It might have flown under the radar when announced earlier this week, but Villarreal CF's signing of Paris Saint-Germain's talented goalkeeper Alphonse Areola on a one-season loan deal -- without an option to buy -- is a very good piece of business for both clubs and the player.
The 22-year-old made a name for himself as the hero of the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup final in Turkey, saving Uruguay's first two penalty attempts as France lifted the trophy for the first time in their history.
Following Areola's heroics in Istanbul, the PSG youngster was rewarded with a loan move to RC Lens for the 2013-14 season, before going to SC Bastia to link up with then-coach and former Parisien assistant manager Claude Makelele for the 2014-15 season. Makelele did not last long in Corsica, but the young goalkeeper built upon his impressive campaign at Lens in Ligue 2 to then help Bastia successfully battle against relegation from Ligue 1 after Makelele's disastrous start at Stade de Furiani.
Areola kept 13 clean sheets in 39 games across all competitions, including some more penalty mastery to help Bastia to the Coupe de la Ligue final at the expense of AS Monaco, earning the right to test himself at a higher level this coming season. In order to do that, Areola needs European experience and that was not going to present itself in Ligue 1, as all of the qualifiers for continental competition in France have firmly established No. 1 goalkeepers.
This is where the loan move to Villarreal in Spain makes perfect sense. Sergio Asenjo, the Submarino Amarillo's regular first-choice netminder, was badly injured back in late April and is not expected to fully recover until at least Christmas.
Marcelino's men needed a solid and reliable goalkeeper, available for little or no fee, who is capable of filling in for the former Spain youth international for at least half of the coming season. PSG needed to find Areola a club that could offer their talented young star regular domestic games and, more importantly, a taste of European club football.
With Villarreal already guaranteed group stage UEFA Europa League football next term, they are the perfect match and the Estadio El Madrigal is the ideal place for the former France under-21 international to continue his development.
PSG's current No. 1, Italy international Salvatore Sirigu, is expected to remain at Parc des Princes for the coming campaign -- although there have been suggestions that the French champions are very keen on bringing Eintracht Frankfurt's Kevin Trapp in this summer -- but the 28-year-old's long-term future in Paris is far from certain after a shaky 2014-15.
Should Areola impress in La Liga with Villarreal next season, PSG will be presented with the opportunity to replace Sirigu with a younger goalkeeper, with greater potential and -- crucially -- a homegrown one at that. With his apprenticeship at an end, Areola's only other options would be becoming PSG's substitute goalkeeper in place of Nicolas Douchez, or looking for a permanent home away from the French capital.
Areola is one of the brightest talents in the goalkeeping world and les Parisiens know this, so the chances of them letting him go in the near future are remote. If Areola is ready to usurp Sirigu in the summer of 2016, he will be 23 years old and the French giants will potentially have their first choice goalkeeper for the next decade or more.
However, in order for the PSG youth academy graduate to be ready to take over from Sirigu, he needs to have experience in continental competition; that and more specifically the UEFA Champions League, is where the Ligue 1 champions' main ambition ultimately lies and should Areola impress in Spain, he will be ready to tackle that level of football.
Villarreal offer Areola this vital next step in his development, and in return the 22-year-old will fill an urgent need for them on a temporary basis. Another season of non-European Ligue 1-based football had looked the only other alternative and that could easily have stunted the player's growth. Instead, Areola will head to La Liga and try his luck there. The benefits for both clubs and the player should ultimately prove sizeable if his development continues along its current trajectory.