Prodigal Son Returns – Joaquin back home + Van Wolfswinkel

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El Pisha: ‘He returns’

The Prodigal Son has returned.

It started off with a few rumours, moved on to enigmatic Instagram messages, comments from players and the manager, then eventually on the final day (in Spain) to confirm a signing, the deal was complete. Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez returned to Real Betis.

At the tender age of 34, Joaquín is no spring chicken but he has aged well. Last season, he was an integral player for Fiorentina in his perennial right wing position and will hope to play the same key role for Betis. The club have shown faith in him, handing the man from El Puerto de Santa Maria, 

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The Wolf of Heliopolis

Completing the squad alongside Joaquín was Norwich City forward, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. Sporting Director, Eduardo Macia, was done a pretty fantastic job this summer to ensure that Betis have a squad to keep them in la liga. The club have signed 10 players for a grand total of 7.5 million euros.

Joaquín is initially costing €500,000, but if Betis stay up they will have to pay Fiorentina around €1m more, which I’m sure they will not mind paying at all! Even though he is 34, he has been given a very generous three year contract.

Van Wolfswinkel has joined a loan for the season with the option to buy at the end for around €2.5m. He has signed from Norwich, although he was on-loan at St Etienne last season. It is fair to say that he hasn’t exactly set either league alight after coming highly recommended from Sporting Lisbon. He’ll be hoping to rediscover his scoring boots!

Alvaro Vadillo’s move to Rayo Vallecano fell through, which means he remains at Betis, which I think is good. When he’s on form, he is a brilliant player and I’ve no doubt he can play a vital role in the much needed winger position.

Here is the full squad:

Goalkeepers: Adán & Dani Giménez

Defenders: Molinero, Piccini, Bruno, Pezzella, Westermann, Tarek & Vargas (midfield as well)

Midfield: Digard, Xavi Torres, N’Diaye, Petros, Matilla, Cejudo, Joaquín, Van der Vaart, Ceballos, Portillo, Kadir & Vadillo

Forwards: Rubén Castro, Jorge Molina, Van der Wolfswinkel & Rennella

Oh, I forgot to mention – Betis lost 5-0 to Real Madrid at the weekend. Bit of a shambles of a game from a Betis perspective. Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez both scored two each with Benzema chipping in the other. Ruben Castro also missed a penalty. But enough of that. You win some, you lose some.

Next up is Real Sociedad a week on Saturday after the international break.

Vargas joins the ‘Project’ as pre-season rolls on

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Juan Manuel Vargas (image from eldesmarque.com)

Juan Manuel Vargas rolled into Santa Justa train station on Monday evening to become Betis’ 8th summer signing.

The 31 year old Peru international is set to sign, subject to completing a medical tomorrow, for two years with an optional third year. He was a free agent after his contract at Fiorentina ran out. It seems obvious that former Fiorentina sporting director, Eduardo Macià, was key in getting the player onto the Betis books.

Vargas can play anywhere down the left hand side, but has developed more as an left sided attacking midfielder renowned for a superb cross. He’s nickname is ‘El Loco’ – the mad one.

Now, Betis really do need to offload some first team players.

Pre-Season Continues

Since returning from Germany, the level of performance on the field has been raised. Pepe Mel says the team ‘va a mejorando’ – it’s getting better, but there is still a lot of improvement to be made.

On Friday los verdiblancos took on Recreativo de Huelva and ran out 2-1 winners. Betis were 1-0 down at half time after conceding a poor goal from a simple free kick from the right hand side. The second half performance improved and Betis were dominant. Two goals from Jorge Molina ensured Betis went home winners, and he could have had a hat-trick but skied a penalty in the closing stages.

On Sunday evening, Pepe Mel and his men took on La Liga outfit Espanyol in Catalonia. They faced up to a couple of familiar faces in the shape of Jose Cañas and the silver fox, Salva Sevilla. It was a decent showing with Dani Ceballos showing a lot of people what he is about with some terrific moments of skill and incision.

Rubén Castro gave Betis the lead before Felipe Caicedo evened things up. As the game was for Trofeo Ciudad de Barcelona, a draw was no good, so the game went straight to penalties. It was perfect scoring for both sides with nine penalties scored out of nine before Ceballos stepped up for Betis.

In a example of ‘he’s still got a lot to learn’, Ceballos tried to be too clever and chip the goal into the goal. However, he was made to look a bit stupid as the goalkeeper literally stood there and caught the goal in front of his face. That is not to taint what was a good performance from the youngster, showing his capability of performing on a higher level.

Next up for Betis in what will be their final friendly, is Granada on 14th August before the season kicks off properly against Villarreal.

Pezzella signs for 5 yrs, Digard for 3 yrs

Germán Pezzella (image from www.realbetisbalompie.es)

Germán Pezzella (image from http://www.realbetisbalompie.es)

Argentian defender, Germán Pezzella, completed his signing for Betis on Friday and spoke of his delight at joining the club.

New sporting director Eduardo Macià played an integral part, explained the club’s project and got him onboard.

“El Betis me parece un proyecto serio de gente seria. Decidí venirme desde el primer momento/At Betis I saw a serious project with serious people. I decided to join from the first moment.”

Pezzella jetted in overnight on Thursday from Buenos Aires to Madrid and got the train down to Sevilla to sign on the dotted line. He met up with his team mates and joined in with a training session straight away.

Mel and Pezzella (from sevilla.abc.es)

Mel and Pezzella (from sevilla.abc.es)

The defender has just turned 24 and comes from good pedigree, playing at River Plate since the age 0f 14. In December 2014, Pezzella scored in final of la Copa Sudamericana to help River to the first win in 17 years.

He is a central defender with good leadership skills, an ability to read the game well and put in a well-timed tackle. At just under 6’2″, we hope he can sure up the defence and make Betis into a solid unit.

If you’ve seen Pezzella play, give us a comment below to let us know how he did, how he played and if you think he will do well for Betis.

Just before Pezzella put pen to paper, Betis captured another new signing – French midfielder Didier Digard. You may remember Digard’s name from his Middlesborough days, but now he will be packing in the centre of Betis’ midfield.

He immediately started to say the right sentences upon his arrival, which will increase his popularity amongst los béticos:

“Betis is not a club, it is a way of life.”

Betis have been in pursuit of Digard for two years, but for one financial reason or the other nothing has materialised, until this week. He has signed from Nice for three years, where he played 133 times, scoring just twice. It’s clear he’s not been signed for his goalscoring prowess, but his steely, combative style in the middle.

Betis seal second signing of the summer – Petros

Petros: new signing

Petros: new signing

Next week, Betis will confirm their second signing of the summer: Petros, a 26 year old central/attacking midfielder from Brazil.

Ya está todo cerrado,” said his agent Fernando García. Everything is closed. They will travel to Spain next week for his medical and presentation and that will be that.

Yesterday Petros played his final game for Corinthians in el Clásico against Santos. Corinthians lost 1-0 and Petros was substituted with half an hour left, it wasn’t his greatest game and afterwards in the press conference he was very cautious about his future saying that his future is in the hands of the directors and that he has a very good contract at Corinthians.

Despite these politics, it looks like he’ll be the latest addition to the squad of Pepe Mel.

The deal is apparently for Betis to own 50% of the player, paying €1.5m, with an option to purchase the other half after the first season. He will sign on a four year contract.

Below is a little glimpse into what he can bring to Betis.

The midfield is now looking fairly packed with Van der Vaart and Petros being brought in in midfield. It is Pepe Mel’s intention to reinforce the central spine of the team, so this signing makes sense. However, not everyone can play and Mel still has doubts about Xavi Torres and Lolo Reyes. We can safely say that N’Diaye, Ceballos and Portillo are definitely staying in midfield.

Up next needs to be a defender or two, followed by a good winger.

Busy Betis preparing for La Liga

Eduardo Macià’s office has been a busy place since he took over in May. Since the season end it seems like Betis have been linked to a new player every day.

Sporting Director Macià and Pepe Mel are working hard to ensure that Betis have a squad that can first of all survive their first season back in La Liga, and secondly move forward in future years to compete at a higher level.

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VdV has talked about the ‘marvellous’ project on-going at Betis

The signing of Rafael Van der Vaart is an indication of this, although it still hasn’t been made official. However it is now being widely noted that Van der Vaart will arrive in Seville on Sunday night, finalise the details and hopefully sign on the dotted line tomorrow for Betis! He will no doubt give the club a boost, provide lots of experience for the younger players and increase bargaining powers with other agents and potential players too.

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Jony on the radar

A player Betis would very much like to sign is Jony Rodríguez of Sporting Gijón. The 23 year old fits the winger bill that Betis need to fill. Exciting going forward but also capable of helping out in defence. It will be a tricky signing because Sporting have also just been promoted from Segunda to La Liga, so they will not be wanting to let go of one of their star players. It will take a few million to prise him away from the north of Spain.

Los Verdiblancos have been linked with Fiorentina (where Macià used to be Sporting Director) midfielder, David Pizarro, who is currently playing in the Copa America in Chile. However, a move for the brother of Claudio, has been ruled out by Betis secretary Alexis Trujillo. The centre of midfield is a fairly full at the minute with N’Diaye, Ceballos, Xavi Torres, Lorenzo Reyes and as of tomorrow, Van der Vaart.

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Nono is on his way out of Betis

The three players who went on loan in the winter – Nono, Sergio Rodríguez and Chuli – will find it difficult to stake a place in the squad next season. Macià is set to have a meeting with each player in the near future to tell them if there future lies at Betis or not. Chuli is the only one I think who has half a chance of being kept on after scoring 11 goals in 21 games whilst on loan at Leganés.

As for Nono, who never really impressed me, he went on loan to second division German club Sandhausen and failed to make a single appearance. Unfortunately the future for him doesn’t look too bright.

Van der Vaart deal to Betis to be finalised soon

Van der Vaart

Van der Vaart

The rumour has been floating around for a little while, but it looks like it is now finally materialising: Rafael Van der Vaart will officially be a Betis player within days.

Club chairman, Ollero, announced today that talks were at a ‘advanced stage’.

The Dutchman will sign from German side Hamburg on a three-year deal, which is a deal well negotiated for the 32 year old. The former Real Madrid and Tottenham midfielder has made 22 starts for Hamburg this season, scoring four times.

If the signing is confirmed, it could be the start of something great for Betis. It is a statement signing of intent for los verdiblancos, telling La Liga that Betis are here to stay. Although the signing will stretch Betis’ budget, it is a brilliant signing as it is likely to attract a higher calibre of players to the club.

Van der Vaart wants to move back to Andalucía to be close to his family when his contract runs out at Hamburg at the end of June. His parents still live in beautiful town of Chiclana de la Frontera in the province of Cadíz, around an hours drive from Seville.

A great first week in England for Betis

Hola Béticos y los aficionados de fútbol. Today will be my last post for two weeks as I jet off on holiday tomorrow, therefore missing the last 3 friendlies against Fulham, Hull and Everton. Despite this let’s have a look at what’s being happening en el mundo del Betis.

Rubén, Lolo and Juanfran in the gym (from Beticismo.net)

Rubén, Lolo and Juanfran in the gym (from Beticismo.net)

Betis have now been in England for just short of a week and what a great week it has been. They have played 3 games (Huddersfield, Bolton and Wolves) and won all 3! I managed to get to the first two of those games and I was impressed with what I saw. As Pepe Mel commented, it’s great to get the team accustomed to winning. It was also very nice to meet Béticos from both Spain and England. The team are playing some very nice football, scoring goals without Rubén Castro and defending much better. This is all the more impressive considering that there are 13 new faces in the Betis camp – that is half the squad! More that half in England when you consider that Alvaro Vadillo and Eder Vilarchao are not currently with the squad.

The squad yesterday got their first (and well deserved) day off; all apart from new arrivals Dídac and Braian (which is a pain to type) who had to stay and train with coach David Gómez. The players could either stay at the hotel or spend the day in Chester.

Good news on the injury front as Rubén Castro is expected to return to training tomorrow after being out with a right abductor muscle problem. Antonio Amaya, who has not featured yet in England, is also back in training as is Cedrick. Juan Carlos is not far away from returning. Lolo Reyes, Betis’ only first team defensive midfielder, also returned to the grass this morning, which is a great bonus. He has been out with a right knee ligament problem. Slight concern however, Chuli had to retire from training this morning with an injury to his right knee. We will know more on this when it has been examined by the doctor.

On the transfer front – the club are still after a central/defensive midfielder to replace the hole that has been vacated by the departures of Cañas/Beñat/Rubén Pérez. The club are willing to invest ‘two or three’ million euros to create that much needed solid spine running straight through the team. There has been lots of names banded about – Digard, Iborra, Kvist – but nothing more than that. In fact Digard has just renewed with Nice so we know it definitely won’t be him. Vlada Stosic is working overtime to plug this hole and I expect a signing to be made soon.

All in all, a great first week for Betis. The next 3 games will be much harder though as they will be up against Premier League opposition. It will be provide a good yard stick to see how well Betis get on and also provide some good preparation for the class of teams they are likely to play against in the Europa League.

In the meantime I will point you in the direction of some other Bético outlets to bring you the latest news.

The best English-based Betis site around brought to you by Adam Boyle, a season ticket holder Bético who lives in Seville www.foreverbetis.com 

Mateo González and the rest of the writers at www.alfinaldelapalmera.com  – Mateo is in the UK and currently following Betis around the country and doing an absolutely fantastic job of bringing Betis news all day long.

Another one of my favourites is www.beticismo.net – where José Mariá García is doing a sterling job.

Viva el Betis and see you in two weeks!

First press conference of the season for Don Pepe Mel

pepe mel“The objectives are clear. Get as far as possible in three competitions. It is our obligation”.

Of course Don Pepe is referring to La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Europa League. Mel is under no illusion that the squad needs improving and strengthening to be able to fulfil this obligation and compete on all three fronts.

The club haven’t been messing around during the off-season and have already taken steps to improve the first team squad by making six signings; the latest of which is goalkeeper Guillermo Sara, although Mel did state of Sara, “no es jugador del Betis” – he is not a Betis player – because he hasn’t signed anything officially. Sara has been in the city of Seville since Thursday so I think we can say his signing is imminent.

Mel said he is in permanent contact with Vlada (Vlada Stosic – the director of football), Emilio (Emilio Vega – one of the technical secretaries) and Keke (Keke Duran – another technical secretary) and that he is satisfied with their work.

Mel’s priority now is to sign another centre back after Mario’s (more than likely) departure to give the squad good strength is depth. At the moment Betis have Paulao, Perquis and Amaya in their ranks, one more top player will make this position hotly contested.

A player of Verdu’s caliber will do! Of Verdu, Mel states that he is not a replacement for Beñat. He is absolutely right, considering that Verdu is a much more offensive player than Beñat who liked to sit back and dictate play from the centre of the field. Verdu will also be wearing the number 10 shirt; a shirt number for an attacking midfielder if ever there was one.

He also talks about Betis B and their relegation to la Tercera – Spain’s huge fourth tier of football. This is important because the Betis first team get lots of home-grown talent from the B team, but Mel says it doesn’t disrupt his plans and that “if there is someone that can provide [for the first team], it doesn’t matter where they come from.”

I think Betis also need some ‘lateral’ defenders, which Mel also comments on. At the minute we have Javi Chica, Nacho, Alex Martinez and Angel Lopez (although he isn’t listed on the club website?). Mel says that new signing from Real Madrid Castilla, Juanfran, can help out in the right back position or right midfield.

Of course, pre-season is the perfect opportunity to try out players in different positions and combinations.

Mel concludes with a positive and as ever puts a little perspective on proceedings.

“We want our people to have the outlook of a beautiful year, look back and remember 2010, the chaos the club was in. Enjoy the year and the team will not disappoint. The coaching staff will make sure that everything is functioning. The new players already know what Betis is about, and are beginning to understand the home and feel it.”

First press conference done. Here’s to a fantastic season!

Viva el Betis, manque pierda!

Alejandro Pozuelo: the one that got away

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Pozuelo scoring against Athletic Bilbao in a 5-3 away victory.

So it is official, Alejandro Pozuelo is a Swansea City player; joining former Real Betis teammate, Jose Cañas, in the process. In my view, Pozuelo has the talent to become established as a full Spanish international in a few years time, once he has played regularly at the top level. For those that are unfamiliar with Pozuelo, he is an attacking midfielder with a great touch and quick brain who sits off the front man.

As for Betis, he is the one that got away.

Let’s talk stellar evolution. From a bit of dust and gas we get a nice nebulae, also known as molecular clouds (talent and potential). After millions of years (training and luck) these protostars may settle down and form a main sequence star (professional footballer). Pozuelo is at this stage. He has however got lots of hydrogen atoms wanting to fuse together but only if he puts the effort in. This will eventually lead to the creation of a helium core, thus powering the star (Pozuelo) on to the next level: subgiant. Once he is here he can then naturally progress onto the red giant phase (career pinnacle), before he fizzles out and collapses into a white dwarf.

Now, at Betis he has not been given the chance to move onto that next level. This hasn’t been Betis’ fault per se, he has had injuries and ineffective spells and in short it just hasn’t really happened. At the start of the season he was my ‘one to watch’ – this was a pre-season article I did last summer for Inside Spanish Football highlighting his talent. I thought he could stamp his mark on the season just gone but he never had a sustained run in the first team, which was due to inconsistent performances and injury. A move to Swansea may provide that extra kick he needs, especially with Michael Laudrup at the helm.

He was contracted to Betis until 2015 but was threatening the club with legal action because he felt this contract was ‘forced’ upon him. Rubbish in my view as other players have received the same contract and are absolutely fine. Swansea will need to keep tabs on this diva-ishness.

Despite this unsavouriness, at around €500,000, Swansea have got an absolute steal. It was not long ago that Pozuelo was being linked to Manchester United and ratings such as £4.5 million were being banded around (by The Sun).

Although we have lost a possible star, it will be exciting to see him ply his trade in the Premier League next season and see whether he can fulfil that potential that he undoubtedly has. I say buena suerte to this young Sevillista.

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United linked with Pozuelo (image from The Sun)

Beñat returns home

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Beñat and Cañas, both have left Betis this summer (photo from Al final de la Palmera)

The moment has finally arrived; Betis are Beñat-less. The little, bearded, Basque string-puller has returned to his spiritual home, Athletic Bilbao – the club who released him 4 years ago, deeming him not good enough. It has been on the cards for quite some time so it has come as no surprise to anyone who follows Spanish football.

Betis maybe could have recouped around €20 million last summer for Beñat, but have finally settled for something in the region of €8-10 million. Good business for Athletic? Yes, very much so. He is still only 26 and is on the fringes on an exceptional national team. However, I also think it is fairly good business from Betis. If we wouldn’t have kept hold of him for one more season then who is to say we would have made it into the Europa League?

It is true that season 2012-2013 was not as effectual as the season before, although he still scored 4 goals and assisted with 8, but Beñat has played his part majorly and now he has moved on to pastures new.

Beñat has a lot to be thankful to Betis for, but so do Betis to him. He made his debut for los verdiblancos at the start of the 2010/2011 season, helping them to regain promotion to the pinacle league of Spanish football. He has gained a reputation as the engine room of the team, with the ability to dictate player and with the visionary capabilities to split defences in two with a wave of his wand-like right boot. A proper footballer, which was recognised immediately by Pepe Mel, who transformed him into a integral player.

There have been lots of great moments. For me the greatest was Beñat’s dismantling of Sevilla in their backyard. Sevilla took the lead after six minutes through Alvaro Negredo. Beñat dragged Betis back into the contest in the 43rd minute thanks to a brilliantly struck freekick crashing in off the post. Up stepped Beñat again in the 93rd minute to nonchalantly slide a freekick under the wall and again crash in off the post. Here’s my match report at the time for Inside Spanish Football.

However, it does seems about the right time for Beñat to leave, especially after his inseparable amigo, Cañas, made tracks to Swansea a couple of weeks ago. Béticos will be forever grateful to Beñat and I’m sure he will get a terrific reception upon return to el estadio Benito Villamarín.