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The A-Z guide to Rayo Vallecano (Addition edition): I is for Iriney Santos (23rd December, 2017)

Ball-winning, combative midfielders have become something of a thing on this blog. And Iriney is no different - robust in his challenges, yet technically sound.

Signings from foreign clubs seem to always be suspicious - but we often forget the back-story and the desire of players to succeed in a foreign country and dismiss it as opportunism.

Clearly, that can't be said of Iriney. 21-year-old midfielder Iriney moved to Rayo Vallecano from São Caetano - where he made his senior debut - and joined the club while in La Liga in January 2003. The club was relegated at the end of the season, but Iriney stayed on - he would go on, like many others, to stay at the club and remained an undisputed starter.

However, the club went through a second successive relegation - and was plunged into the hell-hole that is the Segunda B. Almost the entire squad left the club. In fact, only four players stuck with the team from the first division to the third. Right-back Mario Gómez, center-back Diego Mainz and goalkeeper Sergio Segura - all youth graduates.

And Iriney.

Diego Mainz started for the club for three seasons before leaving for Albacete in the second division. Sergio Segura played for the club for two more seasons - including the second as a backup - and signed for Mérida in the Segunda B. Mario Gómez started for one season before leaving for Segunda outfit Elche.

And Iriney played for one season too, as an starter, before being signed by La Liga side Celta Vigo.

For two seasons, from 2005-07, Iriney consolidated himself in La Liga. It had taken two successive relegations and a season in theoretically amateur football to do it, but the rewards of his perseverance had been reaped.

Following the 2007 relegation he decided to leave, but was unable to find a new team - due to a lengthy judicial battle and a serious knee injury - until the 2008 January transfer window, when he signed with Almería.

Subsequently, after gaining match practice, Iriney was relatively used during his stay in Andalusia, with Almería consecutively maintaining its top flight status. In late June 2009 his contract expired and he moved to neighbors Real Betis, freshly relegated to the second level. He contributed with 36 games - 35 starts - and three goals in his second season as the club returned to the main division as champions. His propensity to get booked also meant he collected 18 bookings that season, which is the joint fourth highest in the Segunda, La Liga and Segunda combined, as well as all top three tiers combined.

Iriney Santos of Granada battles for the ball against Cesc Fàbregas of Barcelona


After a season of top-flight football with Real Betis as a starter until Pepe Mel, and repeatedly refusing to renew his contract, Iriney joined neighboring Granada also in the first division, signing for three years as a free agent. Iriney was a regular starter for Granada during the first half of the first season but was soon benched in favor of a more creative option - Recio, on loan from Málaga. At the end of the 2012-13 campaign he signed a two year deal with Watford.

However, mid-way through the 2013-14 season he was loaned back to Spain, this time to Segunda side Mallorca, until the end of the season, and subsequently hung up his boots.

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