El Centrocampista


When it comes to youth development in Spain, Real Madrid have longed faced some rather unjust criticism.

Observers claim the club fail in their focus on producing home-grown talent, instead turning to the tried and tested method of bringing in the ready-made article from elsewhere.

While it may be true that Spain’s most successful club (take not), are way behind the likes of Barcelona and Athletic Club in bringing players through the ranks, thus saving substantial transfer fees, it is also true that they have produced an array of superb footballers over the years.

Many players to graduate from Real Madrid’s glistening academy seldom receive the attention they deserve, in reality so many that play for their Castilla ‘B’ team, move on to first team football elsewhere.

For some time Jose Maria Callejon must have thought he was merely following suit.

His break-through season came in the 2007-2008 campaign scoring an impressive 21 goals in 37 games for Madrid’s second string. Performances such as this warrant a shot at the big time for most, but at a team as star-studded as Real Madrid, trying to nudge the likes of Gonzalo Higuain out of a team is a mean feat for a fledging young striker.

Having come up against a proverbial career brick wall, Callejon tried his luck elsewhere and put pen to paper on a four year contract with Barcelona based club RCD Espanyol.

Big things were not expected from Espanyol, so perhaps stepping out from under the glare of Madrid’s judging eyes and impatience would help Callejon develop as a player and as a person.

Overall Espanyol did OK, finishing mid table during Callejons first season would suffice for many Pericos fans.

Although Callejon had to wait till March for his first La Liga goal, it did eventually arrive in the form of contributing towards a 3-3 draw at home to Malaga. Despite his low goal figures, it has to be said that Callejon can also operate as an effective winger which under Mauricio Pochettino, he did regularly, starting most games.

During his three year stint at Espanyol, Callejon collecting 97 appearances, gaining valuable experience along the way, so much so that in 2011 a familiar club came calling.

Callejon would prove to be Mourinho’s third signing of that summer after a 5.5 million euro deal was agreed with Espanyol. Although it is obviously apparent that Callejon was not signed to have his name in lights every week, the allure of his home club was too strong to resist. That said, his first Meringues appearance came in the form of a friendly against LA Galaxy and a goal to accompany it in a 4-1 win.

It would prove fitting that Callejon was to score his first Real Madrid La Liga goal in a 4-0 win at former employer Espanyol, yet muting his celebrations out of respect for the club that helped him grow into the player he demonstrates today.

Callejon profited from Madrid’s early Champions League qualification by starting against Dinamo Zagreb in November, Madrid running out 6-2 winners with Callejon bagging an impressive brace. Just as he did midweek against Ajax in a 3-0 win, his strikes featuring either side of a Higuain goal.

Despite not signing as a first team regular, Callejon is refusing to take the label of a back-up player lying down. Observing his passion on the pitch, it’s evident that he knows he can play a big part in Madrid’s future, he certainly isn’t doing his cause any dishonor with 4 goals in the Champions league so far.

It is all to familiar to be able to comment on Ronaldo, Higuain, Di maria and co who so frequently dazzle us on the pitch, instead let’s give a hand to the man waiting in the shadows, patiently and committed to the Real Madrid cause, who performs when called upon and gives everything with each opportunity.

Mourinho is in the unusual position of having too many strikers on form, and with Callejon hungry for more, perhaps a selection headache isn’t too far away for the special one.

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