Unflashy Granero signs up for latest trend

Posted by Rob Train

It didn't take long for the Chelsea locker room to discover that there's some fun to be had translating Spanish names into English; shortly after his arrival from Valencia, Juan Mata was dubbed Johnny Kill by his team-mates. Among a national team of mostly introverts - Gerard Pique's name stays the same in both languages and Sergio Bunches-of-Flowers is pretty wide of the mark - it fits his on-field prowess perfectly. Mata has an eye for a killer pass that few other players possess and is reglarly lethal in front of goal.

Stephen Granary doesn't have quite the same punch to it but Queen's Park Rangers, one of the biggest teams in England in the 1980s, pulled off something of a coup when they picked up Esteban Granero from Real Madrid for about 8 million euros as the transfer deadline ran down. The former Castilla cadet bucked a trend among his peers in choosing to move to the West London club: the Premier League has been either an incubator for Spanish talent such as Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa and Jose Reyes, later to be reclaimed by Real, or a retirement home for the likes of Michel Salgado, Ivan Campo and the man of iron himself, Fernando Hierro.

Mark Hughes has been the subject of some ridicule for his apparent attempt to assemble the oldest squad in the history of football but in Granero the combustible former Barcelona forward has signed a player in his prime at 25 - just one that didn't get much of a chance at Real. When the move was proposed, both Jose Mourinho and Aitor Karanka, his number two, made remarks similar to those issued over the Kaká affair: happy if he goes, happy if he stays. But in the case of the player dubbed "The Pirate" in Spain for his roguish beard and unruly hair, the impression was that it was heartfelt rather than bluster to keep the fragile peace at Real.

Moreover, Granero is a player singularly suited to the Premier League. His energetic displays for Getafe persuaded Real to bring the midfielder back into the fold and it is testament to his professionalism as much as his undoubted skill that he managed to ride the rollercoaster for considerably longer than players such as Sergio Canales and Pedro León. Mourinho has a soft spot for Granero and there was never any danger of the Madrid-born player being forced to walk the Bernabéu plank. It is no coincidence that during Granero's time at Getafe, an unfashionable club from the industrial south of Madrid that rarely pulls in more than 10,000 spectators, El Geta reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup and the King's Cup final. It was also fitting that a sheepish-looking Granero was in the team photo following Real's Spanish Supercopa win over Barcelona: he played no part but has been the consummate bit-part player, making 24 mostly substitute appearances last season, at a club where bench time is generally ill-received.

Granero mixes vision, physical presence and an opera singer's lung capacity, all attributes that point to a successful spell in the English capital. He can also tackle cleanly and effectively, unlike several of his former team-mates. "He is a great player, first and foremost," said Sparky on unveiling his new signing. "You don't play at a club like Real Madrid if you're not. He is very well regarded there and for him to leave a club of that stature to come to us shows the belief he has in what we are trying to do."

The Spaniard was thrown straight into the side for QPR's last match against Manchester City and acquitted himself well against the reigning Premier League champions. This week, he will line up against some familiar faces when Chelsea and QPR contest a West London derby.

Granero is one of a growing number of Spanish players to leave La Liga for pastures new, a situation that is Spain's loss and England and Germany's gain, brought about by the dire financial state of their home country. No team in La Liga could afford to take a punt on Michu, who has scored in each of Swansea's opening three games, while full international Pablo Hernández made the switch to The Swans from Valencia at the same time as Granero was on his way to London.

At Real, which has always had a haphazard approach to its youth policy, cantera starlets Joselu and Dani Carvajal were sold to Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, as the realization dawns on youth teamers that there is little chance of making the big time at home.

Borja Valero sensed this in 2007 when, after making his way through the ranks at Real, he decamped to Mallorca and, via West Bromwich Albion and a decent spell at Villarreal, eventually to Fiorentina, picking up a first full cap for Spain along the way. Hernández, too, is likely to see his star rise again in Michael Laudrup's free-flowing world-beaters.

"I am delighted to be part of this exciting chapter in the club's history. Players that have joined before me are as excited as I am about what QPR can become, one of the great teams in England," said Granero when he landed at Loftus Road. That may be pushing it a bit, but for a player of Granero's quality, a full Spain call-up should be a matter of time rather than governed by injury or the commitments of La Liga's big two. The Spanish exodus means that Vicente del Bosque's eyes will alight more frequently on the Premier League, but even the venerable marquis will have his work cut out to see the forest at his disposal through its many trees.

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