Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Sarthak Kumar. He writes about Spanish football's forgotten stories on BarcaBlaugranes and various other SB Nation blogs. He is a passionate supporter of Rayo Vallecano and blogs about them daily on prideofvallekas.com. Sarthak is familiar with new Tottenham Hotspur signing Paulo Gazzaniga from his year on loan at Rayo last season and offered to write an introductory post. He is active on Twitter: @Vallecanos1924.
In the heart of Puente de Vallecas, sporting, institutional, and political turmoil wrecked Rayo Vallecano. Amongst the mess of a relegation battle, three different managers, the cancellation of on-loan Roman Zozulya's contract in February over political views, and visible altercations between fans and board members, there were just a few rays of light for Rayo fans to be happy about.
One of them, unexpectedly, was Paulo Gazzaniga.
Unexpectedly, because Paulo was expected to be a backup to Toño. The 37 year old has been a Zamora winner at Recreativo in the second tier and a Racing de Santander starter for almost seven years in the first tier. His career has been impacted by injuries, meaning his effectiveness at La Liga clubs like Granada and Rayo has been stifled, but that hasn’t kept fans from chanting his name when his quick reflexes have kept his clubs in games. And, despite Gazzaniga playing the first game of last season, it was not surprising to see Toño play the next eight games.
However, a ligament injury to Toño’s left knee meant that Rayo had no option but to reinstate Gazzaniga from the 10th match onwards.
The truth is that goalkeepers will make mistakes - and Paulo has made a lot of them. A routine pass to a defender was poorly hit and led to a goal by Numancia in a 3-3 draw in October. Gazzaniga then made a mess of a back pass in a 2-1 defeat against Real Zaragoza. And Valladolid’s Juna Villar nutmegged him with a pacy shot from the right wing in another loss four games later.
But it's easy to nitpick. Gazzaniga’s performances steadily improved, and Rayo won games - sometimes undeservedly - because of him. He was fast across his area, his reflexes were extraordinary and he was able to get low quickly too. His distribution improved too.
Against Getafe, Rayo lost 1-0 but should've been hammered by more - Gazzaniga made some extraordinary close-range saves before being beaten by an own goal. He redeemed Nacho in March, as he prevented Cádiz from capitalizing on a miserable back pass. A highlight performance came when he made nine saves in a win versus UCAM Murcia in mid-April.
No player is perfect - and neither is Paulo. His decision making on one-on-ones is improving, but is very much a work in progress. He doesn't commit as much as a goalkeeper should - in a division where passes behind the defense are commonplace. And his positioning, especially when defending shots from the wing, needs work too.
But it is a testament to Paulo that he played the most minutes in the Rayo squad. It is a testament to Paulo that he learned from his mistakes as quickly as he did. And it is a testament to him that he filled Toño's shoes admirably and keeping Rayo in games.
If Tottenham are looking for someone to deliver on day one, well then they are many options in the market. But if they are looking for a long term, Premier League solution to place their bets on, they have a talented and in-form goalkeeper with a high ceiling returning from Vallecas to start with.