Growing up, Spanish football has always been the pinnacle for me. Funnily, it was the Barcelona side of the late 1990s – not the proudest part of the club’s history – that first triggered this. Even the national side was nowhere near delivering the promise it had shown with the quality of its football. But still I could reel off many of the biggest names in Spanish football of the time – Luis Enrique, RIvaldo, Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, The De Boer twins, Phillip Cocu, Ruud Hesp, Sergi Barjuan, Juan Antonio Pizzi, Albert Ferrer. As strange as it may seem, these names do evoke some fond memories in me. I can’t explain it myself, but maybe it was the language or the smattering of holidays in the region growing up.
As such, having a player internationally recognised by Spain felt like a bigger deal to me than someone being in the England squad. I’m not an England fan, never have been and won’t be unless there’s Wolverhampton Wanderers representation in there. Spain, especially in recent years have been the epitome of international excellence and one day I dreamed of seeing a player schooled in the Iberian playing style gracing the Molineux turf. A balding, slowing Fernando Gomez was a fleeting memory in my youth and I hold vaguest memories of an outrageous goal at home from his glorious left peg, but it didn’t quite satisfy my need for us to make a truly stellar Spanish signing.
With the rising watermark of talent in Spain, this always felt a bit of a pipe dream until Fosun arrived. Now, after years of waiting, we have our active Spain international. Not only that, he made his debut after joining Wolves, a feather in our own cap. That this particular Spanish international is about as Spanish in playing style as a shaven-headed Kevin Muscat matters not to me. We’ve got Jonny, duh duh durra duh duh….
Whatever the legitimacy of our dealings with Atletico Madrid and the signing of players who never play for the club themselves, you can see in Diogo Jota and Jonny, they are both men after Diego Simeone’s heart. This is what tells me they are absolute coups, and in the case of Jonny especially, a man who I imagine would walk into Atletico’s side and leave no sense of anything lacking.
Firstly, he looks like he’s been carved out of granite. His looks certainly don’t befit a man of his youth, but there’s an honesty, integrity and general sense of grit from his receding hairline, plain looks and bulging calves (seriously, next time you see him play just look at his calves). Not the dainty little playmaker you might expect from the Iberian Peninsula.
That we’ve been able to make him a permanent signing owes as much to him as it does to our newfound wealth and lofty league position. Reel off a collection of his greatest hits from his performances this season and you begin to paint a picture of a player who is at his best against the best. Man City (H), Manchester United (A), Arsenal (A), Tottenham Hotspur (A). Yes, there is an argument that more could be done against some of the lesser lights, but his recent showings against Everton and West Ham are proof that he is developing the offensive side of his game.
There’s an old ‘proper football men’ story about Des Walker in the late 80s/early 90s, that he would offer up a rendition of the song fans would affectionately sing about him, to the striker he would be marking during a game. “You’ll never beat Des Walker…”, he’d whisper into their ear. I’d wager Jonny could get away with the same kind of behaviour. I’m yet to see him beaten in a one-on-one situation and his most striking attribute is his sharpness over a couple of yards, which allows him to press extremely effectively and counter any forward with any level of agility. See how he had a direct impact on a number of our attacks at Goodison Park, simply by his enthusiasm, intelligence and physical power in the high press. He’s a player who offers a basic consistency in some of the basics of defending, which are too often taken for granted. His and Willy Boly’s absence down the left side against Leicester was keenly felt and for a team so sturdy in defence, we looked decidedly shaky.
If we are to try and crack the unbreakable code that is the Top 6 of the Premier League at some point in the future, players like Jonny are worth their weight in gold. His loyalty to Celta Vigo speaks of a player who will settle in his surroundings. I’d suggest if he does nail his colours to the Wolves mast, he would take some shifting. And we’ll always be able to say we have a Spanish international in our ranks.