FEATURE | One To Watch: Carlos Soler

Carlos Soler has been one of the shining lights in what has been an eventful few years at Valencia. La Liga lost one of its finest midfielders when the gifted midfielder left Mestalla this summer to join PSG. Soler became a fan favourite at the famous old stadium, having come through the club’s youth academy to eventually wear the captain’s armband.

The 25-year-old has incredible versatility and can slot into numerous positions in midfield. He has played wide in a midfield four, as a no.8, and as a deep-lying no.6. The Spanish technician possesses vision, impressive ball control and a passing range that has attracted some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Working under head coach Marcelino at Mestalla, Soler was used in a wide role due to the presence of central midfielders Dani Parejo, Francis Coquelin and Geoffrey Kondogbia. In the season after, under Valencia boss Albert Celades, Soler was also deployed wide in a midfield four. As his game evolved, and he became more important at the club, he moved into the centre of midfield. His idol is Valencia great and former midfielder Rubén Baraja, somebody who helped Soler work on developing his game at the Valencia’s academy. Soler also worked under Javi Gracia, as Valencia constantly hired and fired. “Soler continues to take advantage of his shooting ability,” Gracia said of Soler. The Spain international was the highest-scoring midfielder in La Liga last season with 11 goals. It was the second season in a row that he netted 11 times in the league. In the last two campaigns, he registered 13 assists from a total of 64 league games.

Soler feels more comfortable with the ball than he does without it but he can take pleasure in being the Valencia midfielder with the most tackles won in 2021-22, according to FBref. “He is the complete midfielder and can act as a 6, 8 or 10; he has power, arrives in the box and can score,” says Curro Torres, who coached him in the club’s youth team. “I know him and I know that he can still bring his game to the next level. He has taken on responsibility in the team too,” Torres told Spanish outlet Diario AS. Soler’s ability to move the ball forwards is supported by his strong passing technique. He is able to play low, flat passes into team-mates between the lines and curved passes behind defenders. His passes tend to arrive with the correct amount of weight of them, enabling more advanced players to control and move. In the engine room, his physical attributes help him stave off defenders, while his tidy footwork allows him to retain possession under pressure.

In the two seasons before his move to PSG, he established himself as arguably Valencia’s most important player as he waved goodbye to the club’s finest talent, who were sold for well under their market value. Soler had an excellent relationship with current Valencia head coach Gennaro Gattuso. For the competitive Italian, Soler was crucial, but Gattuso eventually lost his man and it wasn’t all plain sailing in the Valencia offices. There were threats from within the club. Superdeporte released leaked audios where Anil Murthy, former president of Valencia, can be heard making a threat to Soler. “Carlos Soler has been clear since the beginning of the season that he is going to leave. You have to respect him because they have too much pressure from the fans. He has his wife, and relatives, and the last thing he wants is to leave on bad terms, so that his parents can go out on the street. If he leaves, he wants his family to be here and I respect that,” Murthy said. Murthy reportedly warned Soler of what awaited him if he left at a time when the club could not generate revenue from his departure. “If you leave for free in January, I’ll kill you with all the press. You have to bring in money. You have come through the academy and the club has invested money in you,” Murthy said. Valencia’s majority shareholder, Peter Lim, subsequently fired Murthy.

Soler later left Valencia, his boyhood club, after featuring 226 times for the La Liga outfit. In that time, he scored more goals than he provided assists. His 31 assists is five less than his 36 goals, demonstrating his ability to finish from midfield and his impressive conversion rate from the penalty spot. The highlight for Soler at Valencia was winning the Copa del Rey with Los Che in 2019. There was interest from Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus but he opted to join fellow Spanish creator Fabián Ruiz at PSG. “I’m very happy. It’s a new adventure in my career. I feel very proud and I’m looking forward to starting work with my teammates, meeting them, and giving everything for this shirt,” Soler said after completing his move to Paris.

After the clash between Juventus and PSG in the Champions League group stage, Kylian Mbappé spoke about Neymar missing the game through suspension and Soler getting a rare start. “Soler is not used to playing as a starter. He is a different player to Neymar. He has different characteristics. But we did what we could and we won the game,” Mbappé said. He has a contract with PSG until 2027, but as Mbappé points out, he has not yet forced his way into the side under Christophe Galtier. Was it the right move for Soler? Only time will tell.

Kieran Quaile | GWFN

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