From the Handbook: Fabián Ruiz
This profile was first published in our digital-only handbook, Scouted Football Handbook Three, released in March 2018. You can download it in its entirety here. It's filled with 114 player profiles, and it's now free.
CAREER IN REVIEW
2017 can be described only as a breakthrough year for Fabián Ruiz Peña, the 21-year-old who has been a Bético since he was eight. Renewing his contract with Real Betis at the end of 2016, he was shipped off by the club in January to Segunda División side Elche, with hopes that he would blood himself into first-team action. The following few months were gruelling for Elche, who would end the term by suffering back-to-back relegation to Spain’s third tier, but Fabián had shone. He returned to Betis in the summer with 18 hugely valuable appearances under his belt and a plethora of wonderful performances that evidenced what Betis had known for years; that he was a very special talent indeed.
Since his return to his hometown club, Fabián has established himself as Betis’ most vital midfielder, more talismanic than all, save club legend Joaquín. The final few months of 2017 saw Fabián touted as one of the premium Spanish midfield talents not yet hoovered up by Real Madrid and, unlike former team-mate Dani Ceballos, one who was playing extensively every week.
Deployed as the right-sided interior in Quique Setién’s manic three-man midfield, the youngster displayed calm and serenity in a system built to attack with relentless abandon. This is even more surprising considering he was trained as a winger for the majority of his time at the Andalusian club, converting to a midfielder only when a growth spurt during his late teenage years saw him rocket to an imposing six-foot-two.
Fabián began 2018 by scoring as his beloved Betis won El Gran Derbi against Sevilla. It was a moment he described as the ‘best of his life’, and capped what has been an extraordinary rise. Fabián Ruiz goes into this year as one of Spain’s best midfield talents, and the jewel in Betis’ crown.
STYLE OF PLAY
As mentioned above, the Spaniard became a central midfielder only after it was realised his height and imposing frame would be wasted in his previous role as a winger. However, his years of training as an attacker have imbued him with a wholly unique skillset, and a style that allow him to be a huge asset from midfield both defensively and when his team move forward.
Occupying the right-hand-side of a midfield three, Fabián has a knack for dominating his zone, locking down the half-space in which he operates and providing stability to a team that plays in a perpetual state of controlled chaos. Shuttling forward to support Joaquín when he attacks and rushing back to help Antonio Barragán in defence – the importance of which cannot be overstated, due to Joaquín’s 36-year-old legs proving increasingly unable to provide defensive cover – Fabián is eternally in motion, loping across the pitch with a speed afforded to him by his years of training as a winger.
Fabián is most comfortable with the ball at his feet. He is a hugely important outlet for Betis who, under Setién, want to play with the ball on the ground, moving possession into the final third as quickly as possible. Often it is Fabián who facilitates this rapid progression, picking the ball up from the centre-halves before turning and pinging the ball forward. His passing range is more than adequate, especially when he has willing runners ahead of him, but remains one aspect of his game that needs improving. When passing short though, he is excellent, acting as Betis’ metronome during periods where keeping the ball is paramount. His most exquisite tool is his dribbling, however, a trait developed during his years as an attacker.
He is capable of opening space with the ball at his feet the same way Sergio Busquets is, using his guile not since he was eight. Renewing his contract with Real Betis at the end of 2016, he was shipped off by the club in January to Segunda División side Elche, with hopes that he would blood himself into first-team action. The following few months were gruelling for Elche, who would end the term by suffering back-to-back relegation to Spain’s third tier, but Fabián had shone. He returned to Betis in the summer with 18 hugely valuable appearances under his belt and a plethora of wonderful performances that evidenced what Betis had known for years; that he was a very special talent indeed.
Fabián does not only utilise his dribbling to keep possession, however. Once he moves into the final third, the explosiveness that marked him as a winger for so long becomes immediately obvious; he is capable of drifting past players with ease, driving towards the box before laying off a pass for a team-mate or attempting a shot from range. He shoots from outside the box often, a trait that might become frustrating were it not for the youngster’s incredibly cultured left foot. Inside the box, however, Fabián is guilty of occasionally panicking, twisting and turning but unable to make the decisive pass or shot. This is accentuated by perhaps his most prevalent weakness: although his left foot is a serious weapon, he is overly reliant on it to the point that it becomes a serious detriment to his game.
He uses his right foot so sporadically it has become little more than a tool that allows him to stand up, and run. He will manoeuvre himself often into incredibly promising positions but have to drag the ball back onto his left, after which the chance has gone, or he will use his left foot awkwardly, curling the ball the wrong way and providing a less-than-ideal pass. He will have to become far more adept with his right foot as he continues to develop, if he harbours ambitions beyond Real Betis.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
Fabián Ruiz adores Real Betis. He has grown up at the club, played at every youth level for the club before his eventual debut, and his mother works there. After an astonishing breakthrough season – even in January, where he was linked away constantly – clubs will be circling, desperate to land his talents; but it will take a very special offer to separate lifelong Bético from Betis.
One sees players return again and again to the club, unable to resist its allure; look at Rubén Castro and Joaquín, two current first-teamers who described returning as coming home, and even Joel Campbell, who has come back on loan for a second term. Fabián is playing a special role at a special club, and the cautionary tale of Dani Ceballos, who is still yet to play regularly at Real Madrid, might put him off leaving for a while to come.
That said, potential suitors are far from scarce. Barcelona and Arsenal have been linked heavily with the star since his arrival in Betis’ first-team, so the midfielder has an array of options should he want to make a move. His release clause of €30 million has emboldened the sides interested, though Betis are adamant a contract renewal would at least double this. With his beloved club playing expansive football and pushing for a Europa League spot, however, Fabián Ruiz’s immediate future seems to be at home.