Valencia's Jose Luis Gaya: Five things to know on reported Arsenal target
Jose Luis Gaya has been on the radar of top European clubs since he made 32 La Liga starts for Valencia in the 2014-15 campaign under former coach Nuno Espirito Santo. The 21-year-old has represented Spain at every level since the under-16s with the exception of the senior team, although that is expected to happen soon. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is said to be an admirer of left-back Gaya, who is considered one of the brightest prospects in Europe, and is reportedly keen to acquire his services next summer. With Valencia having sold their top stars in recent seasons, it seems only a matter of time before Gaya leaves the Mestalla stadium.
Here are five things you need to know about the defender, who has made 13 appearances for Valencia this season.
He started out as a striker
Born in Pedreguer, Alicante, Gaya joined Valencia at the age of 11 as a striker and scored 60 goals for the youth team in his first season. "I was signed to score goals and I scored many in my first season at the club," Gaya recalled. "I have always loved to score, it's in my blood." He made the 200km-round trip four times a week to train and play for Valencia before moving to the club's training facilities in Paterna just outside of the city. Gaya switched to full-back and made his senior debut for Valencia at the age of 17 in a Copa del Rey game against UE Llagostera under coach Mauricio Pellegrino on October 2012. As an 18-year-old, he signed a five-year contract with the Che club in February 2013 and ended the year by becoming the youngest player in the club's history to make his debut in European competition. Gaya made his La Liga bow in April 2014, starting in a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid.
He is an attack-minded left-back
Gaya, like his predecessors at Valencia, Jordi Alba (now at Barcelona) and Juan Bernat (now at Bayern Munich), has a natural inclination to attack and makes an impact going forward. His fast accelerations allow him to sprint down the left flank while also allowing him to drop back, recover his position and defend. Thanks to a strong first touch and good ball control, Gaya is able to drive in and out down the flanks without easily losing possession while he can also deliver dangerous crosses, especially with his left foot. He has a passing possession for the current La Liga season standing at 75 percent. Gaya is 5-foot-6 tall and weighs 64kg but is tenacious and aggressive enough to impose himself against bigger players.
He is expected to get better and better
Being on the short side for a defender, he is often at a disadvantage with his aerial challenges. He is, however, improving on his man-marking. Of the 29 challenges he has made in 12 La Liga games this season, 21 have proved successful. Gaya had a tendency to give away free kicks but is getting better, giving away 10 in 12 games so far. The 21-year-old has plenty of room for improvement but has the right ingredients to succeed. Valencia coach Cesare Prandelli said of Gaya on Tuesday: "With young players, you have to be patient and work with them. He is very serious, a very applied player."
He could cost €50 million
Gaya was a reported target of Real Madrid after his impressive 2014-15 campaign but signed a new contract with Valencia in May 2015 to keep him at the Mestalla stadium until June 2020. The player, who has a release clause set at €50 million, did not consider any other offers. He said: "All I wanted was to remain at Valencia and to continue grow. To be part of this group is the best feeling that you can have and to be able to defend these colours is the maximum."
He is passionate and committed
No player has shown more frustration during Valencia's difficult campaign, with the club ending 2016 in 17th place in La Liga and just three wins from 15 games, than Gaya. Prandelli had to console Gaya, who was in tears shortly after seeing his shot on goal saved by Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico in the last attack of their 2-1 loss to Sevilla on Nov. 26. "Nothing is going our way," Gaya told Superdeporte. "I really thought the ball was going in. We are in a very bad situation and in order to come out of it, we need to give our all."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.