Le50 2017 – Baptiste Santamaría
Baptiste Santamaría’s rise has been one of the more surprising in Ligue 1 this season. Signed by Angers from Tours in the summer, he was nominally bought to replace Romain Saiss, who was sold to Wolves, at the base of midfield. While he has performed that role with aplomb, he has also shown considerable signs of being more than the archetypal prosaic midfielder.
He is not without some reputation in France, having been part of the hosts’ squad at the 2015 Toulon Tournament, but hasn’t, to this point, received further call-ups for France’s youth sides. He became a regular for Tours in the 2013/14 season, but the club’s struggles and the presence of a raft of similarly-aged central midfielders had made him a peripheral figure for his country. While that hasn’t changed, Santamaría has taken the opportunity to be a regular in Ligue 1 to burnish his reputation.
The club’s tack of signing players from around Ligue 2 had had success with the likes of Cheikh N’Doye, Ismael Traoré, Yoann Andreu and Billy Ketkeophomphone all impressing in Le Sco’s previous campaign, but Santamaría, owing to his youth, was a bit more of a risk. Angers had previously pursued players who were out of contract, but last summer saw the team, emboldened by their mid-table finish, actually spend money on players. Again, Ligue 2 was the target, with Karl Toko Ekambi (Sochaux) and Famara Diedhiou (Clermont) being the headline purchases, and the team surprisingly recorded a positive net spend last summer, including the €500,000 paid for Santamaría.
Despite the more estimable reputations of Toko Ekambi and Diedhiou, Santamaría has been the team’s most consistent performer, playing in every match save one. Used at the base of midfield in a 4-3-3, the general feeling is that his future lies in a position more akin to the roles he played at Tours, where he was used in a box-to-box role in a diamond 4-4-2 and even occasionally on the wing. He is superb at breaking up play, his pace and elegance in the tackle being key in that respect, but he has also evinced, on occasion, flashes of the dynamism that allowed him to play in those central roles in Ligue 2.
He has struggled at times to balance the measure of his dribbling and passing abilities with the step up in competition, and adapting to a new, more negative position, but, on the whole, his enterprise has been key in Angers being a more positive side this season. Rather than the more physically imposing Saiss, Santamaría’s mobility and pace have allowed for Angers to have a greater dynamism as a whole.
He is still robust enough to be an aerial threat on occasion, but he simultaneously is able to cover more of the pitch, and this has done much to help the team improve even in the light of slight regressions in form on the part of Thomas Mangani and N’Doye. The team scored the same number of goals as the previous campaign, but improved their passing percentages and number of goals from open play dramatically, benefitting from a more cohesive and vital style of midfield play, most of which can fairly be attributed to Santamaría. While he may not have as high a ceiling as a Rabiot or a Bakayoko, Santamaría has, at 22, evolved into an above-average Ligue 1 midfielder, and with more room to grow he could yet make his mark at a higher level.