This article originally featured on totalfootballanalysis.com, our flagship analysis site covering matches, players and managers from around the globe.
With the winter silly season approaching and names from across Europe begin to be linked with the elite clubs on the continent, it is time to focus on a young Spanish centre-back who has been causing a stir in London: Fernando Calero.
The Real Valladolid defender caused a storm across the twitter-sphere when an Instagram post revealed he was in London. This has led many media outlets to link the Spaniard with a move to Arsenal. In need of reinforcements and with head of recruitment Sven Mislintat out searching to bolster Unai Emery’s back line, we take an in-depth look at Calero and what he could bring to the North London club.
Beginning life at Real Valladolid before his 10th birthday, Calero’s youth development changed hands when he joined Malaga’s system in 2011 before going on to represent the club’s B side for two years. Calero returned to his home-town club of Valladolid impressing in their own B-side before being promoted to the senior squad.
Calero became a key figure in Valladolid’s promotion push in the second half of the 2017/18 season. This subsequently meant Calero featured in each and every play-off game. The Spaniard scored in the first-leg 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon, before going on to beat CD Numancia to reach the Primera Division.
In his debut La Liga season, Calero has played every minute of every league game so far, including scoring in Valladolid’s 3-2 loss to Atletico Madrid. Manager Sergio has put great faith in Calero to be a fulcrum of his defensive unit which has led to an impressive first half of the season. Valladolid were one of the favourites to face the drop come the end of the 38 games but their 13th position, aided by the defensive performances of Calero, has raised their stock in the top-flight.
Losing Calero in January to a winter transfer would be hugely detrimental to the club’s survival hopes, and that is to great credit of the youngster. With Spain bursting at the seams with exciting defenders such as Mario Hermoso and Unai Nunez, what is it about Calero which has caught the eye of these top clubs?
Similar to Hermoso and Nunez, Calero possesses the natural passing ability a modern age centre-half must have in their arsenal (excuse the pun) if they want to sign for a club such as the Gunners. Calero’s passing accuracy surpasses both Stephan Lichtsteiner and Shkodran Mustafi in the Arsenal setup. He breaches the 90% benchmark set by both Sokratis and Rob Holding and with the latter out for the season Calero’s accuracy and confidence with the ball at his feet would be a welcome reprieve for many Arsenal fans.
The ability to utilize the width at many top clubs is key and having a centre-back who can accurately spray a pass out to either flank comfortably is a notable attribute many scouts are searching for. This season, Calero’s 56% long passing accuracy clearly demonstrates that at just 23 years of age and with potential to harness, he would be looked upon as a valuable asset to any side demanding passes to create dangerous wing play situations.
A right footed defender occupying the left-hand side of a back two shows Sergio’s confidence in the Spaniard’s ability with both feet, and with good reason. Calero’s confident and accurate long-passing abilities see the youngster often opt to send an attacking pass to the right flank to instinctively stretch the opposition.
In the image above, you see Calero confidently pull the ball away from an opposition attacker to make space for a pass. However, at this young age Calero can often rush his long passes and this can make it difficult for the winger to take control of the ball.
Notice how Pablo Hervais needs to take the ball on his chest to control the pass hence slowing down and mitigating the effectiveness of the attack. Below, where Calero has more time and space at the back he can be much more conservative and considered in his passing.
This time, with more space and a larger area of visibility the pass means Hervais is able to take the ball down to feet and begin an attack much more effectively. In the Premier League, were Calero to make the move to England, he would need to develop these skills. It would be important to refine his long passing abilities to cope with higher levels of pressure. Not only that, but he would need to be able to switch play so that the pressure on the winger to control the ball is minimized.
Now let’s look at his defensive attributes. Pace is a vital attribute for La Liga coaches to ensure their centre-halves possess due to the emphasis on full-backs being creative features in many sides. When these attacking full-backs are caught out of position during an opposition counter-attack, the responsibility is on the players such as Calero to intercept or challenge the opposition forwards.
In the demonstration below, Calero’s instinct to close the opposition forward is almost immediate.
As you can see, Calero’s pace allows the defender to win the ball comfortably. He is also able to send it back where it came from to further mitigate the danger, and eradicate any chance of conceding a corner from a challenge taking place near the byline.
Calero’s ability to get a foot in front of the ball and player is a strong feature of his game. If he is to move to a higher profile league, however, the level of opposition will be much tougher on a more consistent basis. Nevertheless, Calero has already demonstrated his strong defensive techniques against the world’s best.
Take the above example from Valladolid’s game against Real Madrid. Calero’s side are caught on the break and the ball falls to Gareth Bale on the right to begin a trademark drive into the opposition half.
With no additional pressure and open space in front of him, Bale is not able to effectively counter for Los Blancos as young Calero not only keeps pace but is able to effectively tackle the Welshman and allow Valladolid to reset.
In a foot race Calero can hold his own against the elite for sure, but what about when the world’s best dribbler is running full tilt towards you?
Here is a sight many defenders across Europe have seen and failed to effectively deal with. Notice Calero in the above image, eyes on the ball and keeping pace but not breaking position aware of the forward over his left shoulder.
Calero waits for his full-back to cover the wide option before then opting to make the challenge. He not only wins the ball, but again uses his technique to divert the ball away from goal and in this instance allow for a Valladolid counter-attack.
This does need to become a more regular feature of his game. With just 37% of duels won, these sparks of brilliance have clearly caught the eye but must be seen occurring with more frequency.
Fernando Calero has shown himself to be among the league’s most impressive young players and it justifies the links to clubs which are allegedly chasing his signature. With a supposed £10 million buyout clause inserted into the contract he signed just last year, he could also be one of the bargains of the season.
Considering his showings in La Liga, his price and his confidence as a player, it is a complete no-brainer.
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