In a move no one saw coming this time last week, Leicester City have today announced the signing of Sevilla midfielder Vicente Iborra on a four year deal, for a fee thought to be around £12m. The 29 year old Spaniard is undoubtedly a good player, but the need for this signing is a little less clear.
As we did for the Harry Maguire deal, we’ll try to break down the key positives that Iborra brings to club and hopefully that will shed a little more light on the reasoning behind this one.
A strong mentality
The consensus description from the Sevillistas of their departing captain is of a strong leadership presence, on and off the pitch. Having won the Europa League three years in a row, it’s clear he knows a thing or two about a winning mentality too. The current Foxes squad are no strangers to winning, but on field leadership can appear lacking at times.
A technical defender
For much of his career, Iborra has been deployed as a defensive midfielder, often in a role of shielding his defence. As you’d expect, his strengths include breaking up opposition play, through the air and along the ground. We’ve got a few of those already, but what sets the Spaniard apart (as it does with most players who’ve succeeded in La Liga) is his technical ability on the ball.
He has good touch under pressure, in an area of the field that can often become frantic, and is also a solid passer, able to calmly pick out his teammates and move the ball forward.
The Spanish Fellaini?
While he broke through as a defensive midfielder, the arrival of Steven N’Zonzi has allowed Sevilla to use him all over the pitch, filling in anywhere from centre back to centre forward, including a very brief stint in goal.
Options for Leicester to use him as a DM, second striker. Best at top of midfield with freedom to make late runs, hold up ball. #LCFC— David Cartlidge (@davidjaca) July 6, 2017
In particular, he seemed to carve out a niche for himself in a secondary striker role, working as a target man when his team were looking for a more direct approach. He’s been pretty effective there too, scoring nine, eight and seven goals in the last three seasons, despite never being a regular forward. Maybe it should be Okazaki, rather than Drinkwater or Ndidi, looking over his shoulder at this signing.
Gylfi Sigurdsson remains my dream buy for that attacking midfield role, in part because of his excellent dead ball delivery. While Iborra doesn't bring that to the field, he does improve both attacking and defensive set pieces, which is an area of need for this squad.
He’s not just tall (though he is that), but he’s a strong presence and good header of the ball. Combined with an ability to keep cool in either penalty area, and that’s a valuable addition from free kicks, corners and Christian Fuchs throws.
Even if Shakespeare only views him as a central midfielder and even if he can’t force his way into the starting line up there, he still improves the squad as a whole. Remember when Drinkwater was injured last year and we were suddenly inept through the middle? Ndidi too, at just 20, shouldn't necessarily be relied upon for a full season.
You know what you’re getting from Andy King (and we love it), but our other options (Mendy, James, Amartey) all come with serious question marks, especially if we’re forced to rely on them for long periods. Iborra is someone who can definitely be trusted to step in and play well when needed, and has succeeded from the bench for Sevilla of late.
3 - Vicente Iborra is the first midfielder to have scored a hat-trick as substitute in the 21st century in La Liga. Alfara pic.twitter.com/3LjXb1G6nC— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 11, 2016
I feel like I could copy and paste this from Harry Maguire’s, but his large frame does cost him for pace and he won’t be moving around the pitch in an Ndidi-like fashion. or even Drinkwater-like. It doesn’t really hurt him too much, as he’s very positionally aware and usually gets to the right place ahead of time, but it doesn’t fit perfectly with the speedy ethos of the team. He’s also 29, which is not exactly what I was hoping for and you’d have to expect him to slow down over a four year contract. I’ll be more surprised if he sees the four years out than if he doesn’t.
While he hasn’t ever played in the Premier League, I’m less worried about his lack of experience there as I would be with others because he’s performed at just as high a level, and certainly has the physicality to play in this league. Still though, with any signing from other leagues, struggles in adapting to the style, especially early on, are a possibility.
He’s good player. He makes the squad better and for around £12m I’m not sure you can say no to that these days. At worst he brings depth behind the current first choice and we saw last year that that’s useful.
At best he brings some exciting new possibilities to the squad. He’s another option in an area of need in attacking midfield, but could also form a midfield three if we’re looking to give the likes of Gray a more advanced role. He’s not as exciting for the future as the players we’ve been watching the rumours roll in for all summer, but he makes the club better now.