In a country known for its seemingly endless production line of world-class midfielders, 25-year-old star Carlos Soler is the latest Spanish player to attract a line of suitors from elite Premier League clubs.
Already the beating heart of Valencia’s midfield, the young, affable, born and bred Valenciano currently has a €150m (£125m) release clause.
But with only around 14 months left on his current contract and little progress made in contract extension negotiations, a move from the cash-strapped club from Spain’s third city looks more likely by the day if they are to avoid losing him for free in the summer. Final. of the next season.
Who is Carlos Soler?
Born and raised in the city, Soler has been at Valencia for 18 years, signing with the academy at age seven after being seen kicking the ball on dirt pitches during halftime matches involving the top teams at his local club Bonrepos. He wanted the ball so badly that he refused to join a team. But his grandfather Rafael promised him a Game Boy if he signed up for one, which he duly did.
Originally a striker who regularly scored around 100 goals a season in the youth ranks, it was as a midfielder that Valencia saw their true potential. Even when playing with footballers three years older than him, as he was often asked, he was never out of place.
It was his grandfather, who died two months ago, who was his first big influence, taking time off work to take him to training and games from the age of seven, until Carlos got his driver’s license when he was 18.
“My parents worked, as he did, but he took the afternoons to take me while my grandmother made my afternoon snack to give me strength to do my best in training”, he says.
“If it weren’t for him, I would have had to find other ways and he’s always been there for me.”
“His joy was always that I played for Valencia and he lived to see that. He was always a pillar of strength for me, as were my dad and my brother. And you know what? for you as a kid for the people around you. and we shouldn’t.”
Today, Soler keeps his feet firmly on the ground, maintaining a close friendship with those he has known since his school days.
“There are about five of them that I’ve known since I was seven or eight and with whom I still go on vacation, go out to eat and watch football,” he adds.
“They helped keep me in the elite because at the end of the day it’s important that we remember where we came from and who we are.”
And how good is he?
He made his debut in Valencia’s first team in December 2016, at the age of 18, and since then has been a starter in every coach.
As a central midfielder, he now plays double pivot with Valencia in the 4-4-2 system or as a midfielder with more freedom in the 4-3-3 format used by the national team.
His real strength, however, comes from his ability to throw sorties in the opposing midfield area. He is also a great passer, both in open play and set pieces – in a youth tournament, with roll-on substitutions, he was taken off the bench to take all free kicks in the game. He still delivers them accurately.
He is the man of this Valencia team and his fans are looking to make their mark in any game. Like the day he scored a hat-trick from penalties against Real Madrid. In fact, he’s a goalscoring midfielder, ahead of everyone else in that department in 2020, with 12 goals – a tally he’s already equaled this season – to add to his nine assists.
His attacking skills, intelligence, assists, set pieces, accuracy and shots from outside the box explain why many in both Spain and England have drawn comparisons between him and Frank Lampard.
“I wish,” he says. “When you look at what he meant for the English game, anyone with any pretensions to succeed in this game would want to be compared to Frank Lampard.” In fact, the respect is mutual.
Where will Soler play next?
For now, Soler won’t be interested in his future beyond saying, “I’ve always been aware that I personally need to grow as much as I can in my career.”
A great admirer of the Premier League, he says the most impressive thing is how it has evolved not only because it is so notoriously physical, but also because of the furious pace at which it is currently played.
A rhythm, he says, where you have to be physically and mentally prepared to go forward and back.
The recent Manchester City v Liverpool league game was “crazy” and “played at a pace where it sometimes felt like there was nothing in between”.
“Today, every midfielder has to run 12 km each if they want to be an important part of the game,” he adds.
Before deciding his future, he has a chance this weekend to boost his medal count – he won the Copa del Rey in 2019 and the European Under-21 Championship in the same summer – when Valencia take on Real Betis at the stadium. La Cartuja in Seville for this season’s Copa del Rey final.
The kid who didn’t want to share the ball and used to ask fans outside Mestalla for extra tickets to watch the team will lead them as one of the captains of this beloved Valencia.