When rifling through the squad Andoni Iraola has helped put together at Rayo Vallecano, it’s difficult not to be reminded of the one Marcelo Bielsa dragged from the depths of the Championship and into to the top-half of the Premier League.
The Rayo Vallecano roster is made up, largely, of lower-league acquisitions, supposedly over-the-hill veterans and exciting but unproven youngsters; all pulling in the same direction, producing career-best performances under a coach cooking up a Michelin star meal out of less-than stellar ingredients.
Iraola, who played under Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao a decade ago and shares his mentor’s preference for aggressive, front-foot football, is one of – if not the – leading candidates to replace Jesse Marsch at Leeds United (The Athletic).
But, presuming Iraola can be convinced to walk away from Rayo in the midst of a surprise Champions League charge, who could Leeds fans expect to see follow in his wake from Vallecas to West Yorkshire?
5 stars Andoni Iraola may look to bring to Leeds United
Arguably no one epitomises Iraola’s Rayo side better than Alvaro Garcia. The late-blooming leftie has come from nowhere to become one of La Liga’s most fearsome wide men in the blink of an eye. A constant menace with his searing pace, Garcia scored eight times and set up six more goals in 2021/22 alone.
Iraola’s teams are renowned for their electrifying wing-play. And Garcia is the chief conductor. It took him just 19 seconds to find the net after coming off the bench in Monday’s 2-0 victory over Almeria.
The Atletico Madrid-owned Spain U21 international has been one of the breakthrough stars of this La Liga season. Camello is an intelligent, instinctive finisher, as shown by his well-placed winner away at Villarreal at the end of January.
The mindset instilled into him at the Wanda Metropolitano, meanwhile, would be easily translated to Elland Road.
“I come from Atletico de Madrid,” Camello explains (MD). “And the philosophy is that, if you believe and work, you can (achieve).”
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Patrick Bamford’s injury issues mean whoever takes charge at Leeds United will almost certainly be prioritising a new centre-forward this summer. Camello could prove prolific when provided with a steady stream of chances.
Raul de Tomas
Talking of prolific. One of European football’s most underrated hitmen during the last few seasons; Spain international De Tomas has been linked with Leeds in the past. And those rumours could return with a vengeance if his Rayo Vallecano coach is appointed by the Premier League strugglers.
‘RDT’, scorer of 17 La Liga goals at Espanyol just last term, is renowned not only for his physicality and finishing ability but also his relentless work ethic. Former Spain boss Luis Enrique was a big admirer of De Tomas’ ability to press from the front; an attribute which also caught the eye of Arsenal recently.
“We are a team that depends on 11 players to press. I really liked what I saw of him,” Enrique said of De Tomas. “He has the ability to shoot and helps improve us defensively. He has been great.”
The 27-year-old, Paris-born enforcer was a key part of the Mirandes side who stunned Spain by reaching the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey under Iraola.
But, out of favour at Real Valladolid these days, one suspects the much-travelled defensive midfielder would jump at the chance to join forces with Iraola again if the opportunity was to arise.
During two season at Levante, Malsa was a ray of light piercing through dark clouds; his industry and energy offering a spark of hope in the midst of a failed survival push. Malsa’s defensive awareness and impressive ball-winning statistics could help to shore up an often-vulnerable Leeds backline.
One-time Real Madrid youngster Isi Palazon had never even played a single La Liga game until linking up with Iraola. Now, he is one of the top-flight’s most consistent attackers; five goals and four assists from his favoured right-wing role this term. Palazon is a superb set-piece taker and boasts a serious eye for the spectacular.
Leeds, meanwhile, have lacked serious quality, match-winning quality on the right-hand side since Raphinha departed for Barcelona last summer. Palazon might lack the Brazilian’s elite-level technique, but he makes up for it with energy and a serious goal-threat.
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