Ranking the 13 weirdest Spanish signings in Premier League history

Quick Reads

Some of the Premier League’s greatest have come from Spain. Just think of the names: David Silva, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, David De Gea, Santi Cazorla, Xabi Alonso.

But just because some Spaniards are great, doesn’t mean they’re all an absolute guarantee. There have been more than a few duds.

And mixed in with those, somewhere between rubbish and amazing, are the absolute head-scratchers, the ones that make you think: really?

That last group is our favourite, obviously, so we’ve ranked the oddest Spanish signings in Premier League history.

13. Angelino 

Angelino came through the youth ranks at Machester City, went out on a few loans, and was sold to PSV Eindhoven in 2018. He proceeded to get straight into the Eredivisie team of the season and City triggered a buy-back clause the following summer.

For some reason, he was then left to sit on the bench for half a season while Oleksandr Zinchenko played. Come January, he was off to RB Leipzig, where he has become one of the best players in the Bundesliga. He’s got eight goals and seven assists this season, for Christ’s sake.

“He killed me,” Angelino said of Pep Guardiola in a Guardian interview in 2021. “The confidence, for me, is everything. And when you don’t have the trust of the coach, it’s everything. I was judged on two games in pre-season, and then I didn’t get my chance for a few months. It’s hard to play one game every two months.”

12. Iago Aspas

Aspas was the talk of Spain in 2014. He’d fired his beloved Celta Vigo into the top flight in 2013 and helped keep them in La Liga. Liverpool swooped down and plucked him away.

Away from Celta Vigo, though, Iago Aspas loses something. That light blue shirt is like his version of Samson’s barnet. No league goals and *that* corner in his season on Merseyside were followed by two leagues goals on loan at Sevilla.

Fortunately for Aspas, he moved back to Celta in 2016 and has gone on to bag 114 goals in 220 appearances since. Legend.

11. Diego Tristan

In September 2008, West Ham needed a striker. But with the dreaded window having already slammed shut, options were limited. As they racked their brains, someone must have said, ‘Do you remember Diego Tristan?’

‘Yeah,’ came the reply, ‘Wasn’t he really, properly good for Deportivo in like 2001?’

He was, so Gianfranco Zola signed him, seven years too late. And even though injuries meant he wasn’t that Diego Tristan anymore, he still managed two winners against Tony Pulis’ Stoke.

10. Bojan Krkic

Speaking of Stoke: Stokleona, remember that? What images it conjures. 2014, Pulis was gone, Hughes was in and Stoke were going sexy. Nobody embodied that better than Bojan.

He’d come straight from the source, the youngest man ever to score for Barcelona in La Liga and the first man born in the 1990s to score in the Champions League.

But it had already started going downhill. Spells at Roma and Milan and Ajax had seen limited minutes. At Stoke, it proved to be the same story.

He stayed for quite a while and there were good times. But it all ended with a 16th-place finish in the Championship, the Stokelona project on the rocks and Bojan being left out of the squad. Sad, given the magic he had in his toes.

9. Fernando Hierro & Ivan Campo

Two men with well over 500 Real Madrid appearances (mostly belonging to Hierro, to be fair) and dozens of trophies between them. Two men who rocked up at the Reebok to bless Bolton Wanderers with their very different if equally well-loved defensive skills. Both thanks to that master of transfer dealing Big Sam Allardici.

Campo was first, arriving in 2002 and staying until 2008. He was a proper cult hero, too. You couldn’t move for Ivan Campo wigs on the terraces at Bolton for a while. You certainly couldn’t see the game.

Hierro followed his old mate to Lancashire in 2004, staying for just a season. But he was admired no less than Campo. Together they fired Bolton to a top-six finish – ending level on points with Liverpool – and qualification for Europe. Weird, when you look back now. Magic nonetheless.

READ: Remembering Fernando Hierro at Bolton: A class act even at 37

8. Gaizka Mendieta

As the man himself told us in 2020: “I knew there was a lot of people saying, ‘Why would you go to Middlesbrough? You’ve been to Valencia, Barcelona, Rome, why go to Middlesbrough?”

Nail on the head, Gaizka. Worked out alright, though, didn’t it?

READ: Gaizka Mendieta: People couldn’t believe I was joining Middlesbrough

7. Victor Valdes

Double weird, this one.

After a decade as Barcelona No.1, Valdes moved to Manchester United in 2014 expecting to succeed David De Gea, who was being linked to Real Madrid. Instead, he made as many United appearances as William Prunier, had a very public spat with Louis van Gaal and left for Standard Liege in January 2016, with De Gea still very much between the Old Trafford sticks.

Six months later, Valdes joined Middlesbrough, making 28 appearances and getting relegated with Aitor Karanka’s thoroughly forgettable side. Not the swan song he was hoping for in England, perhaps.

6. Antonio Nunez & Josemi

Both Nunez and Josemi joined Liverpool in the summer of 2004. Both of them made minimal impact. Both of them have got one more Champions League winner’s medal than Gigi Buffon.

5. Roberto

Roberto already had Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Benfica and Olympiacos on his CV when he arrived at West Ham at Manuel Pellgrini’s behest in 2019. So he must have been decent, right?

Err… well, no, not really.

Roberto made a series of high-profile blunders and was shipped out to Alaves at the earliest possible opportunity. Oh, West Ham. You do know how to pick ’em.

4. Marcelino Elena

Marcelino bowled up in the North-East in 1999 for £5.8million. That much for a defender was big in the ’90s, so Newcastle fans were expecting a lot.

As it turns out, they got very, very little. Marcelino spent four years on Tyneside and made a grand total of 22 appearances.

His spell was perhaps best summarised by a Guardian report from 2005: “[Marcelino] was generally injured, with scans on the affected areas occasionally declared to be inconclusive. A finger problem kept him out for months, although there was no shortage by then of fans who would happily have given him two fingers.”

Marcelino still goes back to Newcastle occasionally. He’s mates with head physio Derek Wright. We’re not even joking.

3. Iago Falque

By the time he was 20, Iago Falque had been on the books of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Villarreal and Juventus. Not bad, so no wonder Spurs took a punt on him in 2011, signing him for a mere million quid in the midst of the Harry Redknapp era.

He made one Premier League appearance for Spurs, was loaned out to Southampton, played once for them and never set foot on an English football pitch again.

He went on to have better times back in Italy and in 2018 said: “Maybe the move to Tottenham, it was not a wise decision on my part. It was the only step back in made in my career.

“In the end, bad experiences also help you to grow, to mature. It was the momentum in my career that made me sign and the competition was very hard.

“Now my priorities are more about the sport rather than the financial side. Money comes later – after games, goals and good performances.”

2. Raul Bravo

In 2006, Raul Bravo spent an unremarkable six months on loan at Leeds from Real Madrid. In 2019, Raul Bravo was arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering relating to match-fixing. In 2020, Raul Bravo was accused by a Serbian newspaper of hiring a professional hitman to kill former Olympiacos team-mate Darko Kovacevic.

He denied it.

Weird.

1. Xisco

Ah, Xisco. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… err, no, actually, we’ve got that mixed up. It was just the worst of times. The absolute fucking pits.

In 2008, Kevin Keegan had come back for a second crack at the Newcastle manager’s job and the Geordies were thrilled. Then Mike Ashley inexplicably brought in his little mate Dennis Wise as Executive Director (Football), a job he had literally never done anywhere before. And between Wise, Derek Llambias and Tony Jimenez, Keegan was alienated pretty fast.

Keegan wanted Newcastle to sign Luka Modric and Bastien Schweinsteiger. Instead, he got Xisco and Nacho Gonzalez on deadline day. Nacho was a loan, which can be forgiven, but the Newcastle hierarchy paid £6million for Xisco.

Keegan told Wise he didn’t want nor had he even seen either of them, to which Wise responded by telling Keegan to look them up on YouTube.

Keegan quit, Joe Kinnear came in, Xisco and Nacho played seven Premier League games between them (four of which came off the bench) and, well, everything went to shit. Even the club’s shirt sponsor, Northern Rock, was gobbled up by the financial crisis.

As with most of these things, it turned out the Xisco transfer was a favour to an agent. None of that is Xisco’s fault of course, but it doesn’t make the signing any less bizarre.

As fate would have it, Xisco and Nacho’s paths crossed again in 2020, when the pair were both playing in Montevideo; Xisco for Penarol, Nacho for Montevideo Wanderers. We wonder if they reminisced about those glory days.

READ: The story of Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle: ‘We were a laughing stock’


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