Valencia has not produced a centre back who became a constant for the first team since Raul Albiol in the mid-2000s. Albiol himself left in 2009 to Real Madrid, and despite yearly speculations about him returning to the club, he ended up at Valencia’s rivals Villarreal.

It is hard to think of centre back prospects from Paterna who have excited the fans since then quite like Hugo Guillamón. The closest has been Javi Jimenez who seemed a bright prospect until things went downhill for him, mostly due to injuries and an awful, awful game on an unfortunate night he would rather forget.

Born on 31 January 2000 in San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa in the Basque Country, Hugo Guillamón moved to the Valencian community when he was two years old, joining Valencia’s academy at 9. Since then, he has developed into a quality prospect, making his debut for Valencia’s B-team in 2017.

Along with the more popular Kangin Lee and Ferran Torres who broke into the first team at Valencia earlier, Guillamón has been highly rated for years and is widely considered as one of Spain’s best centre back prospects. He was part of the Spanish youth teams – along with Ferran – who won the 2017 UEFA European Under-17 Championship and the 2019 UEFA European Under-19 Championship. He was also a starter for the Spanish U-17 team at the World Cup in 2017 where they finished runners-up.

Despite his amazing youth team career for Spain and his excellence with Valencia Mestalla in the lower tiers of Spanish football, Guillamón’s break in the first team did not happen until 2020 when several circumstances, especially injuries, opened up the way. In truth, it’s one of the more popular ways through which young club prospects everywhere break in and get a chance; injuries and/or severe underperformance by the more established players.

That was the same way Carlos Soler broke into the Valencia first team back in late 2016. Like Soler, Guillamón has taken his opportunity emphatically since breaking in. Despite only playing a few games so far, his potential has been obvious to everyone who has seen him.

Standing at just around 1.80m, Guillamón is an intelligent ball-playing centre back who operates mainly from the left side of defence, although he is also comfortable operating on the right side. His most obvious strengths are his composure and ability on the ball. When he isn’t dealing with threats from opposing attacking players, he is launching attacks through his vision and great line-breaking abilities.

Guillamón looks so comfortable on the ball and breaks lines so seamlessly that one can immediately imagine him having a future in defensive midfield. Those abilities coupled with his excellent reading of the game would be invaluable in that role. He is a very active and alert defender who completes a volume of work at the back and does not have any qualms getting into duels when needed. His 1v1 ability is quite good and he loves to get involved. He is also a very tidy passer.

As with many young players, Guillamón has his visible weaknesses. The most obvious weakness is his aerial ability. Football is very brutal to defenders who aren’t tall enough and there have already been hints of Guillamón possibly struggling aerially even as an established player in future. His not-so-imposing frame also contributes to him being bullied in the air more often than not.

Valencia once had a not-so-tall centre back like him in Nicolás Otamendi, in that one glorious season. Perhaps, the lesson Guillamón can pick up from Otamendi’s time at the club is how dominant he was despite his height. His ability to time his jumps along with his strength in the air due to his heavy build ensured that Valencia did not suffer any consequences of that height inadequacy. Guillamón has work to do in that regard, and he could fix it in the coming years.

Guillamón’s acid test came in Valencia’s game against Real Madrid. He had played 90 minutes in the previous derby game against Levante, in a game in which he hardly put a foot wrong. His partner in that game, Mouctar Diakhaby, was replaced by Eli Mangala for this one after his mistake at the death cost Valencia all three points.

Now partnering Mangala against Real Madrid, Guillamón delivered another performance that belied his years. He had 10 clearances, five tackles, one blocked shot, and one interception as Real Madrid went at the Valencia defensive third in search of goals. In a game in which Valencia were seriously displaying a lack of quality, Guillamón was one of the few that could walk out of the game with his head held high, even though the club ultimately conceded three goals. It was a performance that showed exactly why Barcelona have been linked with him in recent times – a free transfer – as his contract with Valencia nears its end.

It is, indeed, baffling that Valencia have failed to renew his contract still despite the clear signs that they have a gem on their hands. Then again, it is Valencia, and they are in yet another period of turmoil and internal crisis. Manager Albert Celades has now been fired after poor recent performances, Sporting Director Cesar Sanchez has resigned and there are a lot of uncertainties.

Centre back Ezequiel Garay, who has been out injured for months, has been denied the new contract he was promised, reportedly because of a social media post he made following the sacking of previous manager Marcelino. He will leave the club and Guillamón looks likely to join him. Valencia’s loss, though, would be the gain of whatever team snaps Guillamón up. Even if he might not make it at Valencia, it looks likely that he will make it anyway, most likely somewhere else, and become one of the leaders of Spain’s already impressive next generation of star defenders.

Astorre S. Cerebronè