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The winding road to glory by Joselu Mato | Soccer | Sports

Joselu Mato scored the fastest double of his career at the Bernabéu. But not with Madrid, but against Madrid. The two minutes and 40 seconds that he spent this Wednesday in fleecing Bayern were still far from what he did in 2016 with Dépor in Chamartín. He also came off the bench, and two minutes and 10 seconds were enough for him to turn the score around. The only problem for him that harsh winter afternoon was that he then suffered a Madrid -or a Joselu-, a comeback in stoppage time (3-2).

Seven and a half years ago, the striker was in the middle of a fair journey: each season, a destination. Six teams in seven campaigns. He had gone through Hoffenheim (12-13), Eintracht (13-14), Hannover (14-15), Stoke (15-16), he was on loan in A Coruña (16-17) and he still had two seasons left without chicha in Newcastle (17-19) until laying the egg in Vitoria, the city where he gained leverage. Already 29 years old. He didn’t lack experience in the big leagues, but he didn’t have plenty of goals. As his agent, José Redondo, admitted after the night of glory with the Bavarians: “The road was not easy, but this is the final result.” Because when he began to score regularly, two consecutive relegations came to him at Alavés (2022) and Espanyol (2023), from where he left last summer on loan to Madrid with a part of the Perica fans blaming him for his declining performance in the second part of the course (17 points in total).

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The 34-year-old striker belongs to the group of Morata, Jesé, Carvajal, Lucas Vázquez and Nacho. Together they were promoted to the Second Division with Castilla in 2012, with Joselu scoring in pairs (26 in total), but he had to be sold for six million to Hoffenheim. There he was welcomed as coach by Markus Babbel, that former Bayern and Liverpool player. “The first thing we did was send him to the gym because it was clear that he had a goal and technique, but in the Bundesliga you need to gain strength,” the coach commented this Thursday, who admits that, despite the faith he had in him, he never imagined that he would end up so above.

However, its premiere abroad did not work. He only scored five goals. “He arrived at a difficult place that year,” Babbel points out. “They fired me, then my successor [Marco Kurz], and the expectations were extraordinary with him. “He had the Real Madrid label,” he points out.

He improved at Eintracht (14 goals) and Hannover (10), although Joselu’s career continued to struggle to take off. Nor did he do very well at Stoke, where he made good friends with former Barça players Bojan Krkic and Marc Muniesa, nor at Rafa Benítez’s Newcastle, the last stop before Alavés. In Vitoria he scored 36 targets in three courses, but his departure also had its point of conflict. According to him he published a few days ago The mail, a court ruling considered it proven that he threatened the Basque club with lowering its performance if it activated automatic renewal. The team was about to be relegated and ended up going to Espanyol.

Carlo Ancelotti proposed Harry Kane to replace Karim Benzema, and received Joselu on loan. In the Galician he valued, however, his header and area finisher profile, one of the oldest jobs in football that the Italian missed against rivals who applied the bolt. In the two previous years, there were several times that he regretted not having that resource after some slip-up against quartered teams. A guy to hang balls on when his fine foot wasn’t enough.

Two shots on goal in nine games

Madrid was so unaccustomed to this profile that sometimes the coach had to remind the players that if Joselu was on the field they had to put balls over him. “When you have a forward of this structure [1,91], at least you have to put in seven or eight well-made centers. He offers us different characteristics,” he warned after defeating Unión Berlin (2-3) with two of his own goals.

An example of late success, and even more so after Wednesday, he has 17 goals and enjoys the best ratio of his career (one every 112 minutes), although before his epic against Bayern he came from a prolonged period of decline. Since he scored in Vallecas at the beginning of February until his filling goal on Saturday against Cádiz (3-0), he only had two shots on goal in nine games. And in the entire Champions League knockout phase, he has only appeared on the field for 27 minutes. None in Manchester, but in the emergency on Wednesday, Davide Ancelotti proposed to his father to pull him in the 81st minute. The results were miraculous. “I have scored goals throughout my career and I don’t think it won’t be like that now,” he had announced in his presentation, after having made his debut at almost 33 with the national team, with which he is aiming for the European Championship.

Appreciated in the locker room and grateful after so many seasons spent playing for teams in the peloton, his future is one of the club’s pending issues. Ancelotti already said it months ago: “he is doing everything necessary to stay.” And even more so after Bayern.

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