From the hustle and bustle of Madrid, to the inlets of the Rias Baixas in Galicia, via a sixth month spell next to the river Thames we wave goodbye to Jozabed Sanchez as he departs for Celta de Vigo. Well, for 18 months at least.
If nothing says “you’re not in my immediate plans”, it’s a long loan to a club in another league with an option to buy at the end of it. Which leads you to think “what could have been” for Jozabed and his long-term development at Fulham. Had he buried that 92nd minute free kick against QPR would we be writing this article today wondering what this player of obvious talent could have done for the club? So much changes in an instant, but it is hard to see how Jozabed could fit in to the current system at Fulham.
Initial reaction when Jozabed signed was of nervous anticipation, that Fulham had perhaps secured one of the most underrated talents in all of La Liga. Having been on the verge of signing for three-time Europa League Champions Sevilla, but finally ending up at Fulham really felt like a coup for the club. And rightly so – in a poor Rayo Vallecano team Jozabed stood out, intelligence unmatched, a footballer for the purists – especially his silky smooth midfield partnership with Roberto Trashorras who coincidentally used to play for Celta. Had it not been for manager Paco Jemez’s ludicrous decisions to play formations that hindered Rayo rather than excelled them, then Jozabed would probably still be playing in Madrid today. Alas, fine margins.
“The game against Middlesbrough was where those eight thousand in attendance were treated to what we are now going to christen the “Jozabed Feint” – where even without the ball at his feet, managed to out-fox opponents all night.”
Naturally, our stand out memory of Jozabed would have been the aforementioned free kick. But in his short time at Fulham it was clear that there certainly was a player of fine fettle in there lurking among the stubble and the baggy shorts. His showing against Middlesbrough in the EFL Cup was nothing short of delightful and he demonstrated to the 8,522 in attendance that night that he could mix it with the big boys. You can really tell the quality of a player by the way they conduct themselves as a ball is played into their feet, their understanding of the situation that they are going to be in once they receive it and then how they use the ball and/or body to escape it in one swift motion. The game against Middlesbrough was where those eight thousand in attendance were treated to what we are now going to christen the “Jozabed Feint” – where even without the ball at his feet managed to out-fox opponents all night, creating space for counters and passing sequences. The “no touch turn” to you and I.
On the podcast we have discussed Jozabed at length, especially in the early episodes when Fulham’s form wasn’t as good as it should have been and were looking at solutions to our midfield problem(s). Back then, it seemed apparent that there was an “air of Bryan Ruiz” about Jozabed – clearly, this player is talented. He can play across the front four positions and in a deeper role in the right system. But, unfortunately for him the shock and speed of the football seemed to take him by surprise as did the physicality.
Additionally, the change in system and the introduction of the stunning Stefan Johansen meant that PL2 was as far as this camino ever got for Jozabed. The current system of play is focused on quick transitions, high-pressing, lateral passing through the opposition – everything is at break-neck speed and it suits the calibre and speed of player that Fulham currently have. Unfortunately, this system and speed didn’t quite suit the playing style of the Spaniard, who would prefer to play a freer role further up the pitch i.e. Tom Cairney’s 10 position, rather than a number 4 or 8 with responsibility to become a two-way player. He relied on Trashorras to do the dirty work during his time with Rayo.
Undeniably, Fulham bought a player that has many talents – a quick eye for a pass, great intelligence and a wonderful set piece. It is just unfortunate that he couldn’t settle into the system and league. The fact that Celta, who are still in the final 32 of the Europa League, quarter-final of the Copa Del Rey and currently sit three points off another Europa League qualification have taken Jozabed on such a tenure points to not only their belief in his qualities, but also the stature of the club he has joined. I bet Iago Aspas is drooling at the thought of the assists that Fulham’s absentee No23 will provide…