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The story of three defensive midfielders whose careers are connected: Part 3 - Raúl Baena (11th December, 2017)

You can read part 1, about Sergio Matabuena, here. And part 2, about Javi Fuego, here.




Pep Guardiola was revered by Barcelona fans because he achieved something believed to be impossible - winning trophies consistently whilst playing beautiful, attacking football.

But beauty is subjective - and it isn't just of one type.

It's hard to justify how a tough-tackling, yellow-card accumulating player who barely ever scores or assists goals can be described as beautiful. It's hard to see the importance of a player like that in a system that rewards passing and movement.

But there is something beautiful, something heroic, something almost poetic, about a La Masia youth graduate, his hair flying in the air, his eyes determined, his brow tensed, his speed, stamina and strength all summoned, into a ridiculous tackle that looks impossible yet he emerges with the ball cleanly.

And he does it again. And again. And again.



If Espanyol fans came up a with a list of players who have one-uped Barcelona, Raúl Baena would be high on that list.

Born in Málaga and raised at the club with the same name, he was signed by Barcelona at the age of 14, and went on to progress through the youth ranks. However, in 2007, at the age of 18, he was picked up by Espanyol, which led to a legal battle as Barcelona sued Baena for 3.5 million euros.

And yes, that meant it was Laporta vs Baena, which saw Felipe Izquierdo, Baena's lawyer, accuse Laporta of "knowing nothing of the matter" and that his presence in Barcelona was only "to make protocolic travels". And Laporta would look at Baena and sarcastically say, "good luck, lad". Also, its interesting to point out that this battle was fought in October of 2008, when Barcelona were starting to look really good under newly-appointed Pep Guardiola. Moreover, in that fateful game against Rayo in 2013 when Barcelona had less possession for the first time in years, Raúl Baena was accused of not shaking Messi's hand, accusations which he denied and instead stated that Messi had not offered his hand.

Baena would sign for Rayo in 2013 as a Javi Fuego replacement, after another Barcelona youth graduate, Víctor Sánchez (signed in the dying minutes of the 2012 winter transfer window) took his place during the 2012-13 campaign. And he became crucial to Rayo - he was fellow youth graduate Javi Márquez's foil at Espanyol and was Roberto Trashorras's at Rayo.

Aggressive, tenacious, hard working and never afraid to put in a tackle, Baena kept the midfield engine running. His absence due to a cruciate ligament injury towards the end of the 2015-16 season was acutely felt as Rayo fell from La Liga and were free falling in the Segunda - he signed for Granada this summer after his contract expired.



That's the end of this series - and it's weird, because usually series don't end on this blog! But perhaps the story to highlight was that players are replaceable - we haven't even talked about Víctor Sánchez, who drove Baena to leave, or Gonzalo Colsa, who did the same to Sergio Matabuena.

You may be thinking - so what? That's just how the market is, right? Players come and players leave?

But as Rutger Bregman once said: "Think of the wastes and the costs". The system is designed, incentivised even, to create waste. To create a space for agents fees, and signing-on fees. To create a system where clubs remain poor because they can't offer long-term deals, and end up paying, and hence staying poor, even to keep the players they have.

It's capitalism for the poor.

And then the question becomes - is that fair? Is that what we want?

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