culio-roja

 

With Deportivo La Coruña crowned ‘winter champions’ – a title thrown around for whoever is top of the league when the winter break commences – January loomed on the club as Lendoiro announced that there will be ins and outs in the transfer window. Many pondered on the departure of some fringe players with the addition of others better than them, but not many predicted the departure of Culio. The Argentine midfielder joined Depor in the summer of 2013 and made an impact straight away. He became a fan favourite almost immediately as he combined talent with a strong work ethic; he became the club’s most important and consistent player. The heartbeat of the side. Whether it was Depor putting the ball into the net, or coming close, you’d better believe that Culio was the man pulling the strings and creating those chances.

Don’t mistake Culio for just a playmaker; he can tackle with efficiency, and recklessness at times, too. Culio can play anywhere in midfield, bar the deepest role, as well as on either flank. In modern football, versatility is key and gives you a stronger chance of being a mainstay in the squad. Culio rolled versatility and ability into one enormous ball which, coincidentally, led to many ranking him as the best attacking midfielder in the Segunda. 

But why would Culio leave Depor? A club with a genuine chance at promotion, more-so than they had prior to him. A club where he was the first name on the team-sheet. One can only imagine that Culio’s departure was for two reasons, be it one or the other, or both. The first reason would be money. His new club, Al-Wasl, represent Qatar and are outrageously wealthy in comparison to Depor; therefore, wages offered would be higher than anything Depor could provide him with. The other reason would be club stability. Depor are susceptible to liquidation at any moment with a click of the administrators’ and judge’s fingers. Culio, most likely, wanted to surround himself in a calmer and more delightful atmosphere than the one casting a large cloud over Depor’s future as a football club. But there are also reasons why he should have stayed: a shot at La Liga. Depor have a chance of gaining promotion this season, having been top of the league for a good six weeks (as of writing this), and a couple additions to the squad would have pushed them even further to the ‘promised land’ of La Liga. Surely the chance of playing in the most elite league in Spain is far more exciting and challenging than the Qatari league?

Moving on, where does this now leave Depor? Despite being top of the league, it’s quite worrying to look at the future without Culio. He was by far the most efficient and consistent player as well as the most influential in the final third. In the three games Depor have played without Culio, they have scored a whopping zero goals. Even with Culio, chances were often created sporadically as he had to carry the burden of creativity. Fernando Vazquez and Lendoiro have promised signings, but the manager seems more intent on signing someone to put chances away instead of someone who creates them. This side needs a creator more than a goalscorer. Baston and Luis are, perhaps, too young to lead a forward line alone but have done fairly good jobs in spurts, especially considering a lack of chances put on a plate for them.

There are some internal replacements that Vazquez could look at, despite being in dear need of someone from the outside to replace Culio. The first option for Vazquez would be to push Juan Dominguez from the pivot up to an attacking-midfield position. Dominguez was always seen as the heir to Valeron, but tailored his game to a deeper position until the club legend departed in June, 2013. Dominguez has the nous to operate further up the field but doubts have to be cast over his creativity. His quick turns and innovative tricks with those nimble feet of his suit a role further up the pitch  but he has never been a consistent creator; he’s someone who dictates play and creates, sporadically, from a much deeper position. Moving him to attacking-midfield would mean a pivot of Wilk & Alex which, on paper, sounds quite good. Wilk likes to cast a net over the defence and cover a lot of ground in defensive areas whilst Alex, who is very good defensively, seems to be deployed as the deep-lying playmaker – a role which doesn’t suit him because he loses possession quite frequently. The pivot could be quite solid in defensive terms but Depor would lose someone who can recycle possession and carry the ball forward in Juan Dominguez.

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor's creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

A number synonymous with a creative player but can Juan Dominguez be Depor’s creator? (image courtesy of riazor.org)

The second and third options can really be tied in together because both players are quite similar. The players in question are Juan Carlos & Bicho. Juan Carlos has sporadically featured this season on the right-hand side, a position which doesn’t suit his game at all. Juan Carlos is a traditional playmaker and nothing more than that. The only real problem with his game is that he can go missing for an unimaginable amount of time; he’ll create one chance and do just that. This is a huge problem because someone like Culio would at least get involved in an interchanging game with his wingers and drop deep to win possession back or collect the ball. Although Juan Carlos is being judged on his performances in a position which he is not accustomed to, he would really have to step up his game to assure Vazquez and the fans that he can fill the Culio-shaped hole.The third option is Bicho. Bicho is only 17-years of age, but his vision and footballing brain is incredibly advanced for his age. Bicho has been tracked by clubs like Manchester City recently which speaks volumes of his talent. Bicho frequently stands out as the creator in the youth echelons of Depor and Spain. He made his professional debut in Depor’s first game of the season against Las Palmas and, since then, has rarely featured in the league. In the two Copa del Rey games, Bicho struggled to shine as he, quite evident to the average viewer, was trying too hard to impress. This is a big problem for Vazquez as deploying Bicho as a regular attacking-midfielder would lead to the youngster feeling obscene amounts of pressure to replicate the performances set by Culio and Valeron before him.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Vazquez giving Bicho some instructions.

Although the three options are cost-effective for the club, they have more cons than pros. Vazquez can either choose Juan Dominguez and play a fairly unbalanced pivot, losing Juan Dominguez’s influence from deep or he can opt for the invisibility of Juan Carlos and the inexperience of Bicho. This isn’t to knock any of the players either as I, personally, feel as though it could work for any of them if there wasn’t the risk of weakening another position or ruining their future potential due to pressure.

Vazquez could be looking at players from outside the club as potential Culio replacements. Whereas many names have been touted and thrown around, one of them Vazquez has commented on: Ariel Ibagaza (Olympiacos). Ibagaza is an attacking-midfielder who shares an insane amount of similarities with Culio. Both are outstanding set-piece takers, both give 100% in every game and both are frequent tacklers despite lingering high up the pitch most of the time. Ibagaza would be the perfect replacement but the only problem, and it’s a huge one, is his age. At 37, one has to imagine that Ibagaza is nearing the end of his career and a move to Depor would be one where he could enjoy his football in a less-demanding league than the Greek one. He would probably expect 2+ years in his contract because, at that age, players want stability more than hopping from club to club. Unfortunately, stability and Depor don’t go hand-in-hand. He would be given a one-year contract, one would presume, which would leave the club in a precarious position should the rise to La Liga occur.

Whatever happens regarding a Culio replacement, I hope that it isn’t an internal one. The club need to take promotion seriously, especially as it leads to a little cash injection which could be used to clear a bit of the debt. An investment now, using the Culio money (circa 300,000) would mean that the club are looking up, rather than down. An internal replacement would be a very coy move and one that could cost the club a sensational bounce-back to La Liga.

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