Nearly a decade and a half ago, a young forward named Joselu Mato set foot at Real Madrid Castilla. Like so many youngsters at the academy, the dream would have been to graduate and maybe, just maybe, star for the most decorated club in Europe.
As it happened, inside a soccer titan able to woo and pluck multi-million soccer talents from every corner, that didn’t happen, bar two fleeting senior appearances. In the end, however, it really will—nine clubs, over 150 career goals and a few hits and misses later.
Joselu has risen to prominence as a 33-year-old, shining for Luis de la Fuente’s Spain, which triumphed over Croatia via penalties in the UEFA Nations League final in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. It comes after a stellar season for him personally in La Liga.
Los Blancos have virtually completed a deal for the German-born player, with the team expected to hand his parent club Espanyol €500,000 ($550,000) for a season-long loan. Should he impress, Real can pay the Barcelona-based team €1.5 million ($1.6 million) to make it a permanent transfer—or offer Los Pericos two youth prospects in return, according to SPORT.
Real’s interest was understandable. Joselu netted 16 goals in 33 league matches for Espanyol last term, making him the division’s third most prolific scorer after usual suspects Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema. Not only that, he did so for a side demoted to the Segunda following a below-par 19th-place finish.
His next task will be tricky, and his performances will come under the microscope. Unless the Real board recruits a more thrilling name in his position—which looks questionable after president Florentino Pérez said he would be the last this summer—he will need to replenish the goals lost by Benzema, now bound to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia. Compared with the Frenchman, he doesn’t have the same aura. But an in-form Joselu, with better players around him, can deliver the goods on his return.
The critics will say this signing does little to reinvigorate Real up front, especially when contrasted to the considerable €103 million ($113 million) and counting spent on Jude Bellingham in midfield. Despite enjoying a purple patch, Joselu hasn’t always been prolific: he failed to establish himself in England with Stoke City and Newcastle United, then both in the Premier League, despite being a handy option from the bench.
Yet there is nothing to fear on both sides. Financially, the package to sign Joselu is cheap and low-risk. And it’s a no-brainer for Joselu; he has another chance to make an impact at the Santiago Bernabéu—and as an evolved player high on confidence, having also scored in all four games against Barcelona and Real last season. He comes with little baggage, too, a no-nonsense finisher quite similar to Benzema.
Naturally, the number nine has given little away since being linked to Real. Before the Nations League final, he told Diario AS during an interview (Spanish): “I hope that good things come in the future… That they relate you to the best teams in the world is always positive.”
With a chance to compete for domestic and European honors, there could be even better days ahead for the forward, whose soccer journey started at Celta Vigo. If the past weeks tell us anything, he can perform in Spain and on big occasions. While playing for Real Madrid, there will be plenty of them.