For the first time in ten years, Real Sociedad have qualified for the Champions League. Most fans would have expected heavy investment from their clubs had they been in a similar situation. All clubs have submitted to the rules of instant reinvestment, but one club resists the invader: Real Sociedad.
The 22/23 La Liga season saw the Txuri-Urdinak qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2013/2014 as Imanol Alguacil’s troops finished fourth, two wins back from Atletico Madrid. In such a unique turn of events, most clubs would be tempted to splash their cash right and left, from a new centre-back to the hottest prospect to reinforce the squad. Nonetheless, the White And Blues still haven’t spent significant amounts of the earned money of the past campaign on any signing. It’s late July, only a few weeks remain until the 23/24 season will get underway. High up in the hills of Donostia-San Sebastian, a sense of calm reigns.
By the looks of it, Real Sociedad are set up for a self-sabotage. Their previous campaigns all have seen a drop-off in performance in the January-March time-frame, marked by injuries that have, until last season, denied them a spot in the Champions League. Knowing that the Champions League translates into more weeks where two games per week become the norm, reinforcements in large numbers are the obvious way to go. But instead, ‘La Real’ are continuing with their usual regional policy: invest in the academy, promote a few talents from the ‘B’ team, and find a few cheap signings. Nothing more, nothing less.
Real Sociedad ‘B’ midfielders Benat Turrientes (2002) and Jon Ander Olasagasti (2000) have been promoted to the first team, with the former expected to take on more playing time this season. Jon Pacheco, at the heart of the defence, is another academy graduate that La Liga can expect to see more often. On the other hand, the more experienced Hamari Traore comes as an experienced defender from Rennes to fill the right-back position. Besides academy graduate Andoni Gorosabel, Traore could be competing for minutes with San Sebastian-born Real Madrid player Alvaro Odriozola, who after less than 100 minutes last season could come home.
Despite his important contributions, the end of Alexander Sorloth’s loan in the Basque city means the end of the adventure of Norwegian ex-RB Leipzig forward, but not the end of his adventure in Spain. Silently but surely, it’s Quique Setien’s Villarreal that has signed the Norwegian, with an epic announcement, labelling Sorloth as ‘The Norwegian Viking’.
🇳🇴 𝐕𝐈𝐈𝐈𝐈𝐊𝐈𝐈𝐈𝐈𝐍𝐆𝐎𝐎𝐎𝐎 💛 pic.twitter.com/1tf70DLJtD
— Villarreal CF (@VillarrealCF) July 25, 2023
Alexander Sorloth contributed heavily to Real Sociedad’s goal tally during his two-year loan in the Basque city, but he also missed enough chances for ‘La Real’ to refuse to pay the €15m price tag imposed by RB Leipzig. Still, it comes as a surprise to most. How, within less than a month of the league’s start, will Real Sociedad replace Sorloth’s impact? The answer is often from within.
Following a year-long injury, most fans forgot Umar Sadiq’s arrival at Real Sociedad a year ago, signed from Almeria — a signing covered in August of last year (Umar Sadiq – The Nigerian Head Honcho), before his Umar Sadiq’s injury struck tragic fashion — an ACL tear. His come-back is imminent and probably will be the most important (re)incorporation for Alguacil’s team.
Real Sociedad, unlike Barcelona, Real Betis or Sevilla, face no issues concerning the famous FFP headache. Last summer saw Swedish striker Alexander Isak leave for Newcastle United, bringing €70m at just €25m of which was spent on Sadiq, the replacement. The money was re-invested in the sound signings of Brais Mendez, Takefusa Kubo and Mohamed Ali-Cho, all promising stars that have so far integrated well into Alguacil’s dynamics. The rest of the money, as always, was invested in the academy’s facilities. The healthiest clubs in football aren’t the clubs that focus on football only, but the clubs that offer academic possibilities beyond football, as is the case of Mikel Oyarzabal (who graduated with a business degree).
There is a beauty in regionalism finding a way forward in the middle of globalisation’s interminable march. In a league that is less financially developed than the Premier League, where teams splash all the cash in the summer transfer window, being smarter becomes more effective than working harder in the transfer market. Low profile scouting and academy promotions is the basis of Real Sociedad’s success, and it’s worked out for them thus far.
There’s a beauty in resisting ‘The Matrix’, when competitors prefer the easier way – splashing cash, endlessly, and find more often than not look back on the disappointed faces of the players, coaches and fans. The risk of high-expense transfers, maybe, after all, isn’t worth it. Real Sociedad show that spending (relatively) low amounts cash, and instead investing a higher amount of importance in a healthy model involving the academy at its leads to financial stability. And more importantly, an inspiring brand of football that keeps yielding results.