Borja Baston: Swansea's forgotten man back from the brink
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By Dan Long
Last Updated: 25/08/19 11:59am
Signed for a club-record £15.5 million fee in 2016, Borja Baston was supposed to be the bright, young Spanish talent who would sustain Swansea's status as Premier League club.
With the help of Wales Online football writer Ian Mitchelmore, we take a look at the woes, and subsequent resurgence, of Swansea's forgotten man...
What went wrong for Swansea's club-record signing?
Originally on the books of Atletico Madrid - from the age of four - it was during a raft of loan spells where Borja learned his trade, starring for Eibar in 2015/16 - just their second season in Spain's top flight. There, his tally of 18 goals - just one shy of Real Madrid's Gareth Bale - caught the attention of Swansea, who shelled out a then-club-record fee of £15.5m to secure his services.
He announced his arrival with a goal in a 3-2 defeat to Arsenal on 15 October 2016, but started just two more league games as both he and the Swans struggled; the club limped to a 15th-place finish in the Premier League after two management changes, while the aforementioned goal was his only strike in 20 appearances.
So, where has he been for the past two years?
Unable to hit the same heights that had initially earned him the move to England, Borja returned to Spain to begin a loan spell with La Liga side Malaga. But, not only was his season was disrupted by injury, Malaga were relegated after 10 years and he finished the campaign with a miserable two-goal haul from his 20 outings. Not quite the welcome home he'd perhaps have anticipated.
Last summer, the striker headed back out on loan, this time to the Basque Country with Alaves. When he scored on his third appearance - in a 2-1 win over Espanyol - it looked as though he might have finally rediscovered his scoring knack, nine months after his last strike for Malaga. A torn muscle fibre put paid to that, though. Alaves boss Abelardo Fernandez persisted with the 26-year-old, but only four further goals and one assist followed as the club finished 11th.
What changed over the summer?
The last two seasons have, evidently, been a struggle for Borja. But he's put in the hard yards over the summer and, with four goals under his belt already, both parties are reaping the rewards. Ian Mitchelmore of Wales Online explained how he remained in Wales over the pre-season period, opting against the first team's trip abroad.
Mitchelmore said: "He came back to Fairwood [Swansea's training complex] after his loan spell this summer and he was training as normal. But he didn't go with the squad to their training camp in Andalusia in the south of Spain, he stayed at Fairwood and trained with the under-23s and on his own.
"Eventually, he got reintegrated into the first team and played a few pre-season games, which nobody saw coming and then, all of a sudden, he was in the squad for the opening game against Hull. But in terms of his personal programme, he was based in Swansea throughout the summer and, by all accounts, has worked incredibly hard. The club have been pleased with his attitude, he's never had any tantrums or been a problem, so that's quite encouraging given the fact he's had three years of struggles."
In addition, the appointment of Steve Cooper as head coach has wiped the slate clean for the frontman. Granted, Carlos Carvalhal and Graham Potter were both in charge during his time away, but with Cooper's pedigree of developing players during his time with Wrexham, Liverpool and both England U16s and U17s, he must possess a sense of patience to allow Borja to flourish.
Now in the final year of his four-year contract, with his Premier League wages dwarfing those of players recruited during their time in the Championship, the club will be perhaps glad to offload once the season is out. But if he's going to be leaving south Wales for good next year, why not finish with a bang?
Can he fill the void left by Oli McBurnie?
Last season at the Liberty Stadium, one of the main points of interest was the breakout of Oli McBurnie: the 22-year-old Scotland striker taking the Championship by storm. Though sidelined by several bouts of illness throughout the campaign, he managed to score 24 goals in all competitions and that, naturally, garnered interest from above.
It took until 2 August for that interest to be followed up, when Sheffield United secured the signing of McBurnie for a club-record fee of £17m, rising to around £20m with add-ons.
Financially, it was a great deal for the club yet, on the eve of the season, the Swans had Borja Baston - the man who hadn't featured for Swansea since 2017 - leading the line against Hull on the opening day. To the disbelief of the majority, the Spaniard highlighted his poaching instinct, cleverly knocking a deft header past Tigers' stopper George Long.
But is he capable of stepping out of the shadows to continue this resurgence for both himself and the club?
"On the whole, when you score four games in your first four games, you can't ask for more than that," said Mitchelmore.
"You have to be clinical and he's finishing his chances brilliantly. You could see his confidence was shattered after everything that has gone on, but it was a huge weight off his shoulders and you could see the relief on his face when he scored against Hull. He seems to be more confident the more minutes he gets under his belt, which is encouraging.
"But you look at someone like Oli who was a real fans' favourite at this club. He was in the away end at QPR the other day and it wasn't just the goals from him, it was the personality and everything that went with it. He was a massive character in the dressing room. He came through the under-23s with the likes of Matt Grimes, Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and they are all brilliant mates, whereas Borja has come from Spain so probably doesn't have that rapport that Oli did. In terms of the overall package, not just the goals, I'd say it's tough to replace Oli, but it's tough for anyone to do that."
But is he likely to leave before the European transfer deadline?
Let's not forget that the transfer window doesn't close across in France, Spain or Germany until September 2, leaving the prospect of another transfer as a possibility. But, having hit this timely purple patch, what's next for Borja Baston? Echoing the words of Cooper in his press conference on Friday, Ian Mitchelmore thinks he'll continue to pull the White shirt on, for the time being, at least.
He added: "If somebody does come in with an offer, which, let's be honest, isn't beyond the realms of possibility with the way he's started, over the next few weeks, he could still go. Personally, I can't see that happening; I think he is going to be a Swansea player come September, though something could materialise in January."