Remember Joselu? Big lad, Spanish, loads of tattoos? Ring any bells? No?
Poor old Joe Luis Sammartino Mato. At £5.75m (at the time the fourth most expensive Stoke City player in history), he was, until Tuesday 11th August, Stoke’s big-money signing of the transfer window. Now, in the wake of Xherdan Shaqiri’s arrival, he’s almost been reduced to window dressing before he’s so much as kicked a ball in anger. At least that’s what it feels like.
So what can we expect from our new striker, who has, nevertheless, arrived at some expense?
For the second consecutive season, we have prised away a Hannover centre forward.
This one, however, at almost double the previous highest fee paid by Mark Hughes as Stoke manager, represents the biggest gamble yet in the Welshman’s time here.
Joselu, judged on his short career so far, is an enigma. He rose to prominence with three goals in the Under-19 European Championships for Spain in 2009 (where he played in the same team as Bojan), which earned him a move to Real Madrid. Despite scoring with his first touch for the senor side and netting a boatload for the club’s B team in partnership with Alvaro Morata, he found opportunities hard to come by, and so for five million Euros headed to Germany, the country of his birth, to play for Hoffenheim.
Yet despite hailing originally from Stuttgart, the Spaniard took time to settle in the Bundesliga, and didn’t pull up any trees in his first season with the Die Kraichgauer. A loan move to Eintracht Frankfurt appeared to be the making of him, as respected coach Armin Veh whipped him into shape and he added work rate to match his blossoming talent. Even then though, he’d managed just three goals before March, when a sudden glut of five in four games and one on the last day of the season saw him end 2013/14 with a respectable nine goals in 24 appearances.
His season at Hannover took the opposite path – he made a promising start, netting eight times during the first half of the season, but failed to score at all after the winter break as Die Roten became Die Rotten, getting themselves sucked into a relegation battle. Hannover fans in general seem divided on Joselu. There’s been a certain amount of gleeful disbelief at the fee they’ve secured for the tatooed Madridista, especially in comparison to their devastation when pinched Mame Biram Diouf off them for nothing.
If you’ve got the time and stamina to wade your way through even some of this lengthy thread from the main H96 forum, you’ll see just how split they are on him. There’s plenty of praise for his technique and aerial ability, and many see him as a possible star of the future. More troubling though, are the criticisms of a tendency to hide when the going gets tough and suggestions he lacks the stomach for a fight, with nicknames such as ‘diva’ and ‘the senorita’ not exactly painting him in glowing terms. His transience at such a young age is also slightly worrying – this will be his fourth consecutive season at a new club. The boy really needs some stability.
For all those concerns however, I’ve got a crazy feeling that this might just work out. Perhaps there’s a smidge of blind faith about this, but I think Joselu will turn out to be much better suited to English football than the German game. He looks to have the hustle and bustle of your classic English centre forward. He’s 6ft3 and excellent in the air – it’s been well-documented that the 188 aerial duels he won in 2014/15 put him second only to Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling, not only in Germany but in Europe’s top five leagues (including the Premier League). He’s also adept with the ball at his feet, a combination that appears to mark him as the heir to Peter Crouch. We were assured he was more mobile than the big man, though early pre-season showings, though showcasing neat and tidy footwork, haven’t really suggested as such thus far.
There’s no doubt that we needed to freshen up our striking options – prior to Joselu’s arrival, we were looking at Crouch, Walters and Odemwingie as the options if anything happened to Mame Diouf, a trio of good but ageing players who’ve all had their share of injury concerns over the last few months. Joselu, on the other hand, looks to be a viable alternative to the Senegalese star. Diouf came into his own in the final months of his maiden Stoke season, yet he’s still to prove he can link the play and bring others into the game in the way that a lone striker in the Premier League needs to be able to do. He might not have the pace or direct goal threat of his fellow ex-Hannover forward, but he’s strong, good with his back to goal and very tidy in possession. He’s a target man who suits a passing game, and that’s clearly what the manager has been looking for. Mark Hughes has been quick to praise his new striker’s technical ability, and though some H96 fans have raised doubts about his capacity to play in his own up front, he certainly looks to have the tools to do so over here. He will push Diouf for that slot up front (it’s a pretty safe bet we haven’t spent six million quid on a back-up striker) but their contrasting strengths also means there’s the option of pairing them together as a Plan B.
Some have expressed concern about his less than stellar goal-scoring record (he’s yet to hit double figures in a top league) but that isn’t necessarily a massive issue – as Michael Calvin’s excellent book on football scouting, The Nowhere Men, reveals, goal records alone often aren’t what managers and scouts look for in a centre forward in these days of one up front. The focus is more and more on a striker’s all-round game, his ability to hold the ball up and create as well as pose a threat himself.
Hughes evidently has big plans for the former Celta Vigo prodigy, as he and the transfer team had been tracking him for a long time and Tony Scholes declared him one of our top targets once he finally signed.
German-born, Spanish-made, Joselu is perhaps the quintessential Mark Hughes signing. He’s one to watch.