4 February ~ On January 9, Racing Santander's 18-year-old attacking midfielder Sergio Canales scored two goals to defeat Sevilla and become seemingly the most desired young player on the planet. It has been reported that Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all interested in him, while Vicente del Bosque reportedly hasn't ruled out his inclusion in the Spanish squad for the World Cup.
All this collective swooning was for a teenager virtually no one in the English-speaking football world had heard of. That is until the Guardian's Sid Lowe wrote a tantalising article about him on January 11. Lowe reported that Canales's talent, emotional maturity and contractual freedom will more than likely see him leave Racing for Madrid or England. The article was capped by Lowe's understated, and therefore utterly believable, assurance that Canales is "Good. Very, very good".
The statistics and YouTube seem to substantiate Lowe's praise. Canales has five goals in his eight League games to date. But it was the nature of his goals in the fateful match against a strong but struggling Sevilla that brought Canales-mania to a boil. Both involved beating opposing goalkeeper Andrés Palop in one-on-one situations. The first was a breathtakingly well-weighted chip over the onrushing Palop, while the second saw Canales round the keeper, cut inside to evade a defender's challenge and side-foot home.
Technical ability aside, the confidence necessary to finish off these attacks suggested a top-shelf attacking midfielder in his prime. That mental fortitude can separate a big club regular from an also-ran is currently being demonstrated by Barcelona's Bojan Krkic whose meteoric rise has sputtered due to his notoriously fragile constitution.
Yet the speed of Canales's rise to fame is as interesting as the debate about how good he actually is. At the moment Spanish football and footballers' stock are at an all-time high, so a positive article in the Guardian and a few YouTube clips have the power to cause a huge stir on the internet. One blogger and Tottenham fan even uses Canales's growing stature to suggest that Spurs should aim to buy Spanish talent as a general scouting strategy. We must also consider that Canales's rise coincided with the January transfer window with all its attendant hyperbole. Time will only tell if Canales develops into to the kind of footballer his potential promises, but for now we can surely agree that he is, at least, a viral superstar. Sam Fayyaz