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Javi Fuego - the pre-Rayo story. And 2006 - the strangely popular journey from Spain to Aris. (8th July, 2017)


What makes modern football so beautiful is that some - few, but some - players love the game, or love a particular club, and stay for a reason other than the paycheck - like Javi Fuego rejecting a 800,000 euro move to Club Brugge in January 2012 because he loved playing at a club that couldn't even pay its players.



In a dizzying array of red and white, spurred by the battle cries and fervent arm movements of Pepe Mel, a 45 year old bespectacled former striker, newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano were punching well above their weight.

The club that was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy, that couldn't pay its players and whose fan base actively hated the owners had a men's team that had just been promoted from the semi-professional third tier and was outside the top ten for just two jornadas, and a women's team that was winning the league.

In the 2008-09 season, at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas, there was a team, plucky, beautiful, and aggressive. And it was winning.

I don't follow English football. I live 10 minutes from Stamford Bridge and 20 minutes from Craven Cottage and on the same street as both, and I don't follow English football.

My heart belongs to a working-class neighborhood in Spain.

So when Chelsea took N'Golo Kanté, the cog that kept Leicester City together, there was a sense of déjà vu for me. It was a reminder of what had happened to my club.

The parallels were all too real.

They had Danny Drinkwater - we had 33-year-old club legend and pass master Míchel. They had Christian Fuchs and we had 39-year-old left-back Carles Llorens. They had Kasper Schmeichel and we had David Cobeño. They had Kevin Albrighton and we had Jofre. They had Riyad Mahrez and we had Miguel Albiol.

They had N'Golo Kanté, and we had Mohamed Diamé.

There are priceless players, and then there was Mohamed Diamé. The season after, Pepe Mel was sacked midway as Rayo forgot to do with Diamé what Leicester forgot to do with Kanté - adequately replace him - and Rayo finished a dismal 11th. 

In 2010, Rayo did what they should have done a season earlier, and brought in a tough-tackling, all-action midfielder in Javi Fuego, and Rayo were promoted to La Liga after an eight year absence.




As I rummaged into the transfer dealings of Greek clubs - because clearly I have nothing else to do - I noticed something strange. Aris Thessaloniki, a club for whom no Spaniard had ever played, suddenly had six Spaniards after the 2006 summer transfer window.

That summer, Sergio Koke, Pablo Coira, Javito, Aarón Escudero, José Reyes, and Rubén Palazuelos all moved to the Greek club. And they were joined by Jonan García and Álex Pérez in January 2007.

Heck, there were even non-Spanish players who moved from Spain to the club, such as Konstantinos Chalkias from Real Murcia in the summer and Cacá from Alicante in the winter.

After a little more research, I found that a man by the name of Manel Ferrer had something to do with all of this, but I'm not sure what exactly.

Watch this space.




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He was short. Very short. At 5'3", the left winger sometimes played in an over-sized shirt.

The ball never left his feet. His feet were tiny but they had magic. A dizzying array of body feints, close control, direction changes and sheer speed, often resembling a roller-coaster, left opposition defenders outwitted. And yes - sometimes, he frustrated. Sometimes, he was irregular.

But when he turned up, the world was at his feet.

If Juan Quero plays against Real Madrid he'll be playing against the club that let him go. The club that didn't think he had it in him to become a La Liga player.

The club that was wrong. Very, very wrong - he went fr…