Often Partisan

Y Viva España

After noticing Miguel Marcos Madera (Michel to his friends) wasn’t in the eighteen against Blackpool, (the third successive occasion that this has happened) I came to the conclusion that Michel is most probably on his way out of the club. It led me to thinking about Borja Oubiña, amongst others – and the thought struck me that St Andrews is a graveyard for Hispanic players. I did a bit of research, and well – judge for yourself.

There have been to my reckoning thirteen players that have turned out from Birmingham City from Hispanic countries. Three Spaniards (Michel, Borja Oubiña and Enric Vallès), three Ecuadorians (Giovanny Espinoza, Christian “Chucho” Benitez and Ulises de la Cruz), three Argentines (Alberto Tarantini, Luciano “Lucho” Figueroa and Mauro Zarate), two Hondurans (Wilson Palacios and Carlos Costly), one Uruguayan (Walter Pandiani) and one Chilean (Jean Beausejour). Just running through some of those names you can pick up some that haven’t had brilliant careers with Birmingham City. Let’s take them individually.

Alberto Tarantini pitched up at Blues for £295,000 from Boca after a successful World Cup in his home country. One year, a headbutt, and a scrap with a fan later Tarantini was on his way back to Argentina and Talleres de Córdoba. Now bearing in mind I was in nappies when Alberto was strutting his stuff in a Blues shirt, I’m going on second hand impressions. Tarantini was seen by many as a talented player, but he couldn’t reproduce that form for Birmingham City. His spell with the club was most famed for headbutting Brian Greenhoff and for wading into the crowd to have a scrap with a Wolves fan – so I think I’m justified in saying Tarantini was a failure.

Fast forward to 2003. Luciano Figueroa had had a successful Clausura campaign with Rosario Central, and along he came to Birmingham City for £2.5mil. Well, that’s what we thought but it took a ruling from a FIFA tribunal to confirm he had signed for us and not for Osasuna. I saw Lucho play a few times for the reserves, and whilst he was lightweight and naff outside the box, he knew where the onion bag was and was remarkably good at finding it when given the ball inside the box. Unfortunately, Steve Bruce thought Lucho’s lightweight frame would work against him in the rough and tumble of the Premiership, and Lucho only made one sub appearance – against Portsmouth. As the proud owner of a “Lucho 35” shirt, that didn’t please me much. The club annulled his contract in the winter, and Figueroa went off to Mexico to play for Cruz Azul. I think Lucho was a Sully signing more than Bruce, and Bruce was determined not to play him to lay down the law. Suffice it to say, it’s another failure.

Deadline day 2005 saw Birmingham City take on loan Walter Gerardo Pandiani, Deportivo La Coruña.  I remember well his first game, where he scored a beautiful header from a Jermaine Pennant cross in a 2-1 win against Southampton. ‘Arry Redknapp wasn’t happy; wasn’t happy at all as Pandiani’s registration had come after the midnight deadline but the fact was the documentation was faxed prior to the deadline – and that’s what counts. Walter had a knack of scoring against the big clubs; notching against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and it wasn’t much of a surprise that Blues shelled out a reported £3million to bring him to the club permanently. However, his permanent move didn’t work out so well – in twenty one league and cup games, Pandiani only scored twice – again, against big clubs in Man Utd and Liverpool – and on January 13, 2006 he was shipped off to RCD Espanyol for a third of the fee the club paid in the Summer. Pandiani did okay at the club, but it could have been oh so much better – for this reason, I’m going to say he was a marginal failure.

In the Summer of 2007, we signed two more Hispanic players – one, Borja Oubiña on loan from Celta Vigo, and the other, Wilson Palacios, on loan from Olimpia in Honduras. Neither had a successful time in the country, for vastly differing reasons. Oubiña made his debut against Bolton as a late sub, and then started the next game along side Palacios against Liverpool. That appearance lasted thirteen minutes before a collision with Dirk Kuyt led to a tear in his left ACL, and that was that for him. He eventually returned to Spain, where his injury problems have continued. Through no fault of his own, Oubiña was an unmitigated failure. Palacios was a different story. His stay at the club was punctuated with the kidnap of his younger brother, and the sacking of Steve Bruce. For whatever reasons, McLeish didn’t think Palacios was worth £1million of his transfer budget, and declined to sign him. On balance, I don’t think Palacios had really done it for Blues – the kidnap of his brother was probably playing on his mind, and the team around him was playing poorly. Yes, he’s been a success for Wigan and Spurs, but for Birmingham, I’m going to have to say he’s another failure, albeit a marginal one.

In January 2008, Birmingham City signed Football Manager legend Mauro Zárate. I was so pleased Blues had signed him, and I went along to the reserve game against Arsenal which was his first appearance in English football. Mauro took a bit of time to get used to us, but it was apparent he was a very classy player. A goal against Reading, two extremely well taken goals against Manchester City in his next game and a brilliant free kick against Everton (aided by Raidi Jaidi dancing in front of the keeper) were highlights in a mercurial spell; however there were some abject performances (notably the 5-1 defeat against the Villa) and on relegation Blues had no chance of signing him. However, I think he did a lot for the club, and on that, I’m going to say he’s a marginal success.

In January 2009, the Blues took on another Honduran in Carlos Costly, on loan from Polish club GKS Bechlatów. Famed for his dragback, Carlos couldn’t find the net for the club in eight league appearances and became a bit of a figure of fun for the crowd. Unsurprisingly, when his contract was up we made no attempt to sign him permanently. Failure.

In March 2009, as Blues were short on cover we signed Ecuadorian (and former Villa player) Ulises de la Cruz. Ulises played one game for Blues, an away win at Doncaster Rovers, and decided at the end of his short term deal not to extend the deal with Birmingham City. Another failure then.

Summer 2009 brought the arrival of two more Ecuadorians – veteran centre back Giovanny Espinoza for a minimal fee from Barcelona SC of Guayaquîl, Ecuador (not the Spanish one), and Christian “Chucho” Benitez on loan from Santos Laguna of Mexico. Espinoza made one league cup appearance before his contract was cancelled by mutual consent – so he’s a failure. Chucho is another kettle of fish. Whilst he didn’t score many goals, he certainly helped inspire the rest of the team to do so – I think Jerome’s best period of play was teamed up with the nippy Ecuadorian striker. Even now, opinion on Chucho is divided by fans, but I’m going to say he was a success, albeit a marginal one.

Miguel Marcos Madera, aka Michel signed for the club in January 2010 from Sporting Gijon, for £3million after a protracted chase. What’s weird is, since he’s signed Blues have barely played him – he’s only made three league starts and twelve appearances in total for the club. He’s now out of the squad it seems completely, and surely he’s on his way back to Spain for some first team football. Currently, he’s a failure although that could still change.

Summer of 2010 saw two more Hispanic players sign for the club – Enric Vallès on a free from NAC Breda, and Jean Beausejour for £3million from Club América of Mexico. Vallès hasn’t made a league appearance yet, and only two in the league cup. As his contract is only one year, and he’s got a broken foot now, I think he’s going to go down as a failure. Jean Beausejour is just starting to ease himself into the first team now, four first team starts in the league and a total of ten first team appearances. He looked useful against Manchester United, wasn’t so bad first half against Arsenal and I think he helped make a difference when coming on versus Blackpool. It’s too early yet to make a judgement on him, so right now the jury is out.

So in short, thirteen hispanic players, ten failures, two marginal successes and one where it’s too early to call. It’s not completely decisive, but as a hispanic player I’d think twice about coming to Birmingham City.

Talking Points sponsored by John Hicken Industrial roofing and cladding materials

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