Buidling Dreams Together


From Staffordshire to Chamartín: Joselu’s Return To Real Madrid

A fresh-faced, life-long Madridista José Luis Mato Sanmartín joined Real Madrid back in 2010 from a Celta Vigo side languishing in Spain´s Segunda División.

Despite Joselu scoring 40 times in 73 appearances for Madrid´s youth team and managing 2 goals in 2 games for the first team, the young striker failed to make a big enough impact at senior level.

Whether this was down to Joselu´s ability is debatable. As a young player, he found himself low in the pecking order behind a plethora of elite attacking talent in Gonzalo Higuaín, Cristiano Ronaldo, a young Álvaro Morata, Karim Benzema, and even, if only briefly, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Aged 22, Joselu decided his future was in Germany. Being a passionate and lifelong Madrid fan, this decision was taken with a heavy heart.

Joselu pictured with another Castilla golden boy, Álvaro Morata (now of Atlético de Madrid) in 2012. Credit: Twitter.com

Joselu turned out for Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover spanning from 2012 to 2015. It was a period of maturity that proved key in enhancing the Spaniard´s game, becoming adept as a target man and adding high-level ‘hold-up play’ to his skillset.

Despite a successful spell in Germany, Joselu still hadn’t recovered the consistent goal-scoring touch that he once had when playing for Madrid Castilla, finding the net on just 29 occasions in his 90 appearances in Germany.

A modest tally to say the least.

While a top-flight career in one of Europe’s top five leagues is nothing to turn one’s nose up at, Joselu´s perceived ceiling was much higher than Bundesliga mid-table. At this stage in his career, now 25, it was difficult to believe that he would ever become an elite centre-forward.

Joselu at Hoffenheim in 2013, the first of his three clubs in Germany. Credit: LaVozdeGalicia.es

Last month, 13 years after he made his debut for Los Merengues, a loan agreement between his former employers and relegated parent club RCD Espanyol was reached. The deal for the now 33-year-old has left some football fans across Europe perplexed.

Perhaps none more so than fans of the Premier League, who will recall Joselu struggling for Stoke City and later with Newcastle United during his time in England.

Although there may be head-scratching across Tyneside and Staffordshire as to how one of their less celebrated former forwards has ended up signing for the 14-time Champions of Europe, this feeling isn’t mirrored in Iberia. Joselu’s reputation in Spain is much more positive.

Joselu celebrating a goal against Chelsea in 2018, one of his seven goals for the Magpies. Credit: TEAMtalk.com

He returned to Spain permanently in 2019 with Deportivo Alavés taking a punt at the former youth prodigy. It was at the Estadio Mendizorroza where, finally, he regained some of that goal-scoring acumen from his more raw days in Castilla.

Spending three seasons in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the robust frontman bagged 36 goals and amassed a very respectable total of 47 goal contributions in 113 appearances.

Considering that Alavés were fighting relegation in each of these seasons and struggled collectively to find the net at all, a goal contribution every 194 minutes is mightily impressive.

Without Joselu, Alavés would have almost certainly found themselves relegated to Segunda much sooner.

Joselu shaking hands with Rayo Vallecano players post-match with Alavés in 2022. Credit: TeleMadrid.es

Climbing back to the very top of his game and playing the best football of his career aged 32, the brawny forward switched the Basque Country for Catalonia, signing for his most recent employer RCD Espanyol.

Although now supposedly in the autumn of his career, he has never appeared more truly evergreen. He even debuted for the national team in March, scoring two goals for La Roja in just three minutes after coming on as a substitute.

While his 16 goals in 34 league games were not enough to drag Espanyol to safety, Joselu reached a goal tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski and the current Balón d´Or winner Karim Benzema.

Joselu celebrating the second goal in a three-minute debut double for La Roja against Norway in 2023. Credit: Eurosport.com

It remains a stretch to call Joselu ‘elite’, and while he may never have become the player we envisioned he’d be all those years ago in Castilla, his circular and topsy-turvy career path is nothing short of remarkable, something for which he deserves the upmost admiration.

Playing for his beloved, boyhood club and now a regular for the national team, Joselu should feel immensely proud.

I wish him all the best and you should do that too.

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