By Andy Hall
Spanish international Asier Del Horno has called time on a 13-year spell with his childhood team Athletic Club Bilbao to join English champions Chelsea FC.
Del Horno may not have been José Mourinho's first choice to occupy Chelsea's troublesome left-back position. The club had been eyeing AC Milan's Kakha Kaladze as a replacement for injury-stricken Wayne Bridge, who is expected to be sidelined for some time after breaking his ankle injury in February. The Portuguese coach is also believed to be interested in Grasshopper-Club's 17-year-old prodigy Jonas Elmer, although it seems certain that Del Horno will begin his English sojourn in Mourinho's starting XI.
Del Horno is as good as example as you will get of the success of Athletic's prestigious youth team set-up at Lezama. The Basque club has developed a knack of producing valiant, industrious players who, like many of the emerging stars in Spain, also possess laudable technical ability. The 24-year-old Del Horno is tall and feisty and yet surprising nimble when in possession.
Unmistakable on the field in his white boots, he likes nothing more than joining the attack and has often helped Athletic with crucial goals. Like Stamford Bridge favourite John Terry, he is an excellent header of the ball from corner set-pieces and free-kicks.
Over the past few seasons, he was often seen haring down the left to meet Joseba Etxeberria's crosses at the far post. Since making his debut with the first team in September 2000, he has contributed 17 goals to Athletic's cause which for a defender is nothing to be sniffed at. He also scored the winning header in Spain's friendly victory against England on 17 November 2004.
Del Horno sought advice from Liverpool FC playmaker Xabi Alonso before settling on a move to Chelsea. "These kinds of opportunities come along once in a lifetime and you have to grab them when they do," the midfield player explained. And Alonso believes that Del Horno will have no problem adapting to the physical demands and lightning pace of the Premiership.
Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon said: "We are delighted that Asier has chosen to join Chelsea. This signifies the club's desire to galvanise the squad in key areas following an immensely successful season and we are looking forward to seeing Asier in Chelsea's blue shirt in July."
However, Athletic will not lose out as a result of the move. The €12m transfer fee - a club record - will certainly take a lot of financial pressure off and that figure could rise by 50 per cent depending on how many appearances Del Horno makes and whether Chelsea retain the league title or add the UEFA Champions League to their collection next season.
Casas on call
Meanwhile, the club are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a replacement for Del Horno. The 23-year-old Javier Casas, who made 27 league and cup appearances for the club last season, and Francisco Javier Tarantino, 20, who showed his class in a six-month loan spell at CD Numancia, are both jostling for position at Athletic.
They may have lost a classy left-back but happily it seems there are plenty more where he came from.
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