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The story of three defensive midfielders whose careers are connected: Part 2 - Javi Fuego (10th December, 2017)

From part 1:

"Javi Fuego was the talk of the town. He was the Segunda star, and La Liga teams were knocking on the door...

The Asturias native started playing professional football for Sporting Gijón, representing the local side during six second division seasons (2001-07) and being first-choice between 2004 to 2007.

There was a line in the article above that summed up the whole thing - "Both operations were carried out simultaneously". As soon as Levante had agreed the 853,000 euro deal, Sporting had agreed on the Sergio Matabuena deal.

Javi Fuego would later go on to leave the squad upon relegation and serious financial problems, and in August 2008, he signed a three-year deal worth €140,000 with Recreativo de Huelva, appearing regularly as a starter during two years but being relegated from the top flight in his first.

During those 3 seasons, between 2008-11, something was happening at Rayo Vallecano."



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.

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. He would go on to play two more seasons at the club, and became a fan favorite.



And not just because of his dedication on the field. 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.

But it was clear that Javi Fuego's ability deserved to be expressed at a bigger club. In late 2012, as his contract with Rayo descended into its final stages, everyone wanted him. And I do mean everyone. Míchel and Monchi at Sevilla said he was perfect for the club. Swansea sent negotiators to Rayo and even asked Michu for his opinion. Werder Bremen sent scouts to Rayo's game against Málaga. Hoffenheim stepped up interest after Boris Vukčević's car accident. Sampdoria wanted him because their scout, Igor Charalambopoulos, was part of De Biasi's technical team when De Biasi was Levante's manager in the 2007-08 season - Javi Fuego played for Levante that season.

And even Club Brugge wanted him. Even Club Brugge! Despite the fact that he had publicly rejected a 800,000 euro move to Club Brugge in January 2012. And this time, the arrival of Spaniard Juan Carlos Garrido in November 2012 could be used as a sweetener.

The clubs that were chasing a Rayo player - a point of pride for any Rayo player or fan

In the end, Valencia signed the player on a pre-contract in January 2013 for three seasons, and last summer signed for Espnayol.

Even at the age of 33, he is still going strong.

Watch out for part 3 tomorrow, which is on Raúl Baena.

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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.

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