Alfonso Pedraza might not be a familiar name to most of you but this young Spaniard is about to sign for Leeds United in a deal that could reach €10m (£8.5m). I know a lot of Leeds fans are concerned by the price or feel it’s way beyond their means but it’ll only come into effect if they gain promotion to the Premier League this season.
So who is he? What position does he play in? And more importantly, is he any good?
Alfonso was born in a small village close to Cordoba and it was here he began his journey with Seneca CF. At the age of 15 he was noticed by Villarreal scouts and was signed to their academy in 2011. Since then his rise has been remarkable as he went from playing with the ‘B’ side to ultimately making his LaLiga debut under Marcelino in 2015.
The following summer he was a key member in Spain’s U19 Championship triumph, only missing one game in the finals and that was through suspension. In the ‘Elite Round’, which is essentially a second set of qualifiers ahead of the main tournament, he scored in all three matches.
Marcelino saw a lot of promise in the youngster but didn’t want to throw him into the deep end too soon. He made four first team squads last season and started two of those games. Alfonso was also given a late runout against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the Europa League.
Despite his progress the club signed Denis Cheryshev to compete alongside Samu Castillejo for the left wing spot, leaving Alfonso no choice but to look for a team on loan. He went to CD Lugo, a second division side which finished 14th last season, in order to get more playing time as he still holds hope of making Spain’s U21 side for this summer’s international tournament – despite the wealth of attacking talent Spain have to call upon.
At Lugo he was an overwhelming success. The player too, admitted he “got it right” by joining them in the summer. Alfonso scored six goals and provided eight assists in his six months there and leaves the club just two points off the play-off places in 8th. His form hasn’t gone unnoticed in Spain either with Sporting Gijon said to be interested earlier this month but he rejected the offer to join them.
Villarreal paid €300,000 and cancelled his loan to Lugo immediately after their match against Real Zaragoza, a game in which Alfonso himself asked to play as way of a reward for the opportunity they gave him.
So what type of player are Leeds United getting?
Alfonso is a rapid winger, most notably playing on the left but comfortable playing on the right and cutting inside too. Not lacking in bravery or talent he loves to take on his marker and, unlike a lot of speedsters, knows how to get his head up and find a teammate as opposed to aimlessly running into traffic. Those who’ve seen him play more often than me say he’s quite similar to Gareth Bale. Tall, naturally strong and when he knocks the ball past you there’s only going to be one winner. Plus he has an eye for goal.
He’s ambitious too. While Leeds aren’t assured of promotion they are very much in the title race and without the distraction of the FA Cup, will look to put the pressure on Newcastle United and Brighton. Alfonso isn’t coming just to make up the numbers for an easy six months. This is a kid who is desperate to play, desperate to impress and has ambitions of playing in the Premier League.
Southampton actually bid for him and tried to convince Alfonso to join them. However he wasn’t going to be assured of a place in the first team and didn’t want to get lost the in shuffle, despite being flattered by the deal on offer. West Ham also sent a scout over to watch him play at Lugo. He wants to feature in the Premier League next season and he believes he’s good enough to.
To make Spain’s U21 squad is a tall ask but he’s ready for the challenge. When word of Leeds interest came in Villarreal asked his thoughts on the matter. Alfonso wanted assurances he’d be given a chance at the club next season but was told that wasn’t possible. He sees the opportunity to join Leeds as a step forward in his career, a greater platform, and in a project that matches his own ambitions.
It would’ve been easy to remain in Spain’s second division and have the pick of his LaLiga teams in the summer but that doesn’t interest him. We’re talking about a young man with bags of potential, natural ability, and a drive to reach the top of the footballing ladder as quickly as possible.
At Leeds he’ll find two fellow Spaniards to greet him in Pablo Hernandez and Pep Clotet. Alfonso doesn’t speak a word of English so will rely on those two in the beginning but has already told people close to him he wants someone to teach him the language straight away. He wants to integrate as quickly as possible and adapt to his new surroundings, viewing them as permanent as opposed to temporary.
The influence of the Spanish pair was key in getting the deal done and snatching Alfonso from the clutches of Premier League sides. Those who have spoken to the player say he’s delighted with the opportunity to play for a club with a history like Leeds and is looking forward to the challenge.
Leeds might’ve just unearthed a gem but if they want to keep ahold of him, they need to gain promotion to the Premier League.