After all the rampant online speculation, fueled mainly by now infamous ‘ITK’ accounts on Twitter, Watford have their first senior signing of the 2013/14 season. Kind of.
Javier Acuña joins from Real Madrid Castilla, via Girona, via Udinese, on a season long loan (edit: it now looks like it might be a three year contract; a rare example of transfer dealings not being all that candid at Watford), following the Marco Cassetti paradigm of joining the Friulian side just to accommodate a hassle-free short term move.
But let us assume, given that Acuña is a spritely 25 compared to the wisened old wing-back, that this is simply a fail-safe in case the striker fails to take to English football like his predecessor Alex Geijo, and that success will see him become a fully-fledged member of the Hornets. What are we getting?
Following in the footsteps of many of his compatriots, Javi was snapped up by a European club after playing a starring role in a South American youth tournament. Born in Encarnación, a small south Paraguayan city right on the Argentinian border – officially the coldest city in Paraguay with an average temperature of 21°c – Acuña moved to the capital Asunción at the age of 14 to play for Club Olimpia, three time winners of the Copa Libertadores.
It was whilst playing for Olimpia’s youth team that Acuña represented his country’s under 16 side in the inaugural Sudamericano u-16 Championship (since changed to an under 15 competition). Paraguay won the tournament on penalties after a 0-0 draw with Colombia in Asunción and Acuña was named joint top scorer with four goals ahead of Argentina’s Sergio Agüero on three – although his hat-trick in a 7-1 quarter final drubbing of Venezuela padded his tally somewhat.
It was, perhaps, this display that persuaded Cadiz – sometime associates of the Pozzo-owned Granada – to bring Acuña to Spain. He didn’t make his first team debut until the 2006/07 season, two years later, at the age of 18. Playing in the second tier of the Spanish league, he started ten games, coming on as a sub in another thirteen and scored two goals as the side finished 5th. The following year he was loaned out to UD Salamanca, in the same division (in fact Salamanca finished 7th that year to Cadiz’s 20th), where he again struggled to cement himself in the first team, starting ten games of which he only completed six. He scored one goal.
He made one more substitute appearance for the now-relegated Cadiz before heading to the capital, for the sum of €500k, to turn out for Real Madrid’s B team. In two seasons (2008/09 and 09/10), both of which were in the third tier, he played in 26 matches, scoring seven goals. His six goal haul in his first season in Madrid marking his second most prolific in professional football. His second looked to be continuing his upward trajectory when a severe injury crisis in the Spanish giants’ first team led to Manuel Pellegrini calling the Paraguayan up to the bench for a game against Sporting Gijon, though he never got on the pitch. The rest of the season, however, was hampered by a long lay-off with a knee injury.
For the 2010/11 campaign he was back in the Segunda, loaned up the pyramid to Recreativo Huelva. One goal resulted from his eight starts. Not a Huelva season.
Then came Girona. The move from a club that was technically Real Madrid to the home of Barcelona’s airport did not perhaps ignite the same vitriol in the Spanish media as that of Samuel Eto’o or Luis Enrique, but it did kick-start the striker’s career. After a year settling in to the picturesque Catalan town, a year yielding four goals in eleven starts, Acuña finally got a taste of regular football last season. And it agreed with him.
Twenty two starts, sixteen substitute appearances, eighteen goals. At the age of 24, had taken his time to settle into the bustle of European football, but exploded into action. He finished seventh in the league’s top goalscorer rankings and helped Girona to a place in the two-legged play-off final. The tie, played just over a week ago, saw the Albirrojos miss out on a place in the Primera Division after a 4-0 aggregate loss at the hands of Almeria. At least he’ll fit in with the Watford lot.
A selection of his goals from this breakthrough campaign shows that the Paraguayan is not tall – Wikipedia has him at just under 5ft 9, not too much taller than our dear manager – but has an aerial prowess and presence that belies his diminutive size and is sorely lacking in the current Watford squad. My sources in Spanish football say that he has an excellent work ethic in the box, constantly moving, finding space and putting himself about.
Of course, looking at his career to date, it’s hard not to think of Alex Geijo. There too we found a striker who had spent the majority of his career floating around, never quite taking off anywhere, until he landed in Granada and finally found his feet. Of course, the danger with taking a player out of the environment in which he belatedly hit form is that he won’t be able to recreate it in his new surrounds. Though Geijo was clearly, to some, a talented player, he just didn’t sit right with Championship football – he was too languid, never quite quick enough to the punch, never given the chance to showcase the skill that he had.
If reports are to be believed, Acuña is the anti-Geijo, all bustle, dynamism and finishing, more a replacement for Vydra than the “Spaniard”. But his situation is the same, he didn’t set the world alight before Girona – he hardly played scorched his fingers on a match – but now he comes here with the expectation that he will instantly recreate his recent form. Perhaps it’s best that he’s tied in with Udinese, just in case.
Not to say that he’s not an exciting prospect. He has attributes that we need and had a better final goals to minute ratio last season (1 per 120) than a certain Czech wunderkind (1 per 126), but a season into this Pozzo relationship, we have seen the breadth of impact a new foreign striker can have: from the heights of Vydra, through the frustration of Geijo to the head-shaking disaster that was Steve Beleck. We cannot expect Acuña to step into Vydra’s shoes and fire us to promotion.
Javier Acuña, welcome to English football.