It’s been one that’s rumbled on for a while, so it was good to finally see Borja Sainz swathed in a green and yellow scarf and hear him tell the club’s official channels how glad he is to be at this “great club” and how his move is a “dream come true”.
It’s okay, Borja, we believe you.
Picture the scene. The five-year-old Borja, playing football on the streets of Leioa with his young mates, telling them how he dreams one day of gracing the hallowed turf of… Carrow Road.
I jest of course. We know what he means and would expect him to say nothing else.
So, who exactly is Borja Sainz? And what was it on his footballing CV that alerted the recruitment team sufficiently for them to make him the tenth Spanish player to sign for our club?
Well, as mentioned above, he was born (in 2002) in Leioa a town of nearly 32,000 people situated in the Basque region of Spain. It is to Bilbao what Wigan is to Manchester.
He started his junior career with a local team called AD Lagun Artea but aged just 10 joined Athletic Bilbao’s academy, known as Lezama, where he stayed until he was 15.
In August 2017, he refused the offer of an extension to his academy contract with Bilbao and opted instead to sign for Alavés, then in La Liga but who have since been relegated to the Spanish second tier.
Just a year later he made his debut in senior football, coming on for Alavés’ reserve team who play in the Tercera División – the Spanish fourth tier – before eventually making his first-team and La Liga debut in August 2019 against Espanyol.
He had to wait until the Spanish equivalent of Project Restart (Reinicio del proyecto?) for his first goal, which came in June 2020 in a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad.
In season 2020-21, he made 24 appearances but to only limited effect – scoring just once and assisting just twice – and in August 2021 he was loaned for the season to Real Zaragoza in the Spanish ‘Championship’ where he played 35 games, which yielded three goals and an assist.
While at this juncture, his stats appeared modest it’s important to remember he was just 18/19 and still learning his trade. And besides, he’d done enough to attract the attention of scouts outside of Spain.
In July 2022 – just a year ago – he made the move from Spain to Turkey to sign for Giresunspor in the Süper Lig. He was clearly unfazed by the move to a new country and culture, and it soon became his breakthrough season.
In 34 appearances for Giresunspor, he scored 10 goals and provided 3 assists all while playing in a team that ended up being relegated. Maybe it was, among other things, his ability to perform in a struggling team that gave the City recruitment team an insight into his character.
While stats only tell part of the story, an interesting comparator for Master Sainz is one Milot Rashica, still officially of this parish but soon to be an ex-Canary, who also played in the Süper Lig, albeit for a team that ended up winning the league as opposed to finishing 16th.
So, using like-for-like stats, Rashica played 30 games, scored 5 goals, and provided 6 assists – something else that will likely not have been lost on the recruitment team and analysts.
On the face of it, it’s a purchase that makes a lot of sense but one that also comes with the usual caveats, including the one that says we were all excited and hopeful when Rashica joined us. And too the one that says Sainz has more than a bit of the Sergi Canós about him.
So, a Webber parting gift worthy of the name, or one final contender for the trophy currently held by Ben Marshall?
As ever, only the passage of time will tell. But we wish him well.