The vultures will once again be circling the Basque club’s top talent if they maintain their flying start and give the big guns an unexpected run for their money this season, writes Martin Whiteley.
It’s no surprise to find Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the top of the Spanish Primera Division at this early stage in the campaign — but many fans will be taken aback by Real Sociedad sitting in third place.
An ever-present fixture in the Spanish top flight since their promotion ahead of the 2006-07 season, the side from the Basque Country have had a steady if unspectacular journey so far.
But since winning their first Copa de la Reina in 2019, they’ve found more consistency and things are looking up in the league. The 2-0 victory over Sevilla at the weekend was Real Sociedad’s third straight league win, keeping them hot on the heels of Barca and Atletico as they look to build on last season’s fifth-placed finish — their highest placing for five years.
Like a lot of sides of the stature of Real Sociedad, any sign of progress usually results in the vultures starting to circle and this summer saw a large turnover of players.
Madrid proved a popular destination for those who departed San Sebastian. Defender Lucia Rodriguez and forward Nahikari Garcia joined Real, while midfielders Barbara Latorre and Maitane Lopez both signed for Atletico.
Also on their travels were defender Nuria Mendoza and midfielder Leire Banos who both went to Levante. Goalkeeper Mariasun Quinones and midfielder Itxaso Uriarte headed for Athletic Bilbao, while Mexico forward Kiana Palacios returned home to play for America.
The loss of the 11 goals scored by Garcia could prove the greatest obstacle to overcome for the side from Northern Spain.
Despite only being 22 years old, Serbia star Allegra Poljak was seen as part of the solution. The forward — who is equally adept through the middle or operating out wide — bagged herself six goals in her final campaign for UDG Tenerife.
That plan, however, was thrown into disarray even before the season began after the forward injured the meniscus in her right knee and quickly went under the knife.
The loss of Poljak could see former Deportivo La Coruna player Gabriela Garcia come to the fore. The versatile Venezuela forward can occupy either a midfield berth or operate in a more advanced role and chipped in with five goals last season for her previous club.
The midfield department was also bolstered by the arrival of experienced duo Iris Arnaiz and Clare Pleuler. Arnaiz is another brought in from Deportivo La Coruna having played over 100 games for the relegated club. Like Poljak, American Pleuler moved from UDG Tenerife and has the ability to deliver the ball with pinpoint accuracy.
The retooling process for Real Sociedad was completed by the defensive arrivals of Colombia star Manuela Vanegas from Espanyol and 19-year-old Emma Ramirez on-loan from Barcelona.
Despite all the upheaval, there was soon good news for Real Sociedad as last season’s joint top scorer Nerea Eizagirre recently extended her stay with the club. Technically sound with both feet, the midfielder has signed on until June 2023 and will be looking to build on the displays that saw her find the back of the net 13 times last term.
Amaiur Sarriegi was the other player to score a baker’s dozen last season for Real Sociedad and the Basque native has already hit the ground running this time around.
After her brace in the season opener against Valencia, the striker bagged six goals during the international break as Spain hammered the Faroe Islands and Hungary. Sarriegi has also shown she can be just as productive whether operating in a twin strike force or part of a front three.
The person entrusted with knitting the new pieces together with the established stars is coach Natalia Arroyo. The former Barcelona and Espanyol player was announced as the Basque side’s new boss in May 2020.
After having to retire due to injury in 2009, Arroyo has coached the Catalan women’s team since 2014 and has been a football commentator/analyst on Spanish TV. She originally signed a one-year deal, but an option for a second was triggered when qualifying objectives were met.
Having the finances to continue to add to a squad without losing any of your best players is limited to the fortunate few. For the likes of Real Sociedad, the hope is that many — if not all — of their new signings make an instant impact, and they can keep them at the club for as long as possible.
In the background, though, there is a sense of inevitability that continued success will spark the dreaded conveyor belt full of exiting players into life once more.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin