First Look: Salomon Rondon

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FACT BOX

Name: José Salomón Rondón Giménez

Age: 25

Date of Birth: 16/09/1989

Nationality: Venezuelan

Club: West Bromwich Albion

Position: Striker

Height: 6ft 2in (189cm)

Weight 13st 3lbs (85kg)

Preferred Foot: Right

After struggling to score goals last season, it was clear that Tony Pulis and West Brom needed a striker this summer and finally, a striker is what they’ve got. After a much-mooted £150m takeover broke down, the Baggies moved quickly to make up lost ground in the transfer market and spent a club record £12m fee on Salomon Rondon from Russian champions Zenit. A quick yet physical striker who has scored goals in Venezuela, Spain and Russia could be the perfect option for Tony Pulis with speculation around Saido Berahino increasing by the day. So just what kind of striker are West Brom getting?

Rondon began his career playing for Aragua FC in the Venezuelan Primera Division aged only 17, after making his debut against Carabobo FC in October 2006. It would take him seven months to get off the mark, that goal finally coming as part of a pair in a 2-2 draw against his hometown club Caracas FC. After scoring 15 goals in 49 games for Aragua, he was signed by Spanish side UD Las Palmas on a free transfer in the summer of 2008.

The then 19 year-old made his debut for Las Palmas on October 5, 2008 against Alaves in the Segunda, Spain’s second division. Again, it took him a while to get going as he scored his first goal over a year after his move against Cadiz FC in September 2009. This goal was of large significance however, as he became the youngest ever player to score for the club at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days old. He then went on to finish the 2009/10 campaign with ten goals in 36 games as Los Amarillos narrowly avoided relegation.

After scoring 12 goals in 46 appearances for Las Palmas, July 2010 saw Malaga splash £2.5m on Rondon, which was a club record fee. Malaga’s investment would pay off. He ended the 2010/11 season with 14 goals, finishing as the club’s top scorer as well as becoming the record scoring Venezuelan in the Spanish top flight. More of the same would follow in 2011/12, as the then 21 year-old fought off competition from Ruud van Nistelrooy to finish as the Andalusians top scorer again with 11 goals.

The summer of 2012 saw Malaga forced to sell their star players due to financial trouble and Russian side Rubin Kazan pounced to sign Rondon for £8m, making him the most expensive Venezuelan player in history. After initially struggling to settle, he finished the season with a respectable 12 goals in 37 appearances. The following campaign would see him improve, as he scored 12 goals in three months for Rubin Kazan before signing for Zenit in January 2014 for a fee in the region of £16m. He would enjoy his time at Zenit, scoring 7 goals in 10 games in the final few months of the 2013/14, followed by adding 20 goals in 38 games in all competitions throughout 2014/15 as he helped them win the Russian Premier League.

Undoubtedly, Rondon’s main strength is his ability to put the ball into the back of the net. The big Venezuelan has over 100 career goals to his name and is still only 25 years old. During the 2014/15 season, he averaged 0.94 goals per 90 minutes, a statistic which blew the other top scorers in the league out of the water. Former Zenit teammate Hulk averaged 0.59 goals per 90 minutes, whilst Roman Eremenko of CSKA and Quincy Promes of Spartak ended the campaign on 0.53 and 0.49 respectively. The centre forward constantly peppers the opposition goalkeeper, averaging 3.71 shots per game with 54% of those hitting the target, numbers only bettered by Hulk on 4.31 who is known for constantly letting fly from range. What is also impressive about Rondon is the variety in which he scores his goals, burying ten of his 16 strikes last term with his right foot, four with his left and two with his head. This is a useful attribute to possess as he can be trusted to take whatever chances may come his way, instead of worrying about getting it onto his stronger side which could cost him the goalscoring opportunity altogether.

Another area in which Rondon excels is his movement within the penalty area. This is where the 25 year-old does all of his damage, scoring all 16 of his domestic goals last season within it. His tall, muscular frame allows him to enjoy a physical edge over most defenders, but he is also incredibly intelligent, always finding that spare yard he needs to fire an effort in on goal. An example of his off the ball movement can be seen against FC Ural on March 7, 2015,  where the ball was spread wide to right back Alexander Anyukov by Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel. Rondon was lurking on the edge of the box in between two defenders, before suddenly darting towards the near post losing both of his markers and glancing the inch perfect cross off his head into the bottom left corner. Another example of his movement can be seen against Anzhi on September 24, 2014 where Anyukov was again freed down the right hand side by Axel Witsel. After feigning left, the Venezuelan striker sprinted towards the near post before brilliantly backheeling the driven cross past the goalkeeper. Both of these goals would not have happened had it not been for his ability to intelligently find space in front of goal.

Another aspect to the Venezuelan’s game which is often overlooked is his ability to link up with the midfield. Despite his role as a penalty box poacher, Rondon often drops deep to pick up the ball and switches it wide, or even looks to play quick one two’s with runners just outside of the area. The 25 year-old also created an average of one chance per 90 minutes last season, which shows that he was able to provide opportunities for teammates despite only gaining two assists. An example of his link up play can be seen against Lokomotiv on July 12, 2015 as he picked up the ball from deep before exchanging a pass from left back Domenico Criscito. Creating space for Hulk in the centre of the field, Rondon ran into the left channel taking two defenders with him, before being freed by the Brazilian and crossing just out of the reach of onrushing midfielder Oleg Shatov. While his primary job is to score goals, he does show a willingness to run the channels and create opportunities for others.

Rondon will definitely have had a better chance of silverware at Zenit, but a move to the Premier League now gives him the platform to show everybody that he can be a striker at the top level. At 6’2” (189cm) and 13st 3lbs, his physique should suit Tony Pulis and West Brom to a tee as they look for a striker with a presence up top. With neither Brown Ideye nor Victor Anichebe pulling up trees, there is a real opportunity for Rondon to come into the team immediately alongside the talented Saido Berahino. One could play off the other, but Rondon is also capable of playing as the lone frontman allowing others to feed off of him. England’s top flight is a different proposition to its Russian and Spanish counterparts, and the Baggies will know that £12m is a lot of money to spend on a player who is essentially a gamble. However, they will take comfort in Malaga taking that very same gamble and reaping the rewards, as the 25 year-old certainly has the attributes to finish the chances that come his way on a regular basis.

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Are you a fan of Rondon? Will he keep West Brom above water or is he Brown Ideye mark two? What do you think? Write to us:[email protected]

First Look: Salomon Rondon
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