Thomas Partey, Saul and Bryan Gil's Premier League struggles explained

Thomas Partey, Saul Niguez and Bryan Gil graced LaLiga but are having a torrid time in the Premier League… their struggles highlight a gap in intensity between the leagues and could make English clubs think twice before signing talent from Spain

  • Thomas Partey has struggled to live up to his £45million price tag at Arsenal
  • The Ghanaian looked to have all the ingredients to thrive in the Premier League
  • But he and fellow LaLiga stars Saul Niguez and Bryan Gil are toiling in England
  • Spanish commentator Alex de Llano spoke to Sportsmail about the trio’s plight 
  • And former player Andrea Orlandi sympathises with their struggles to adapt

Last weekend was a dark one for Thomas Partey, Saul Niguez and Bryan Gil, three players who ripped it up in LaLiga but cannot catch a break in the Premier League.

Partey delivered perhaps his worst performance yet in an Arsenal shirt in Monday’s 2-1 defeat to Everton, frequently losing duels and giving the ball away, including in the build-up to Demarai Gray’s last-gasp winner. 

The Ghanaian’s drab display came days after he had given a frank assessment of his short career with the Gunners following a £45million move from Atletico Madrid last year, rating his performances as four out of 10.

Thomas Partey has been a big disappointment since joining Arsenal from Atletico Madrid

Saul Niguez has also struggled at Chelsea since swapping LaLiga for the Premier League

Bryan Gil is also arrived from Spain with big expectations but has made little impact at Spurs

But at least he got on the pitch, which is more than Saul and Gil could say.  

Saul was an unused substitute as Chelsea were beaten 3-2 at West Ham, another game in which he was a literal spectator in an almost anonymous spell on loan from Atletico, in which he has made only two Premier League starts and been hooked at half-time by Thomas Tuchel on both occasions.

Gil, worst of all, was not even included in the matchday squad for Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Norwich and he has played a mere 57 minutes of Premier League football since joining Spurs from Sevilla for £25million in a deal which saw Erik Lamela go the other way.

The twenty-year-old’s last league outing came two months ago and while has been afforded eight starts across the Europa Conference League and Carabao Cup, he is yet to register a goal or an assist. 

The trio’s unhappy stay in England has not gone unnoticed back in Spain. Newspaper AS remarked this week ‘Bryan Gil gets used to being ostracised’ while declaring Partey was ‘in the firing line’ and ‘nothing is going right for him’. Last month the paper said Saul was ‘exiled’ at Chelsea.

Gil has played only 57 minutes in the Premier League since a £25m move to Spurs from Sevilla

While Gil’s struggles in England can be put down to a youngster still in formation, albeit a Spain international, Partey and Saul’s problems are harder to explain.

They point to a deeper problem with Spanish football, which is experiencing a downturn after dominating the continental landscape for much of the previous decade.

Spanish football’s top clubs have really suffered financially due to the pandemic but the physical decline of their teams is still striking.

Barcelona were over-powered and out-run in their damning 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich which sent them crashing out of the Champions League, with Thomas Muller declaring  the Catalans can no longer cope with the intensity of elite teams. 

Atletico, meanwhile, were also woefully unable to keep up with Liverpool in last month’s 2-0 defeat at Anfield, the scoreline barely reflecting the enormous physical gulf between the two sides. 

Saul and Partey were highly experienced key players for Atletico who regularly reached the latter stages of the Champions League. 

Saul arrived in England a recent LaLiga champion with the Rojiblancos and while he had occasionally drifted from the team and been deployed as a fullback in the last season, he played a crucial role in them capturing the title.

Partey is an Arsenal regular but has struggled for form and rated his performances as 4/10

Saul won the LaLiga title with Atletico last season but has only made two Premier League starts

Alex de Llano, a commentator on Spain’s Premier League coverage for DAZN, tells Sportsmail Partey’s plight was the most disappointing and unexpected of the three arrivals.

‘The case of Thomas is the strangest because he is exactly the type of midfielder Mikel Arteta was looking for. But due to the injuries he has had he hasn’t been able to fit well into the team,’ he said.

‘The error he made for Everton’s second goal, losing the ball in a mix up with Nuno Tavares, is the type of mistake you can’t accept from a top level footballer, especially after what he showed he could do with Atletico.

‘The Partey Arsenal have ended up with is very different to the one they thought they had signed. They thought he’d impose himself on the middle of the park, run back and win the ball, they thought he’d be very active. But at Arsenal he hasn’t been able to bear fruit.’

Saul and Gil, meanwhile, look to be unsuited to the clubs they joined. 

‘The case of Saul is quite clear, it’s a problem of intensity, my sensation is he has declined a lot physically in the last year and that has been highlighted in the PL,’ adds De Llano.

‘In his debut against Villa we could see that, Villa pressed very high, made him uncomfortable and practically didn’t let him play. When he received the ball he didn’t have time to turn and Chelsea would generally lose the ball or it would complicate the play.

‘Bryan Gil for me was a strange signing because of the player he is naturally. He likes to stick to the wing and enjoys the ball at his feet, he likes to dribble. He could fit well in certain Premier League teams but specifically at Tottenham, working with Nuno and then Conte, he was never going to fit.

‘I have the sensation that Tottenham saw it as an opportunity to offload Erik Lamela and get a 20-year-old at a low cost. But in the short term he doesn’t have many chances of having a big role in the team. Perhaps he needs to go to a different club especially when he has a coach like Conte who wants to win immediately and is going to look to different players to get what he wants.’

While some midfielders have struggled since moving from LaLiga, Man City’s Rodri has thrived

Tottenham’s Sergio Reguilon is one of many Spanish full-backs to succeed in England

Of course, many recent arrivals from LaLiga have thrived in the Premier League, such as Ferran Torres and Rodri. Sergio Reguilon is doing well at Spurs, as is Marc Cucurella at Brighton.

But De Llano fears the plight of Saul, Partey and Gil could make English clubs think twice when assessing whether to snap up the latest LaLiga young sensation.

‘Coaches and sporting directors might think more cautiously about signing central midfielders from Spain,’ he says.

‘This could be damaging for Spanish footballers who want to go to the Premier league. After the 2010 World Cup win there was a boom of Spanish players coming to England. But the interest of Premier League teams in Spanish players could be reduced by these types of situations.’

Former footballer Andrea Orlandi trod a similar path to Partey, Saul and Gil, admittedly at a lower level, when he left Barcelona’s B team in 2007 to move to Swansea.

He sympathises with their struggles.

Andrea Orlandi also struggled to adapt to the English game at first but grew to love it

Roberto Martinez signed Orlandi and told him he would either love or hate British football

‘Going from England to Spain is a huge step in terms of the physical demands,’ he says.

‘I was a midfielder and I’ll be brutally honest, at the beginning I thought I was never going to make it in the UK. After six months I thought about returning to Spain. It was so physical, it was end to end, repetitive, at times I couldn’t breathe.

‘Some players adapt quicker than others. Everyone has a different approach, a different mentality but we’re talking about three very good players and sooner rather than later they’ll come good.

‘We’re talking about three players that are struggling but if you look over the years you see how many players have been a success coming from Spain to the Premier League.’

Orlandi had come through the academy of Alaves but after a rocky start he ended up staying at Swansea for five seasons, helping the club get promoted to the Premier League for the first time. He stayed in Britain after leaving Swansea, spending two seasons with Brighton and one with Blackpool before winding his career down.  

‘Roberto Martinez told me ‘you’re gonna come over here and in six months you’ll decide what you’re gonna do’. He said exactly that when I signed the contract,’ recalls Orlandi, who now works back in Spain as a pundit and commentator with LaLiga TV.

David Silva developed into one of Man City’s best ever players in a trophy-laden decade

Xabi Alonso (left) and Fernando Torres (right) were huge hits at Liverpool. Orlandi said they joined ‘at the right moment and at a good time in their careers’

‘He said if you like it and adapt you will stay for 10 years, otherwise you’ll be back in Spain in six months. And its true. I stayed for eight seasons, and once I got over those six months I just loved it and thought “Wow this is football at its purest and where I want to be”‘.

His advice to the likes of Saul, Gil and Partey is to stick with it. And he believes the technical training they got in Spain’s top flight will come in handy once they get to grips with the pace of English football.

‘The first few games are crucial, if you don’t play well to start with then it gets harder and harder,’ he says.

‘That’s exactly the case with Saul. He arrived very late [he was signed three minutes before the transfer window shut] and maybe he made his debut too early. 

‘Thomas Tuchel gave him the chance but he didn’t perform, he got subbed at half-time and his confidence level was really low. He’s at a team that are really flying and competition for places is huge so he’s not getting any game time.’

‘Being a midfielder in Britain is very physical, very demanding and if you cant cope with it you know it’s difficult. But once you click, you can use your footballing education in Spain to your advantage. 

‘Cesc Fabregas wasn’t a physical footballer but he was intelligent and bossed Arsenal’s midfield for years,’ says Orlandi

‘If you’re clever you can really enjoy playing in England. Look at David Silva, Juan Mata, Xabi Alonso. They joined clubs at the right moment and at a good time in their careers as well. 

‘Cesc Fabregas wasn’t a physical footballer but he was intelligent and he bossed Arsenal’s midfield for years. Pablo Fornals is an example of someone who has been successful and he’s not a physical player at all but he’s very intelligent. 

‘Spanish players can fit perfectly in the Premier League but it has to be right time, it has to be the right club and mentally they need to adapt not only to the demands of football but also life outside of football.’

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