Espanyol, the new golden boys of Catalunya?
As Florentino Perez continues to degrade an already absurd transfer market into new realms of travesty, changes of a more sensible nature are afoot in Catalunya. The air is still calm outside the Nou Camp as the stardust still settles after the gloss that was last season. Yet across town in Cornella de Llobregat, the air couldn’t be more supercharged with the flutter of parakeet wings as a fresh optimism seems to have sunk into the finishing touches of wet paint adorning the brand new Estadi RCDE.
After escaping relegation last term due to the remarkable turnaround championed by new manager Mauricio Pochettino, Espanyol have to feel pretty good about the prospects of finally having left the dull confines of the Estadi Olimpic on Montjuic in order to start the upcoming season in their state of the art new home, the Estadi RCDE. Following a tally of only 14 points and having burned through two coaches at the halfway point of the season, Espanyol turned to former player Pochettino to keep the club in the Primera.
Having asked for divine intervention(supposedly), and after beating Valencia, Barcelona and fellow relegation strugglers Real Betis along the way, Espanyol managed to put 32 points on the board in the second half of the season to finish a comfortable 10th place. Not as remarkable an escape as the Ferran Corominas goal against Real Sociedad in the final round in 2006 , but almost as improbable considering how fractured the club looked after the Christmas break.
2009 was no doubt the year of Pep and co. Yet, with the christening of their new ground just 3 weeks away when Liverpool come to town, Espanyol President Daniel Sanchez Llibre has been busy putting the wheels in motion to make the product on the RCDE pitch as close to being as magical on the eyes as it is across town on the grass of the Camp Nou. With the signings of the crafty Shunsuke Nakamura from Celtic and the unproven, yet dripping with potential Ben Sahar from Chelsea, Espanyol have made the most intriguing signings, yet devoid of galacticoesque glamour of any team in Europe so far.
Also brought in has been cultured Argentinean full back in the “Pochettino” mold Ivan Alexis Pullid from Newell’s Old Boys. With the return from injury and return to confidence of Ireland international Steve Finnan, as well as keeper Carlos Kameni deciding to stay in Barcelona, the prospects for the new season seem promising even to the most pessimistic of Catalonians.
After losing the enigmatic, but breath taking abilities of Juan Arango to the Bundesliga, it didn’t take La Liga long to find a worthy replacement. Under appreciated in Europe ever since his arrival in 2002, Shunsuke Nakamura will have the inadvertent eyes of the football world on him this year as La Liga gets ready to take center stage. And after being granted the chance of feeding the ball to Sahar and Tamudo(or his replacement should he decide to leave), as well as creating more space for a healthy and newly re-signed Ivan De La Pena, Shunsuke will finally show the big clubs of Europe and all the galactico hunters of the world that once one removes ones head from the cloudiness of the football hype machine, bargains are to be had. And when the curtain is raised at the Estadi RCDE on August 2, one would be inclined to believe that some of the Catalan stardust will find its way across town this year.