There are some players that were linked with Premier League clubs so often that it feels like an affront to learn that they never played in England.
Close your eyes and you can picture Luis Fabiano banging in the goals for Tottenham, Wesley Sneijder patrolling the Manchester United midfield or Julian Draxler dazzling the Arsenal crowd with his wing wizardry.
Except none of these moves actually happened, whether that’s the fault of gossip columnists choosing easy targets to reach their word count or, in what’s known as the Matt Le Tissier explanation, the mainstream media gaslighting an entire country of football fans for shits and giggles.
Fabian Ruiz has been linked with a number of English clubs over the years but, just as conspiracy theorists have begun dusting off their pitchforks and googling directions to the Sky Sports News studio, a move to the Premier League suddenly looks likely.
Ruiz has been the subject of strong interest from Arsenal and Newcastle United. Both clubs need a central midfielder to elevate their performances above the level of infuriating inconsistency and the Spain international has rejected the latest contract offer from Napoli.
But what would he bring to England? The glib answer is the ability to whack a football with the heat of a thousand suns beyond a hapless, weeping goalkeeper, like this effort for Spain in the 2019 European Under-21 Championship against Germany.
Fabian Ruiz with the strike pic.twitter.com/1sMhwPtNyu
— Steven (@SanPenguinYo) June 30, 2019
But the 26-year-old deep-lying playmaker has been an integral part of Napoli’s attacking play and developed an understanding with his fellow midfielders in Luciano Spalletti’s set-up.
Since replacing Gennaro Gattuso after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, Spalletti has alternated between his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation and the 4-3-3, which was regularly implemented by his predecessor.
When Napoli have played in the 4-2-3-1 formation, Ruiz is positioned in the double pivot in midfield alongside the Fulham reject Andre Zambo Anguissa.
The presence of Anguissa is important; the Cameroon international provides industry and directness in midfield which means Ruiz can focus on controlling the tempo of the game and picking the right pass to dissect opposing defences with the precision of a scientist using a scalpel on a dead frog.
And this is a player reaching his peak; Ruiz’s passing rate of 90.6% and an average of 67.9 passes per game are career highs. He has demonstrated his ability to be the fulcrum of the Napoli midfield with the quantity and the quality of his passes, as Spalletti’s side played a shorter-passing game.
Even so, the Spain international still averages 4.2 long balls per game, displaying his ability to hit a long pass with the ease of Mick Lynch dismantling a Conservative MP on live television.
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But, and this is most crucial of all for a content-fetishising league, Ruiz pops up with the odd wondergoal or five per season. The type to make Lionel Messi fall at his feet and seek worship.
And the type to make Ruben Neves, the Premier League’s current shitpinger king, abdicate his throne immediately and thank Ruiz for the opportunity to keep his seat warm.
This predominately left-footed player takes care of the ball expertly, like a dog-sitter soothing a difficult spaniel with some cooing noises and an extra-large stick, while some of his shots couldn’t have been better placed if Ruiz put them there by hand.
Arguably the best example came during a crunch Serie A fixture at Lazio back in February, as Napoli looked for the breakthrough to maintain their title charge.
Adam Ounas, despite the attention of two Lazio heavies, miraculously stayed on his feet to release Elif Elmas with a perfectly weighted pass.
Some would have criticised Elmas for not shooting himself but, after drawing three players, he slipped the ball to Lorenzo Insigne who laid it off to… nobody.
That’s what the Stadio Olimpico cameraman would have you believe. Instead, with the timing of a Swiss locomotive, Ruiz swept into the picture to caress the ball into the bottom corner without breaking stride.
As he galloped away in celebration, revealing a rather natty head bandage in the process, it was impossible not to imagine the antenna of Premier League narrative writers twitching with excitement. This boy is the real deal.
Oh wow, what a beauty from Fabian Ruiz 🤩😯
Napoli take the lead back in the 94th minute and become the new Serie A leaders! pic.twitter.com/lkAimfk6rY
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 27, 2022
According to the latest from Corriere dello Sport, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs are firmly in the mix to sign Ruiz. And, despite the 26-year-old reportedly rejecting Newcastle, they still also fancy their chances of signing him.
Napoli are willing to sell and want €30million for Ruiz. Spare change for your wannabe Champions League heavyweight these days and surely a punt on Ruiz would represent excellent value.
And, just as importantly in the current climate, Ruiz will want the best possible transfer to maintain his spot in the Spain squad before this winter’s World Cup.
From an Arsenal perspective, Ruiz would be a viable alternative to Youri Tielemans and give their midfield that semblance of composure that was conspicuous by its absence during last season’s late collapse.
For Newcastle, the Spaniard is evidently a clear upgrade on Joe Willock, Jonjo Shelvey and Joelinton. The thought of Ruiz dovetailing with Bruno Guimaraes is enough to cause instant salivation of the mouth, whether or not you’re of a Toon persuasion.
Some Premier League transfers are better in fantasy than reality. Ruiz would almost certainly follow a more successful path in England.
By Michael Lee