Malaga are an institution in Spanish football and their descent into the second tier was a shame. Their Cantera has produced fine attacking players like Pablo Fornals, Samu Castillejo and Juanmi as the Andalusian club possesses one of Spanish football’s most productive academies. The next attacking player on the production line is Javi Ontiveros as he made his debut in 2015 as a precocious 18-year-old. Now 21, the winger from Marbella is draped in the number 17 shirt that belonged to former Malaga captain Duda as he led his side frustratingly close to promotion last season.
Ontiveros had a penchant for trouble in his formative years which led Malaga to send him away for a ‘break’ as the last few years have been a time for self-discovery. He had to venture to Madrid for a match against Alcorcon as he bagged his first goal in two years while the crowd went raucous. Ontiveros’ talent was obvious in his first experiences in La Liga as during the 2016/17 season, he was involved in a Malaga break away to Valencia to have his shot blocked for fellow youth graduate Fornals to follow the opportunity up with a goal. He managed to wriggle away despite being tightly marked by Aymen Abdennour throughout the game.
The strapping young blonde-haired Spaniard with unconnected facial hear including a moustache and fuzz on his chin is a throwback touchline hugging winger with a modern edge. His speed and masterful close control in possession makes him difficult to tame while he can cut past a defender’s inside shoulder or drive a fullback to the by-line. Ontiveros is right-footed and began his career on the right flank but a move to the left-flank suits his unique skill-set as he is proficient with his opposite foot. One of his favourite parlour tricks is leading a fullback to the by-line and fooling his opponent into thinking he is hemmed into tight quarters only to lob an accurate and perfectly arced cross into the box with his left foot. He is also a set-piece threat with his ability to take corners with both feet and place accurate free-kicks.
The amount of time that he spends hugging the left side-line means he can drift in and out of games but when the opposition is lulled into a false sense of comfort, he can turn the game on its heels with a moment of pure artistry. He is a terror to defenders in 1v1 situations as he does not over-elaborate with his dribbling while he will glide past his marker. His close control and fundamental dribbling style are so precise and well-rehearsed that he can take on two defenders – teasing them like an experienced matador teases an indignant bull – only to roll the ball from his left to his right then suddenly flick the ball in the middle of the two defenders and contort his body to drive past them.
Arjen Robben consistently practiced his cut in and shoot routine to jump start his career at Bayern Munich as Ontiveros has followed suit. The twisting of his hips is so mischievous to skip past his defender and then his turn of pace is beguiling to drive into the centre. The surprising facet of his move is not him skipping past his marker but the intelligence he uses as he will either pass the ball to create an opportunity or produce a well-aimed strike from range. Away to Alcorcon, he received a pass out wide to cut in and skip past three men before rolling a shot past the keeper in stride to score the first goal of Victor Sanchez Del Amo’s tenure. He rounded off his brace as he struck a free-kick past the keeper while he has been on a fine run of form since.
Against Real Zaragoza, he received a pass to flick on to a player in the half-space before driving into the area to commandingly regain possession from his teammate’s feet to strike a shot from range that stung the palms of the keeper. In the same match, he controlled a cross field pass to arrow another shot at the keeper. In the promotion playoff, he took on a short free-kick from Keidi Bare to beat his man and lob a cross for Luis Hernandez to head in and open the scoring. His exploits did not finish there as he took on a pass to cut past his man and blast in a goal from range.
Ontiveros’ ability to cut inside and be productive with possession outlines the thrill factor he brings as a skilled operator of the wide areas. He is also innate in passing sequences as he drops deep to play nonchalant flick ons to instigate breaks. He is regularly involved in three-man wide passing combinations as against Real Zaragoza, he took on a pass from his fullback Juankar who burst past him, then he took a touch and chipped a through ball for the fullback who crossed for Dani Parejo to tap in at the far post. The 21-year-old Spaniard also had a moment against Real Zaragoza where he cut in off his flank to skip past his fullback and drive past the supporting opposition winger before deftly changing direction and driving to the box where he was fouled and denied a penalty.
Ontiveros’ constant manoeuvring and expert body control means he can cleverly shift past a defender and use his pace to create distance between him and his marker. Spain are lacking a natural high-level wide player since the halcyon days of Pedro as Malaga’s winger from Marbella has the potential to be an unstoppable force on either flank. Malaga had a 15-million-euro release clause on their youth product as their relegation sliced their asking price in half to 7.5 million euros. He is also in the final year of his contract as both him and Malaga are looking to extend his contract.
“It’s the confidence the coach conveys to me. If he gives me confidence, I’ll convey it on the field of play. We are all as one, the team is doing really well,” said Ontiveros to the Malaga website on his relationship with Victor Sanchez Del Amo.
Ontiveros finished the season with 5 goals and 4 assists as he has the highest expected assist rate of all wingers in the Spanish second division. He was highly rated as a youngster despite being expelled from Real Betis for bad behaviour as he had a difficult relationship with former Malaga Head Coach, Michel. He could be a bargain for first division clubs across Europe while staying in Andalusia under his current head coach for a full season could be conducive for his development. Ontiveros is a whirlwind of a winger who any manager would be lucky to have tormenting opposition fullbacks.