Faith in youth due to financial turmoil is not uncommon but Espanyol have had to place more in their Cantera than others. Welcome to IBWM David Cartlidge.
An ancient Spanish proverb says "A poor man is all schemes" and although I haven't been to El Cornellà this season, one could be forgiven for thinking the phrase is pinned on Mauricio Pochettino's door.
The first half of Espanyol's season was one which gained much attention - firstly with a sense of surprise given they fell afoul of many pre-season predictions the media had banded around, before gaining widespread recognition for their approach to games and the means within which they operated. Pochettino's philosophy engrained into the club is one based upon his defenders being comfortable in possession of the ball and equally adept at distributing it, while the midfield would tirelessly press and retain the ball. It was a precise, patient approach that required constant movement throughout for it to come to any fruition. They operated a striker in Daniel Osvaldo who would lead the line as its main focal point while his designated partner, usually José Callejón, would act as a second striker of sorts dropping into midfield and working in tandem with a classic box to box player in the form of Javi Márquez. Amongst all that stood Luís García, talisman and designated flag bearer given the departure of club legend Raúl Tamudo.
They'd gone 10 games without defeat at home up until the beginning of December, before being humbled in their own backyard by their cross town rivals Barcelona. Although the 1-5 result was anything but flattering, Pochettino refused to change the style of play which he'd imprinted upon this young team. They came away with plenty of respect despite the obvious indignation from their fans who had come into the game feeling confident having seen what had gone before them in their new stadia.
That result brings us to 2011. The January transfer window was perhaps where problems started to occur; with Espanyol crippled financially due to repayment issues concerning their sparkling new stadium in Cornellà de Llobrega they had to sell and raise 8m to form just one small payment in a bulging €100m + debt. Players are still being consistently paid late, with a note in each packet promising more will be on its way when their slice of the TV money cake (albeit a rather small one) comes through in May.
Departures were inevitable, it was just a case of who'd be the first to go. That would be Gerard Piqué-light centre back Víctor Ruiz heading for Napoli, after all he was attracting more admiring glances than most - €6m was his fee while the club also gained full control over on-loan Argentinean winger Jesús Dátolo's transfer rights. Then reports came of another defender leaving, this time maturing fullback Dídac Vilà again to Italy and this time AC Milan for €4m - there was no danger of even a small percentage of the money being reinvested. Further strife was to come in the early months of the year with Osvaldo, the aforementioned leading man, being struck down by injury soon to be followed by at least 3 other first team players - including most recently Juan Forlín, who alongside the departed Ruiz in defence formed a great understanding. Pochettino's rock solid base at the back which was predominant in their blistering start had been eroded away.
With all this on the table Pochettino had simply one retort: promote from within. Approaching a press conference recently the man who'd played his best years at Espanyol, simply looked nonchalant when asked if he'd cope - there are no 'ifs' about it for the one time combative defender, he'd simply have to. With the youthful exuberance of a team already containing the likes of Callejón, Forlín (both admittedly scouted, and brought in at a younger age to the club with the former discarded by Real Madrid) Jordi Amat, and Raúl Baena they have since been joined by a contingent of even fresher, younger players coming directly out of the Cantera. Most eye-catching of all has been Álvaro Vásquez; a 19 year old creative midfielder bearing all the similarities of former Valencia man David Silva and with a similar penchant for operating out in wide berths one minute before cutting inside the next all while displaying subtle agility and awareness. The substitute's bench in recent weeks too, has resembled that of a college bus shelter: Eric Lopez (17), Victor Álvarez (18), Manu Molina (19) Rui Fonte (20) and Albert Canal (20) have all took seats next to tutor Pochettino.
There is also considerable anticipation surrounding the integration of Thievy Bifoum - a young attacker born in Saint-Denis, Paris with a dual Cameroonian/French nationality. He was described by the Coach as the "fast, physical presence we've been lacking" and has scored 6 goals this season at 'Cadete' level while weighing in regularly with assists.
His recent call-up to the first team happened to be the 16th player Pochettino has called upon from the seemingly bottomless Cantera in two years. There will of course still be frequent departures; Callejón has been the subject of interest from England and from other clubs in Spain, while Márquez midfield prowess hasn't gone unnoticed in the same countries. Raul Baena is the latest to be linked with a move away, declaring himself there was an offer from Italy for his services - after all, that is where the rest of his Cantera graduates have headed. The Coach himself is no stranger to speculation; club boards with bigger budgets, greater aspirations - and managers teetering on the brink of course - are whispering his name all across Spain.
Over the last few years or so there has been plenty of money pumped into clubs around Spain, and for the most part it's spent unwisely - from the very top end with the usual suspects at Real Madrid and Barcelona filtering down to Atlético Madrid and Valencia. Most recently Málaga have took it upon themselves to spend heavily on ageing, former 'stars' commanding elite wages. Racing Santander's recent brush with money in form of an Indian businessman too could see the Cantabrian outfit dent an already unhealthy market significantly in the summer - though owner Syed Ali has stressed they may take a cautious approach in terms of recruitment.
It is therefore hugely admirable what Pochettino and Espanyol are still continuing to achieve as they reside in 5th place heading into the final quarter of a tough, unpredictable campaign for sides battling for the much coveted European placings - the revenue ascertained from such an achievement will ease the ease the financial burden on many given the disparity engulfing teams out side of the 'top two' in regards to the TV money.
Come season end they might just have to change the proverb in El Cornellà to 'a wise man is all schemes.'
See more of David's work at Spanishfootball.info or follow him on Twitter @Nerdyyy.