Scouted: The World Cup star who could bolster Spurs or Man United's defence
The 60-second story
- Full name: Héctor Alfredo Moreno Herrera
- Date of birth: January 17, 1988
- Place of birth: Culiacán, Mexico
- Height: 6ft 1in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Espanyol; 111 apps, 6 goals
- Former clubs: UNAM, AZ
- National team: Mexico; 57 apps, 1 goal
In all likelihood, Héctor Moreno would already be playing in England were it not for the nasty leg break he suffered against the Netherlands at the World Cup. Earlier this year the Mexican refused Espanyol’s advances over a contract extension, and as a result the club agreed to let him leave in the summer transfer window. During the World Cup, president Joan Collet admitted in public that at least one foreign club had made a concrete bid, and he had good reason to encourage a sale. The much-needed cash would have gone towards debt repayments that hold a tight grip around the Catalan club’s throat. Moreno’s injury threw a spanner in the works.
The defender first came to Espanyol under the guiding hand of Mauricio Pochettino, so it’s no surprise that the Argentine coach's current club, Tottenham Hotspur, are one of the sides constantly linked with his services. Whether he ends up at Spurs or elsewhere, Moreno’s ultimate goal is clearly to leave Cornellà-el Prat, as he has regularly used interviews and press appearances to reiterate his “dream of playing for the best teams in the world”.
Espanyol are a selling club, and in a recent appearance on Catalunya Radio’s El Club de la Mitjanit, Collet was frank about the likelihood of player sales in January should the right offer come in. At this moment in time, Moreno’s transfer appears to be a question of when rather than if.
Why you need to know him
The abundance of scouts at Espanyol to watch Moreno has been a common theme for some time now. Still in his mid 20s but with experience of Mexican, Dutch and Spanish football under his belt, not to mention the modest price tag of around €10m, it’s no surprise that bigger teams have been keen to discover more about the player.
They should have liked what they saw. Moreno isn’t particularly spectacular but nor does he tend to make catastrophic errors; the solid, reliable defender on show at the World Cup was a good reflection of his usual standards at club level. In his home nation he has long been well regarded, having played a part in Mexico’s 2005 U17 World Cup win alongside the likes of Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos. His international progression culminated last summer when he started every game for Mexico at the World Cup.
Those with a particularly sharp memory for European football may recall him as part of the AZ Alkmaar side that finished unlikely winners of the 2008/09 Eredivisie under the tutelage of Louis van Gaal. He was a regular for AZ that year before picking up a foot injury that kept him out of the second half of the season.
Moreno is a great all-round defender – no pushover, but also decent with the ball at his feet. Though of average pace, he rarely leaves himself in a position where a quicker player would get the better of him, while his aerial strength is useful at either end of the pitch.
A natural organiser, he was entrusted with dealing out mid-game orders to the rest of the team under Javier Aguirre, and has the kind of leadership and clarity of thought a top club would want from a player occupying a key position.
Van Gaal left a particularly big mark on an impressionable young Moreno during their time together in the Netherlands, and it is therefore no surprise that he looked so comfortable in a three-man backline with the national team last summer. Along with a capacity to adjust to a number of defensive systems, Moreno can also play as a holding midfielder, having done so at youth level with Mexico, and more recently for Espanyol against Barcelona.
Moreno has only made a few appearances for Espanyol since returning from injury in December, so any club looking to sign him may be concerned as to how well he has recovered. His not-so-subtle attempts to force a transfer through the media haven’t gone down well in Barcelona, meanwhile, and hint at a side of his character that may need delicate management in the future.
“If Barça want to sign a centre-back, they have one nearby. A great defender, left-footed, and someone who has the qualities necessary to play for them: Héctor Moreno”. Moreno’s international team-mate Rafa Márquez is convinced he is good enough for the elite.
Did you know?
Southampton hotshot Graziano Pellè played alongside Moreno at AZ. Spurs man Mousa Dembélé and Argentina stopper Sergio Romero also made their names with Van Gaal’s title-winning underdogs.
- Shooting: 3
- Heading: 8
- Passing: 7
- Tackling: 7
- Pace: 5
- Dribbling: 4
- Creativity: 4
- Work-rate: 7
What happens next?
At the moment it looks like there are two possible outcomes for Moreno. The first and ideal scenario for Espanyol is that he is sold in the winter window for a fee that satisfies them – around the €10m mark. The club are conscious, however, that potential suitors – rumoured to include not only Pochettino's Tottenham, but also Van Gaal's Manchester United – may want to see him play more games in order to better gauge how well he has recovered from injury, and that could mean they have to wait until the summer. That carries a certain degree of risk given his contract will expire in 2016, but the possibility that he will gain a European passport this spring could help their position, as it would ensure there are no complications over work permits.