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Rayo Vallecano and 2014 - a wave of new arrivals (14th September, 2017)

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"

At the end of the 2014-15 season, Rayo survived comfortably, and surviving felt normal. It wasn't. It never was, and never again will be taken for granted.

It's surprising that I took it for granted then. We were on the division’s smallest budget. We lost our best center-back - and sometimes our free-kick taker ahead of Trashorras - in Alejandro Gálvez. We lost out best striker in Joaquín Larrivey. We lost our best goalkeeper in Rubén Martínez. We lost midfielder Adrián González. We even lost Anaitz Arbilla - a player who went from being a Segunda player with Hércules to becoming a La Liga quality defender and earning a move to Espanyol. In 18 months.

With so much quality leaving the squad, Rayo were backed into a corner. And in that situation, apart from Antonio Amaya returning to Rayo from Real Betis, Rayo had to compensate by bringing in quantity.

Rayo's 2013-14 squad

Rayo took huge risks on many players - some youngsters, others experienced, but all who had never dreamed of La Liga experience before. Jorge Morcillo was a defender at Segunda club Recreativo. Àlex Moreno was a talent at Segunda club Mallorca. Jozabed Sánchez was a talent at Real Jaén, relegated to the Segunda B that summer. Diego Aguirre was a talent at Segunda B outfit Toledo. Quini was a talent at Real Madrid Castilla.

Many players who were tired of waiting for game time flocked to Vallekas. Toño, a Zamora winner at Recreativo in the second tier and a Racing de Santander starter for almost seven years in the first, was a backup at Elche. Alejandro Pozuelo came in from Swansea, after Michael Laudrup, the coach that signed him from Real Betis for a bargain £425,000, had been sacked. Derek Boateng was a quality defensive midfielder warming the benches at Fulham. Manucho had played just 901 minutes as a striker at Real Valladolid. And many were loaned in too - Abdoulaye Ba and Licá came in from Porto. Javier Aquino and Jonathan Pereira came in from Villarreal. Leo Baptistão and Emiliano Insúa came in from Atlético Madrid. Oh, and Mohammed Fatau from Granada, Cristian Álvarez from San Lorenzo and Gaël Kakuta from Chelsea.

All of them were players who were tired - of waiting on the sidelines, of no one giving them a chance, of being looked upon as just super-subs. They wanted to breathe free - to express their quality on the pitch.

Who said it would be easy? Jorge Morcillo didn't work out - he dropped back down to the Segunda. Alejandro Pozuelo didn't work out - but rebuilt his career at Genk instead. Derek Boateng, incredibly, was signing in June 2014 and deemed surplus to requirements - and released - after just two months, and went on to play for Eibar, Rayo OKC and OFI Crete. Abdoulaye Ba went on to have three more loan spells at three more clubs (taking his tally to five), before signing for Rayo this summer. Licá had a mixed season, and ended up shining at Vitória Guimarães. Jonathan Pereira's loan move was terminated after six months - Miku was signed from Al-Gharafa in Qatar to cover.

Heck, even signing Léo Baptistão was a struggle - Roberto Trashorras had to convince the frightened Rayista, who left for Atlético in the first place in controversial circumstances and risked the wrath of certain fans. And the players above don't even include Johan Mojica, who cost 500,000 euros to sign from Deportivo Cali, and was immediate loaned to Real Valladolid.

But while the players who didn't work out were huge gambles, there were others for whom this was a career-changing move.

Just look at Kakuta. Chelsea signed the promising winger from Lens, but after loan spells at Fulham, Bolton, Dijon, Vitesse and Lazio it seemed all was lost - and then he came to Rayo. Five goals and seven assists was enough to earn him a move to Sevilla, who were ready to pay six million euros for him despite being out of contract (he wasn't 23 yet). Or Quini - who became a starter and signed for Granada this summer. Or Léo, who is now a starter at Espanyol. Or Jozabed, who earned a 4 million euro to Fulham and now plays for Celta Vigo. Or Insúa, who is now shining at Stuttgart.

For here was a manager that loved to see players express themselves - to play out from the back even under the most intense pressure. For the first time in their careers, mistakes didn't matter - just as long as each player bought into the Jémez philosophy.

And for them, it meant more emotionally than just getting a chance at a club.

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