BARCELONA Wissam Ben Yedder's hat-trick for Sevilla in Saturday's 4-0 win at Real Sociedad was the latest demonstration of the Andalusian club's ability to find players from under the radar and mould them into top talents.
Ben Yedder, a former France Under-21 international, came to Sevilla from Toulouse with the task of replacing Kevin Gameiro, who departed for Atletico Madrid in the close season for 32 million euros ($33.69 million).
Gameiro, who scored 67 goals in his three years with Sevilla, was another gem unearthed by the club's highly-respected sporting director Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi.
France international Gameiro had helped fire Sevilla to three successive Europa League triumphs, but Ben Yedder has upstaged his compatriot this season.
The 26-year-old Ben Yedder has scored 15 goals in all competitions this term, compared to Gameiro's seven for Atletico.
The Sevilla striker was utterly ruthless against Real Sociedad, scoring with three of his four shots and setting up the game's other goal for Pablo Sarabia.
The win moved Sevilla provisionally above champions Barcelona into second in the standings, while the striker earned the praise of coach Jorge Sampaoli, who remarked: "Ben Yedder is starting to do what the team needs him to do and I'm delighted for him."
Ben Yedder signed for the triple Europa League winners after hitting 17 league goals for Toulouse last season, making him the joint fourth top scorer in Ligue 1 behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Lacazette and Edinson Cavani.
Sevilla only paid 9 million euros for Ben Yedder, a relative bargain considering Chelsea spent 40 million euros to sign Michy Batshuayi, who had scored the same number of goals for Olympique de Marseille but has struggled at Stamford Bridge.
Ben Yedder and Gameiro are far from the only success stories for Monchi, a former reserve goalkeeper for Sevilla who has been the club's sporting director since 2000 and developed an unrivalled reputation for unearthing talent.
"Monchi is a phenomenon, a hard worker and I think he is one of the most important people at Sevilla. His signings have converted Sevilla into one of the top teams in Europe and Spain," says former team mate Davor Suker, the ex-Croatia striker who is now his country's FA president.
Among Monchi's top signings are Daniel Alves, who cost 200,000 euros and was sold to Barcelona for 36 million, Ivan Rakitic, a 2.5-million euro investment from Schalke who went to Barcelona for 25 million and Colombian striker Carlos Bacca, a 7-million euro signing from Club Brugges in 2013, who went to AC Milan two years later for 30 million euros.
Monchi's proven eye for talent have made him a target for Europe's biggest clubs, and he surprisingly offered his resignation from Sevilla last May amid reports of offers to join Paris St Germain and Manchester United.
Sevilla refused, however, obliging him to see out the remainder of his contract with the club and allowing him to add to his legacy of astute signings by bringing in the likes of Samir Nasri, Franco Vazquez and Ben Yedder.
With the club in the last 16 of the Champions League and on course to take Atletico Madrid's place as the third force in Spain, holding onto their celebrated talent spotter may prove to be one of the smartest decisions the club has made.
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(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)