Last season Real Betis finally returned to La Liga after a two-year absence. As usual, they brought with them plenty of colour and excitement. They had just one objective though, and that was to retain their top-flight status – this was achieved, although they did it the hard way.
A scintillating start was followed by a hideous barren run before they finally managed to muster enough points together to stay in La Liga. Their Coach, Pepe Mel, nearly lost his job but the board kept faith in the charismatic 49-year-old and it bore success. A lesson others could learn from, given that the clubs who did go down all changed their Coach – some several times.
Now Mel is looking to the future, and quite literally so. Betis’ project had grown slightly long in the tooth, with the group being together for some time and achieving promotion and subsequent consolidation. Before things grow too stale, the decision has been made to move the project on and the direction it will go is looking towards youth.
The first step they took was to bring in midfielder Ruben Perez who after several mixed fortunes while on loan at Deportivo La Coruna and Getafe is looking for a club to settle at. Betis are ideal, given that they’re focusing on young players – Perez is still only 23 – and that they play the neat, combination football the player appreciates. Losing Iriney was a huge blow for Betis, but the veteran midfielder wanted a contract that the club couldn’t justify for a player in his 30s. It showed the direction that Betis will be heading in from now on, and just a day after confirmation of Iriney’s exit it became more apparent.
Joel Campbell, Juan Carlos and Salvador Agra were all presented by the Seville-based club. Campbell arrived on loan from Arsenal, bringing with him a growing reputation and ability on the field to shower power, pace and confidence. Juan Carlos meanwhile was underutilised while on loan at Real Zaragoza, but the winger still has an excellent reputation in Spain being a regular with the U-21 squad. He’s a quick, skilful individual who likes to humiliate full-backs and, given Betis’ belief in playing with width, he’ll surely receive more of a chance than he did in Aragon. Agra’s the most intriguing signing however, bought for just under €500,000 from SC Braga in Portugal, he could prove to be one of the signings of the season. He’s shown flashes of brilliance domestically while he’s also lit up at U-21 level with his native country. He can play in wide areas too, but looks more dangerous in a central attacking midfield role.
If these youngsters weren’t enough, then Betis also harness one of the finest canteras in Spain at the moment. Alejandro Pozuelo, Nono, Alvaro Vadillo and Sergio Rodriguez all made their debuts with the first team last season after impressing hugely with the B team and will be looking to confirm a regular first team status this season. They’re all capable too, it will just be a case of grabbing the chances when they can and expressing themselves in the way Mel requires his players to.
Betis aren’t the only ones looking to the cantera though, with Paco Jemez insisting his new reign at Rayo Vallecano will be dependent on the youngsters. Mauricio Pochettino has also shown faith at Espanyol while other clubs such as Real Zaragoza, Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca are including members of their youth teams in pre-season. With little money available the cantera could bring real riches for clubs.