When you are a club like Real Valladolid, in the midst of the bankruptcy act with debts of over €70m and a season’s budget of €24m, the margins you have to work within are extremely fine.
This does not necessarily mean your workforce should suffer however, and the attention to detail Valladolid showed over the summer in the free transfer market was always going to be significant in their quest to retain top-flight status. Much of the work was placed in the hands of Alberto Marcos, a former player with the club who now operates as sporting director.
Two of the signings he engineered are already showing the fruits of Marcos' labour. The first is Antonio Rukavina [pictured], the Serbian right-back brought in after he was released by 1860 Munich. With the departure of Antonio Barragan to Valencia last season, there was little room to manoeuvre in terms of replacements. Miroslav Djukic made do by deploying Mikel Balenziaga at right-back, converting him to that position from left-back, an example of the situation they live in.
Rukavina this season has provided the width Djukic likes his team to play with, switching the ball from side to side and bringing wide players into the attacking transitions. The Serbian full-back has been strong in defence too, providing an uncompromising, physical presence. His form has been so impressive he has earned a recall to the Serbian national team – ironically a job Djukic once applied for but eventually didn't get.
When being released from his contract with 1860 Munich aged 28, surely Rukavina must have had doubts about his next move. However, he has settled quickly in Valladolid, featuring in every minute of every game this season.
The other is Patrick Ebert. He too came from Germany, though with an entirely different reputation. He was part of one infamous incident in which he and a group of teammates at Hertha Berlin – including AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng – got drunk and decided to vandalise a few cars. Ebert attempted to settle afterwards at his beloved Hertha, but never quite found a true place there. It is now at still only 25-years-old with Valladolid, he is encountering a degree of sobriety and is proving to be one of the finds of the summer.
Ebert managed just eight goals in his 121 games with Hertha, and it has taken him just eight games to find his first goal in Spain. In addition, he has weighed in with two assists and is providing an excellent level of contribution to the team.
Taking over from Sisi – captain and fans favourite last season – on the right flank was never going to be an easy task, but Ebert has mixed his on-field tenacity and technique to give Pucela a new icon. He has played with a real determination and work ethic, drifting from the right channel to link play in central areas with Djukic's favoured double pivot. Ebert is playing almost like he wishes to prove everyone who doubted him wrong, and Valladolid are reaping the rewards.
Alberto Marcos has promised he'll return to the market in January, for possibly two more players. "We need more power, speed and above all a freshness," he stated.
Or, to just simplify, another Rukavina or Ebert.