City’s latest defensive signing was confirmed earlier this week and there has been a lot of speculation about whether he is the right fit or the real deal. In the interests of getting a proper opinion on this we went to the source and spoke to full time Valencia watcher Andrew Gaffney.
Hi Andrew, thanks for coming on and answering a few questions! City’s move for Otamendi didn’t come out of nowhere but it’s fair to say he wasn’t the biggest name on City’s radar this summer. Can you give us an overview of his Valencia career?
The move did come a little out of left-field with the original link seeming a ploy from the media to frighten United into offering what Valencia wanted. In the end it turned out to be much more than that and I think the good relationship between the two owners played a huge part in this. Also worth remembering that Otamendi’s price – even with add-ons – doesn’t quite reach the €50m which had previously been demanded from Valencia after his agent’s unfortunate
His short time at Valencia was nothing short of spectacular. There’s a growing trend in the media, after so many big money moves have failed, to pour scorn on them from the get-go so they can claim the title of “I told you it wouldn’t work out first”. I raised the point in the article I wrote for Yahoo that if he had performed as he did wearing a Real Madrid or Barcelona shirt, people would be saying he was worth £40-50m. While a lot of people in Valencia are unhappy with him for how he and his entourage have conducted themselves over the course of the last few months, none of them can have a complaint about how he performed on the pitch.
He was without question the best centre back in La Liga last season. He’s a very aggressive defender due to how well he reads the game and his style complemented that of his more naturally defensive partner on the right, Shkodran Mustafi – also a very special talent. He does his homework as well, especially on the bigger names. The performance at the Camp Nou was something unique as he shackled Messi throughout. You can see that he enjoys being out on that pitch. Towards the end of last season he was handed the ‘General’ moniker due to how he led the team from back to front. I don’t remember seeing him play and thinking he didn’t lay it all on the line. He should adapt to the Premier League like a duck to water but there will be road bumps along the way, as is commonplace with his style, but if people are patient with him you’ll see what a shrewd signing he is.
Concerns have been raised about Otamendi’s pace and his height. Given that these are generally seen as pretty desirable traits in the Premier League are these something we should be worrying about? How do you think he will adapt to the Premier League?
There have been one or two articles going about that question his pace and how he’ll struggle with the faster, more direct English game. I don’t know where this has come from as Nico’s certainly no slouch. He isn’t going to beat Raheem Sterling over 100m but he’s got a good burst of pace and is strong on the turn, which is what sets the less-than-quick defenders apart. He will need to improve his on the ball ability though. More than a few times last year he decided to go off on a run down the middle of the pitch only to be robbed of possession and leave Valencia scrambling back to regroup. He needs to fight that urge to bomb forward as often as he’d like to and instead keep it simple.
Height is always key in the Premier League, especially when it comes to central defenders. Otamendi isn’t the tallest and I could understand the concern unless you’ve actually watched him play, in which case I have no idea what you’re talking about. What he lacks in height he more than makes up for with his leap. You only need to google ‘Otamendi header’ and scroll through the images you find there to see how much height he generates on that leap. He bested Aduriz who is arguably the toughest target man in La Liga. The guy is no slouch in the air at all. In fact, he’s so good that he’s a major threat in the opposition’s box when it comes to set pieces. Due to his leap he generates ferocious power and chipped in a respectable 6 goals last term, notching crucial goals in the wins over Real Madrid at the Mestalla (ending their 22-match winning streak) as well as in the final game of the season away to Almeria.
Can you see him establishing himself in the City first team? Who would you partner him with if you were Pellegrini? Did City overpay for Otamendi as suggested by Tim Vickery or should we be very happy indeed?
He’s probably a week or two behind the rest of City’s team in terms of fitness so I don’t expect Pellegrini to throw him in straight away. A wise decision as first impressions count nowadays and you just know the media – and opposition fans – are desperate for him to make a mistake. Mangala has done a superb job alongside Kompany, too, so I expect Pellegrini to introduce Otamendi slowly without upsetting the applecart too much. I do expect him to be an established part of the first team by Christmas though. Manuel isn’t going to drop Kompany so it seems like Mangala will be the one to make way. Part of me hopes to see Nico and him given a few Cup games together as they could turn out to be the long-term option at centre back as Kompany looked shaky last season. Might do Vincent the world of good knowing his position isn’t assured either.
All City fans should be very happy with his signing. You’ve probably got the best pool of centre backs in the league now which might be crucial as you inevitably pick up injuries as the season wears on.
Thanks again, Andrew. It sounds like we’ve got a proper player on our hands…
Interview by Alex Timperley