El Centrocampista

ROCKY ROAD TO SUCCESS – Is Javier Balboa heading back to the big time?

While for many La Liga fans there may seem to be little Spanish interest in this year’s African Nation’s Cup, fans of Real Madrid and Racing Santander may be watching slightly more closely thanks to the impact that has been made by one member of the Equatorial Guinea squad.

Step forward Spanish-born winger, Javier Balboa, goal scorer in his adopted nation’s historic opening victory over Libya in the tournament’s opening tie, whose performances in this year’s tournament have seen him lauded as one of the stand out stars and helped his Equatoguinean colleagues progress to a wholly unexpected appearance in the knockout stages.

For 26-year-old Balboa, who now plies his trade in the Portuguese SuperLiga with SC Beira-Mar, his road to international success with this year’s African Nation’s joint host’s has been the culmination of a long journey, which began at Real Sociedad Deportiva Alcalá in 1996 and included stops at Albacete, Cartagena and Racing Santander.

Despite a brief spell with Portuguese giants Benfica before joining his current employers in August of last year, it is Balboa’s nine-year association with Real Madrid that he will be most likely remembered by La Liga fans.

A Madrilenian by birth, Balboa has a rich Equatoguinean history, with his paternal great-grandfather being mayor of the country’s capital, Malabo, in the 1960s. Balboa’s paternal grandfather, Norberto, was killed after participating in a failed coup against the dictator Francisco Macias Nguema during the 1970s.

Balboa’s mother moved her family to Madrid before the would-be star was born, so as to provide her children with a better quality of life. It was a decision that would change the course of her son’s future exponentially; resulting in him playing on the hallowed turf of the Santiago Bernabeu for Los Blancos, alongside a host of Galactico’s including Robinho, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Raul.

Balboa’s Madrid odyssey began in 1999 when, as a 13-year-old, he was signed up to Real’s fruitful youth system. It would be five years before the tricky winger would get to don the club’s famous colours, turning out 34 times and finding the net once for Real Madrid C during the 2004-2005 campaign, moving on to the B side the following year and making 32 appearances, again scoring just once.

A loan move to Racing Santander in 2006 allowed Balboa his first competitive action in La Liga, turning out 30 times for the Cantabrian side and bagging a single goal during an impressive stay at the El Sardinero. It was a move that would bring him to the attention of new Real Madrid head coach, Bernd Schuster, after failing to dazzle the previous incumbent of the Bernabeu hot-seat, Fabio Capello.

Balboa was recalled to the Real first team, given a contract extension until 2011 and registered as part of the club’s UEFA Champions League squad for the forthcoming 2007/2008 campaign after suitably impressing Schuster during his year-long loan with Racing Santander.

On, October 24, 2007, Balboa enjoyed what was arguably his finest moment in the white of Real Madrid; coming on as a second-half substitute against Greek side Olympiakos during a home Champions League tie and helping his side to an important 4-2 victory.

In December of that year, Balboa added to his goal tally for Real, saving their blushes with an equalising goal against Alicante CF in the Spanish Cup. The previous month he had come to blows during a training ground altercation with team mate Pepe.

Balboa’s strike against Alicante CF would prove to be the final time that he would find the net for his hometown club, enjoying only fleeting appearances during the course of the following season before heading to Benfica in July of 2008 for €4m, in what would turn out to be a disastrous spell for the midfielder.

During his time at the Estadio da Luz, Balboa made only 10 appearance for the Lisbon club, failing to find the target before returning to Spain with Segunda B sides Cartagena and Albacete, with both temporary moves failing to reignite the spark that had seen the Equatoguinean international rub shoulders with some of the modern greats just 18 months earlier.

Since his ill-fated move to Benfica, Balboa has since seen an upturn in fortunes and has proved a key asset for his new side, SC Beira-Mar. It is his renewed confidence in his ability that has seen an improvement in form during this year’s African Nations Cup and has once again alerted European scouts as to his talents.

As his surname would suggest, there is plenty more fight left in the plucky Madrilenian, Balboa.

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