David Vaughan: Basque-ing in the Sunshine


LOST BOYO IN SAN SEBASTIAN (Real Sociedad) – 2007-2008

OTHER CLUBS – Crewe Alexandra, Blackpool, Sunderland

WALES CAREER – Wales u19 (2 caps/1 goal) Wales U21 (8 caps/3 goals) Wales (28 caps/1 goal)

“(He) is a proper midfield player because he can do all of it.”

This is Ian Holloway describing his left footed midfield maestro who was dictating Blackpool’s exciting style of football during Blackpool’s schizophrenic 2010/11 season. Of course he’s talking about…oh..what? He’s not talking about Charlie Adam? Who else can he be talking about? Introducing David Vaughan, Blackpool’s Players’ and Fans’ Player of the Season 2010/11: NOT Charlie Adam.

Following a dismal spell at Leicester, which resulted in relegation, Ian Holloway looked a very tired, distraught man who had been exhausted by the unrelenting world of the  Championship; a far cry from the bubbly, amusing ball of energy we had seen on our TVs years previously and for the years post-Leicester. Holloway vowed to come back stronger from this period and went in search of how to rebuild his managerial and footballing ethos; he headed to the continent indulging in training sessions in Spain and Holland. Holloway decided to adopt the style of these continental teams, citing Roberto Martinez’s ‘tika-taka’ Swansea City as inspiration that beautiful football could be successful in the Football League. All he had to do next was to find the right team to instil this ideal footballing stratagem in. Blackpool, who had just stayed up in the Championship under caretaker manager Tony Parkes, came calling and ‘Ollie’ set about creating a team to match his newfound footballing ethos.  One year previous to Holloway’s appointment, Blackpool had signed David Vaughan for £200k. Although signed from the continent, Vaughan’s transfer did not create much hysteria, but little did the fans know that he was to become the fulcrum of a classy midfield unit that would take them to the Premier League, where the glittering lights even outshine Blackpool’s famous display of illuminations.

Vaughan began his footballing life under the tutelage of the iconic Dario Gradi at his legendary Crewe Alexandra set up, which has produced players such as Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton, Luke Varney and helped further develop the career of everyone’s favourite Welshman, Robbie Savage. Vaughan made his debut for the Railwaymen in 2000 against Blackburn Rovers aged 17; he went onto feature in 16 more games the next season and began to impress the fans with his footballing brain and his ability to play in midfield and left-back. Vaughan, actually entered Crewe’s youth team as an attacking left-back, but Gradi recognised his footballing intelligence early on and converted him into a left-sided midfielder. Vaughan became a fan favourite and a player that was a jack of all trades: long ‘Hollywood’ passes, tidy short passing, high work rate, tough tackling and also an eye for the top corner from long distance. In 2002-2003, the player known to the fans as the ‘Welsh Wizard’ (the alliterative nickname that seems to be given to any decent Welsh midfielder) began to feature regularly for Crewe and aided them in promotion to the First Division. Vaughan continued to impress during Crewe’s First Division/Championship years and helped keep them up for two seasons before they got relegated in 2005-06.

Two years later, Chris Coleman is a surprise appointment at recently relegated Real Sociedad following in the footsteps of famous Lost Boyo, John Toshack. Coleman (alongside Venky’s finest, Steve Kean, who was his assistant at the time) is assigned the task of gaining promotion with the San Sebastian club at the first time of asking following relegation from La Liga. Only four seasons previous, the club had just missed out on a La Liga title thanks to a late surge from a galactico-inspired Real Madrid. After a preseason of rehabilitation and just one league game, Vaughan answered Coleman’s call and joined his compatriot in Basque country for £300k. Coleman’s call was not the best timed call, as Vaughan had more pressing issues to deal with as his wife had just given birth to a baby boy the very same day of Coleman’s call. Shortly after, Vaughan took the difficult decision to leave his new family and go on a reconnaissance mission out to San Sebastian.

Coleman had pinpointed Vaughan as a perfect match for the more subtle and intrictate style of play that frequented the Spanish game. Coleman saw the league as  place where Vaughan could prosper, as he would have more time on the ball to play his clever passes and to unleash his wicked left foot pile drivers.  The fact that Vaughan had been brought through the English leagues may even give him that extra ‘bite’ over his Spanish counterparts.

Like many British football exports, Vaughan ventured abroad in search of adventure, but also with the aim of developing as a footballer. Although Real Sociedad had just been relegated, they were one of the favourites to win promotion from the Segunda Division and there was every chance that Crewe Alexandra’s David Vaughan could be mixing it up with the likes of Xavi, Messi, Forlan, Aguero and Van Nistelrooy in La Liga, if the team could achieve their goal.

Vaughan also hoped the move might act as a springboard for his career as a Welsh international. Vaughan’s international career had been sporadic up to this point after making his debut against the USA in 2003, whilst impressing at Crewe. 2008 was a year where good ball playing Welsh midfielders were beginning to rise to prominence at club sides and especially in Flynn’s U21s side; Ramsey, Collison and Allen all looked like stars for future, Joe Ledley was impressing at Cardiff, as was Brian Stock for Doncaster; plus the experienced Simon Davies was still featuring for his country. Vaughan was still mainly playing out on the left side of midfield for his club; with Toshack favouring wing-backs in a sort of 5 – 3 – 2/3 – 2- 3 – 2 system, Vaughan would be competing for a place in the starting XI against a highly rated, young left-sided player, who had recently moved to Tottenham: Gareth Bale. Vaughan claimed the move to Spain may aid his bid for a Welsh starting place by stating that “the football in Spain is more similar to international football than what it is in England.”

In 2006,Vaughan had been introduced to the Basque country via the Welsh team as he played in a 1 – 0 victory for his country against a Basque XI, a friendly surely arranged through Tosh’s links with the area. (A bit of Welsh footballing trivia: this was the first time Ryan Giggs had played in a Welsh friendly away from home, 15 years after his debut for Wales – he marked the occasion with a magnificent, trademark slaloming solo goal.)

The newly established Lost Boyo made his debut in Real Sociedad’s derby against S.D. Eibar, where the txuri-urdin claimed a 1-0 away victory; Vaughan started the game and completed 80 minutes before being subbed. All seemed well for Vaughan as he started the season in great form, carrying on from where he had left off at Crewe. Vaughan maintained his good form for his first few games and he scored his first, and only, goal for the club in Real Sociedad’s 3-2 away victory over Las Palmas.

On the standard of football in Spain’s second tier, Vaughan claimed that he felt he had made a step up in his football education by moving to the Segunda Division, especially after having played another season in League One following Crewe’s relegation – in an interview with Give me Football Vaughan claimed:

I’ve played in all the games and I’ve been doing okay. We’ve picked up results recently so hopefully we can carry on. It’s a fairly good standard, similar to the Championship over here. It’s a step up for me really.

Vaughan moved to San Sebastian with long term ambitions. Following his move overseas, he immediately began learning the language and moved into an apartment near the beach; a far cry from his previous home in Nantwich. Things continued to go well for Vaughan on the pitch as he became a regular starter under the Coleman regime. The team went on a 9 game unbeaten run between October and January. The downturn in Vaughan’s fortunes began with the resignation of Chris Coleman, something that had been on the cards since November when club president, Marie de la Pena departed the club. Shortly after a new president entered the club Coleman walked citing a conflict of views about the future of the club; Vaughan did not play for the club again and departed from San Sebastian at the end of the season following just 9 appearances and 1 goal. Real Sociedad finished a disappointing 4th and missed out on promotion to La Liga by one place.

As mentioned earlier, Vaughan went on to sign for Blackpool and achieved much success at the seaside club.  Holloway was also behind Vaughan’s conversion to a deep lying, pure central midfielder. The stats from the 2010/11 Premiership season are quite incredible for a player that lurked so far under the radar of the average football fan or pundit; let me spin some for you (most of which I picked up from The Dubious Goals Committee):

  • Blackpool went on a terrible run of form during the latter months of the 2010/11 season – Vaughan’s return from injury for the last 5 games coincided with a 4 game unbeaten run, that gave them a chance of survival, and a courageous effort at Old Trafford (Vaughan completed 49 out of 52 passes and created a goal in this game.)
  • Vaughan had the 2nd highest tackle count (141) in the league, only beaten by Lucas (172); although Lucas’ tackle success rate (65%) was lower than Vaughan’s (74%)
  • His tackle success rate was only 2nd to Football Writers’ Player of the Year Winner, Scott Parker.

The last two statistics are particularly impressive when you consider the swashbuckling, attacking football of Blackpool during this season; Vaughan was left to shoulder the hard work in the centre of the park, covering for the more vivacious Charlie Adam and Elliot Grandin, yet Vaughan even went about this graft in a stylish and attractive way, launching counterattacks from his tackles and pass interceptions. As Holloway admitted:

“David Vaughan is a proper midfield player because he can do all of it. He does it in an unsung way and in such an efficient way that sometimes people don’t notice… but I notice week in week out that Dave isn’t far off the best player I’ve ever had”.

Although Vaughan delved into Spanish football for only one season, it could be argued that Vaughan’s experiences overseas plus 2 seasons of Championship football moulded him into a highly effective Premiership footballer, as he combined all he had learnt from both cultures to become an intelligent midfielder with very few obvious weaknesses. After relegation with Blackpool, Vaughan signed for Steve Bruce’s Sunderland, although his class had impressed Champions League side Villareal and there were even murmurs of a return to Spain. After a decent start at Sunderland, Vaughan soon began to slip down the pecking order. He has been revived under the guidance of recently appointed Martin O’ Neill and his mini Sunderland renaissance, whilst also scoring a blistering left-footed screamer to prompt an unbelievable comeback from 1-0 down to winning 2-1 against Blackburn in the dying minutes of O’ Neill’s first game in charge.

Vaughan has a tough battle to get back into a Wales midfield that was very strong under Gary Speed; Vaughan will be competing against the likes of Ramsey, Allen and Crofts as well as Ledley and a returning Collison; throw in Leicester’s Andy King and David Edwards and there is a fine cast of centre midfielders. Hopefully Vaughan can continue his good run of form for the Black Cats and give Chris Coleman a real midfield selection headache.

Sunderland-David Vaughan-Joe Allen-Swansea cropped

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