Moha Ramos into the reserves. There was even room for two slightly odd transfers in Agus Medina and Ivan Guzman who both ended up playing for Cornella before the season was out.
Of all those players and coaches only Fernandez and Medina remain at the club, although technically Ivan Guzman and Fran Villalba are still Blues players while loaned out for the season.
For many, the “Spanish Experiment” ended in abject failure.
I don’t believe this is true – and I think this season it’s possible that the club is reaping the benefits of what it learned last year.
In Aitor Karanka, Blues have a Spanish head coach again; however, unlike Clotet, Karanka comes to the club with a good coaching pedigree.
More importantly, it appears that Karanka has the spine that Clotet apparently lacked, pushing back against Blues CEO Ren Xuandong to create a more equal top-level partnership at the club.
Likewise, while it’s early days the capture of Ivan Sanchez looks to be a good one.
Although Villalba clearly had talent, it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it for very long. Some might blame his girlfriend for being a bit overbearing, but the truth is that Villalba struggled to settle in at Blues and was homesick before 2019 was out.
Sanchez is a little bit older than Villalba, and my hope is with that age comes some maturity and experience. Sanchez has played far more league games than Villalba prior to joining Blues (310 vs 120) and far more at the Spanish Segunda Division level (126 vs 39) which hopefully means Sanchez will be readier for the rigours of the Championship and Birmingham life.
Blues haven’t stopped looking at young players from Spain either.
News broke on Monday that Oriol Soldevila has been taken on trial after his release from the Barcelona Juvenil A side.
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder previously played for Cornella’s youth side and in all probability will have come on the recommendation of Cornella’s general director Andreas Manzano, who serves as an advisor to Blues.
Cornella have been pushing the quality of their academy, with this piece on Sky Sports from August talking about how many graduates of the Cornella youth system end up at La Masia.
While not every player is going to come off, I’m personally glad that Blues are persevering with this route for players.
There have been some weird transfers as a result of the Spanish partnership Blues have – I’m still waiting for Bernard Sun to set the world alight – but there is a chance that this partnership could be of real benefit to Blues.