Pete Jenson: Meet 'Charlie' – the only Englishman plying his trade in La Liga
A Different League: Our new weekly column reveals the untold stories of European football
Wednesday 16 October 2013
There are 32 Spaniards playing in the Premier League this season. In La Liga there is one Englishman. He's 20. He was born in Luton. He used to play for Grimsby. And 10 days ago he made his full debut for Elche against Espanyol.
Charlie I'Anson, with just Charlie on the back of his No 26 shirt, might not be the start of a counter-revolution but he is a reminder that freedom of movement cuts both ways.
I'Anson left England aged seven to live in Malaga but moved back when he was spotted playing in a Spanish youth tournament by Nottingham Forest scouts who passed him on to Grimsby.
At Blundell Park he made his debut aged 17, scoring in a win over Mansfield. "They had a budget to keep to, I understand that," he says of the moment a year ago when the club let him go. "It was a big risk," he says of his move back to Spain. But he was given a trial by Elche and impressed enough for them to sign him.
He noticed the immediate differences: "In England they look at my height and they don't think I'm going to be able to play as a centre-half. I'm not the tallest [he is 5ft 11in] but it's not just about height. It's about timing, positioning, how you jump."
There were differences in training too: "Here you see the ball a bit more and it was more short, sharp, sprint work rather than run, run, run."
Then came the good omen when he was given his favourite No 26 shirt before asking for it – the number worn by two of his footballing idols John Terry and Lucio, the Brazilian former Internazionale central defender.
I'Anson does not have a downer on English football, instead he sees the opportunity to put the best of both worlds into his game.
"At Grimsby we played with open centre-halves [both central defenders peeling out wide to receive the ball from the goalkeeper]," he says. "A lot of teams want to play out from the back but it is a lot more physical in England and you can get caught out."
And not every long ball is a bad ball. "It's not just about whether you go short or long it's about where you hit it – not just up to a frontman but into a channel for someone to run on to."
And not everything is better in Spain. "Referees kill games sometimes," he says. "You get booked early and then another foul and you're off."
So why don't more players make the jump from England to Spain? "Everyone thinks language is a big problem but I don't think it is," he says. "A lot of coaches over here can speak English. A lot of players over here can speak English. Everyone gets by."
And the "foreign" qualities are appreciated? "Spanish players who have not necessarily stood out in Spain have gone to England and people have said: 'Wow, technically he's so good'.
"It's the appreciation of something different. If John Terry had come here in his prime they would have said: 'Look at the attitude, the strength, the commitment, how good he is in the air'."
Elche's first-choice central defenders David Lomban and Alberto Botia both failed to make it at Barcelona when they were youngsters. I'Anson could not agree terms with Grimsby. Now the three of them are the club's future.
Are there any dates circled on the calendar: fixtures against Leo Messi or the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu? "No," he says. "This season is about learning and next season I want to be first choice. I have a lot of pace. I like to talk a lot on the pitch."
And he is a good talker. Conversing in perfect Spanish with a groundsman and then recalling the moment the "geezer went straight over the top of the ball" on him in a local derby between Lincoln City and Grimsby Town in England.
From the bar where he often watches his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, "Charlie" was watching England on Tuesday night. He hopes that, more and more this season, England will be watching him.
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