Dan Coker's Match Preview
With England’s upcoming Nations League match against Spain coming up on Saturday, here’s Part One of a look back at the Hammers’ Spanish contingent.
Kepa Blanco was born on 13th January 1984 in Marbella, Spain and began his career with Sevilla’s B team as a teenager in 2002 before progressing to Sevilla’s first team in 2005. He played for Spain at Under-19, Under-21 and Under-23 levels and won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla in 2006. He fell out of favour though and agreed a loan move to Alan Curbishley’s West Ham in January 2007.
Kepa, as he was known, scored within 70 seconds of coming on as a substitute for his Hammers debut in a 2-1 home defeat to Liverpool on 30th January 2007. This earned the 23-year-old a start for the next match at Aston Villa but the Irons lost 1-0. He made six further substitute appearances for the Hammers, none of which came in the club’s four-match winning run at the end of the 2006/07 campaign to secure the Great Escape. Meanwhile, Kepa’s parent club were winning the Copa Del Rey and UEFA Cup. Kepa Blanco made eight appearances for the Hammers, scoring one goal, which can be seen in my video below.
Kepa signed for Getafe in a permanent move in the summer of 2007. After three years he joined Recreativo in the Spanish second tier. He failed to make a single appearance in his second season with the Andalusia-based club and joined Guadalajara, also in the second tier. Relegation followed and Kepa retired from football at the age of 30. He has since coached Malaga-based amateur side San Pedro.
Manuel Almunia was born on 19th May 1977 in Pamplona, Spain. The first six seasons of his career were spent in the Spanish third tier with Osasuna’s B team, Cartagonova and Sabadell. He joined La Liga side Celta Vigo but failed to make an appearance for the club, instead spending loan spells with Eibar in the second tier, and Recreativo and Albacete in the top tier. He moved to Arsenal in 2004 as back-up to Jens Lehmann; he was an unused substitute when Arsenal beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final but did play 70 minutes of the 2006 Champions League Final after Lehmann was sent off in the Gunners’ 2-1 defeat to Barcelona. He made 175 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal before moving across London to West Ham United in a loan deal.
Sam Allardyce signed the 34-year-old Almunia on a one-month emergency loan deal following a knee injury to first choice goalkeeper Robert Green. Almunia made four appearances for the Hammers, making his debut in a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace on 1st October 2011. He made his home debut in a 4-0 home win over Blackpool two weeks later and also played in a 1-0 defeat at Southampton. His final game was a 1-0 win at Brighton on 24th October 2011.
Almunia signed for Watford in the summer of 2012 and spent two years with the Hornets. Now 41, Almunia retired in 2014 on medical advice after a rare heart condition was picked up during a medical with Serie A side Cagliari.
Adrian San Miguel del Castillo was born on 3rd January 1987 in Seville, Spain and began his career with Real Betis’ third team, before progressing to the B side and the first team. He also had spells on loan at Alcala and Utrera. He was named Man of the Match on his La Liga debut in September 2012 and received the award again when keeping a clean sheet against Real Madrid in a 1-0 home win in November 2012. He started 31 matches in 2012/13, keeping 11 clean sheets and helping the club qualify for the Europa League with a seventh placed finish.
Adrian signed for Sam Allardyce’s West Ham on a free transfer in the summer of 2013. Initially back-up to Jussi Jaaskelainen, the 26-year-old Adrian made his Hammers debut in a 2-1 League Cup second round win over Cheltenham on 27th August 2013. He helped the Irons to the semi-finals of the League Cup in his first season and made his Premier League debut in a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford in December 2013. An outstanding individual performance from the Spanish stopper saw the Hammers pick up an unlikely point in a goalless draw at Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in January 2014. Having made himself first choice, Adrian was named runner-up to Mark Noble in the 2013/14 Hammer of the Year voting.
Arguably Adrian’s finest hour to date in a West Ham shirt came in an FA Cup third round replay against Everton at the Boleyn Ground in January 2015. He saved Steven Naismith’s penalty in an epic penalty shoot-out before famously throwing off his gloves to net the winner himself. Later that season, Adrian also became just the ninth ‘keeper in Premier League history to save three penalties in a row – first from Harry Kane at Tottenham (who scored the rebound), David Nugent at Leicester and Charlie Austin at QPR. Adrian was also sent off in a goalless draw at Southampton in February 2015 but the dismissal was later rescinded.
Adrian was sent off in a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester in August 2015 but helped the Hammers to a seventh-placed finish in the club’s final season at Upton Park. He was called up to the senior Spain squad in August 2016. A crowd favourite, the 31-year-old Adrian has been in and out of the side since the move to London Stadium with Darren Randolph, Joe Hart and Lukasz Fabianski providing competition for his starting place. He has made 146 appearances for West Ham United to date.
Pedro Obiang was born on 27th March 1992 in Alcala de Henares, Spain and began his career in Atletico Madrid’s youth system before moving to Sampdoria in Italy. After five seasons in the first team at the Genoa-based club, and having appeared for Spain at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, Obiang became the first signing of the Slaven Bilic era when he moved to West Ham United in the summer of 2015.
Obiang made his Hammers debut as a half-time substitute for Reece Oxford in a 2-1 home defeat to Leicester on 15th August 2015. He helped the Irons to a seventh-placed finish in 2015/16 and scored his first goal in claret and blue in a 3-1 win at Southampton on 4th February 2017. Obiang signed a new five-year contract with the Hammers in the summer of 2017 and scored two goals last season, the first in a 2-0 home win over Huddersfield on 11th September 2017 and the second a stunning strike from distance at Wembley in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham on 4th January 2018. He suffered a knee injury at Wigan in January which kept him out for four months – he has made 89 appearances to date for West Ham, scoring three goals.
Part Two of West Ham United’s Spanish Connections will be published before England’s return match in Spain next month.