Scouting Report: Jose Luis Gaya is the left-back of the future for Valencia
Jose Luis Gaya
D.o.B: May 25, 1995
Height: 172 cm
Weight: 67 kg
Estimated value: £8 million
A local of Pedreguer, Jose Gaya has begun the season as first-choice left-back for Valencia CF under manager Nuno Espirito Santo. A product of the club's academy system, Gaya has come right through the ranks at the Mestalla and is seen as one of the best prospects to emerge in many years. Fortunately, thanks to the summer departure of Juan Bernat to join FC Bayern, a route to first-team football has emerged at the right time for his development.
A regular with Spanish youth teams from under-16 level, Gaya made his senior debut for Valencia's reserve side at the age of 16 but only truly became a regular the following season. With Bernat above him in the first team and fellow youngster Salva Ruiz also a promising talent in the left-back berth, Gaya faced tough competition for places but quickly won the faith of his coach -- albeit occasionally featuring in a more advanced role.
Indeed, in September 2012, he was called up to the first-team squad for the first time by former youth and reserve manager Mauricio Pellegrino for a league fixture with Celta. His senior debut, though, would have to wait until a cup fixture against UE Llagostera the following month. While that would be his only first-team outing of the season, his form at B-team level was enough to ensure that he was offered a new five-year contract in February 2013, still prior to his 18th birthday.
His excellent form saw him shoot through the age levels with the Spain national side also, playing at every level from U17 to U20 in the 2012-13 season alone. However, as the youngest player called to the U-20 World Cup at the end of the campaign, he would feature just once in the competition due to the presence of club colleague Bernat.
The 2013-14 campaign brought a small increase in first-team opportunities, with Gaya making three Europa League appearances before a La Liga debut against Atletico Madrid this past April. With Bernat departed for pastures new, though, he now has the chance to nail down a long-term starting spot at his childhood club. Thus far, he is excelling with his form earning a call to the Spain U21 squad in September.
An attack-minded left-back, Gaya plays in a standard back four at Valencia but is given freedom to push forward down the flank as defensive midfielder Javi Fuego drops back to form a back three. When in possession, his positioning is often akin to a winger.
With astonishing acceleration, the 19-year-old is therefore allowed to patrol much of the left flank single-handedly. Overlapping the forward (usually Argentine Pablo Piatti) ahead of him, Gaya is very much a wing-back in his thinking and enjoys time in forward areas.
Comfortable on the ball and an excellent crosser with his left foot, Gaya's presence on the flank gives his side real options when it comes to using all space available on the pitch in attack. His pace, meanwhile, often allows him to recover quickly in defence despite his often advanced starting position. He is as tenacious in that defensive work as he is keen in attack, very much in the mold of Europe's best young full-backs of the moment.
- Ball control
- Aerial challenges
- Concedes free kicks
- Man marking
Tackling: Enjoys a challenge and as a consequence, perhaps through over-eagerness, still concedes too many free kicks. When able to control his desire to press quickly and challenge for the ball, however, he is stronger than his size would suggest and can steal the ball away quickly.
Marking: A relative weak point of his game. While he can be seen issuing orders at times in the game, he often needs to be reminded of who he should be picking up when the ball is on the other flank. Can appear to be daydreaming and allow space to build between him and his man.
Heading: Given his lack of height, he is never going to be particularly strong in the air. When up against someone of similar stature he is not all that bad in aerial challenges, but struggles against taller, stronger players. Understandably, he is used to mark a post from defensive corners and left to defend when his team have attacking set piece opportunities.
Close control: As has become the trend among Spanish full-backs, it is difficult to fault Gaya on basic technique. Whether receiving the ball to his right or left foot he is generally comfortable and willing to dribble on either side. He can look particularly dangerous coming in off his flank.
Passing: With his pass completion rate for the current La Liga season standing at an impressive 86 percent, it is fair to say there are few issues in this respect. Indeed, discounting long balls, he has misplaced just 14 of 191 attempted passes. Comfortable off either foot and able to play the ball at pace, he is perfectly capable of slotting in higher up the pitch.
Positioning: Given that he is generally allowed to push forward, Gaya is often forced to use his pace to recover quickly. However, he is diligent in that respect. When pinned back, he is competent in his positioning, but the slight doubts over his man-marking mentioned above remain.
Crossing: Strikes the ball well and into dangerous areas, despite the fact that his crosses have not led to a great number of chances thus far in the campaign. Given time, he should become a semi-regular provider of assists for his side if he can maintain or improve on his form this season.
Finishing: He took his recent goal against Cordoba excellently, with a low shot on the angle beating the goalkeeper at his near post. Other attempts have been less successful, albeit limited in number, while his record of three goals in 64 at B-team level suggests he will not regularly trouble the scorers. Technically, though, there is no reason he cannot add goals to his game in the right tactical setup.
What the experts say:
How long until Jose Luis Gaya gets spoken about as the potential new Spain LB? Great talent. Restricted in system at times, but he flies.- Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) September 30, 2014
José Luis Gayà growing in confidence by the game right now. Huge potential. Born in 1995.- Eóin - Valencia News (@XimoVCF) August 29, 2014
Valencia have been prolific in the production of left-backs in recent seasons, with both Jordi Alba and Juan Bernat honing their skills at the Mestalla prior to earning transfers to Barcelona and Bayern respectively. Long touted as one Spain's brightest emerging stars in his position, Gaya would appear to be headed on a similar trajectory.
Just 19, he has begun to firmly establish himself in the Valencia first team and continuing to establish himself in the new-look side will continue to be the aim for the season. His early season form is attracting much attention, but if Singaporean Peter Lim can finally complete his acquisition of the club in the near future, the Mestalla outfit will soon be operating without the need to sell their biggest players for the first time in several years.
For now, Gaya's league career consists of just seven fixtures in the top flight. However, as fellow left-back Alberto Moreno's rapid progress has shown -- himself in a similar position just 18 months ago -- exposure in La Liga and with the Spain U21 side can rapidly change that circumstance. As attacking full-backs become increasingly valued at top sides, players with the technique and speed of Gaya are much sought after.
Highly assured for his age, the next 12 months will be a time of learning for the young full-back. When Valencia come up against the best sides in La Liga, he will need to quickly learn when to tone down his attacking tendencies -- as he did, to his credit, against Real Sociedad this past weekend.
Given Valencia's improvement this season and lofty ambitions, it will be in those big games that scouts and international selectors will make definitive judgements on Gaya's ability, rather than when given license to roam forward freely against weaker sides. All the basic attributes required to reach a high level are in place; it is now a case of gathering experience, learning tricks of the trade and further refining the skills that have already brought him to this point in his career. His progress is already being closely monitored.