David Villa scored 128 goals in 212 games for Valenica. The striker though, would be the first to thank the supply line for providing him with the opportunities to become one of the best strikers in the world. Two wingers that set up Villa time and time again moved to England this summer. However, while one was picking up the Champions League trophy at the end of the season, the other helped his side to a respectable 10th placed finish in the Championship.
You cannot help but feel Vicente may have been watching on enviously as his old colleague Juan Mata paraded the trophy round the Allianz Arena with his Chelsea teammates (despite his best efforts in the shootout!) While Mata cost Chelsea a cool £23.5 million, Vicente headed for the South East coast of England on a free transfer, with Brighton his destination. You cannot help but wonder how their careers have taken such drastic differences in direction.
Cast your mind back to the 2003/04 season. La Liga wasn’t just a two horse race and teams actually cared about the UEFA Cup. Coincidentally, that season, Valenica won both. Vicente proved to be a key part of Rafa Benitez’s title winning side that season, chipping in with twelve goals from the wing and forming a lethal partnership with striker Mista who contributed sixteen of his own. Although Vicente had been an established member of the first team since his move from Levante in 2000, 2003/04 was the first year he really came to the fore. He also signed a new four year contract despite growing interest from a number of top sides, in both Spain and other parts of Europe. Although he played every game in the Euro 2004 tournament, the winger was part of a side with a reputation back then for underperforming in international tournaments, with 2004 proving no different as Spain crashed out in the group stages. Vicente though seemed set to have a long future at international level.
Sadly his career has taken a turn for the worse since then. A spate of injuries ensured the player consistently missed out on both club and international selection and only in the 2008/09 season, where he made 27 appearances, scoring six goals in the process, did he look anywhere near his previously lethal best. The injury woe got so bad, he even took to blaming the club’s medical staff, making controversial remarks that earned him a slap on the wrist and a substantial fine. With Mata more and more prominent on the flanks for Los Che, the club decided to cut their ties with Vicente last summer, aged just 29.
While many may have retired following this blow, Vicente’s career took a surprising turn. Although the Spaniard wasn’t short of options to continue his playing days in Spain, he must have been pretty shocked when he received a phone call from Gus Poyet, describing a seaside town on the coast of England. Remarkably, the player decided to opt for a move across Europe, citing the way Brighton play football ‘differently from other English clubs’ as a key reason for his decision.
Credit therefore has to go to Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan has set Brighton up as a decent footballing outfit since he first took over as manager in 2009 and this style saw the Seagulls return to the Championship for the first time in six years as Champions in 2010/11. The fans were pleased with some of the calibre of signings made last summer like Craig Mackail-Smith and Kazenga Lua Lua, but no one expected them to bring in a Spanish international with 38 caps. Poyet has big ambitions for the club though and hopes Vicente won’t be the only international to ply his trade at the Amex Stadium in the future.
Although Vicente made a promising start to life in England, scoring his first goal for his new team in October against Ipswich, the inevitable happened and he was ruled out for three months. However, since his return in February, the winger undoubtedly added a touch of class to proceedings at the Amex, helping the Seagulls to a twelve game unbeaten run to lift them into the playoffs. Although they tailed off at the end of the year, they still finished in tenth position, a decent achievement for the newly promoted side.
Vicente himself certainly impressed. He provided eight assists and three goals from the left wing despite just making 17 appearances all season. Since his contract runs out this summer, other clubs with a better pedigree than Brighton are obviously interested, but Poyet is confident of keeping his star man. Poyet told The Argus: “Vicente is away but we are in contact with him and I think there is a big possibility he will be with us next season.” Persuading the winger to stay would be a huge boost for the club. They have set their sights on the Premier League and Gus Poyet has signed a new contract until till 2014. If they can keep Vicente fit for a whole season,Brighton stand a great chance at breaking into the promotion chasing pack next season and possibly even winning the battle. And there isn’t a person back at the Mestella who wouldn’t want to see Vicente and Mata clashing in the Premiership.