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Saúl Berjón - the gambler on and off the pitch: Part 1 (14th January, 2018)

If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.

Saúl Berjón knows. He started his struggle in the fourth tier and made his way to the top flight. And every step of the way, in every league that he played, every team that he joined and left, he knew, and understood, which risk to take.

It's not just his career though - it's the way he plays. He usually resides on the left side of the attack, and he will take even the smallest sliver of anything that could be called a "chance'. He's the one sharing one-twos, whipping crosses into the penalty area, playing formation-splitting passes and skipping between defenders while in possession. His natural instinct is to beat his man or thread a pass through sets of defenders, rather than maintaining possession by playing it sideways or backwards.

He is the risk-taker. The creative hub. The go-to source for inspiration on-the-pitch.

And his story off-the-pitch inspires too. Born in Oviedo, Saúl graduated from Real Oviedo's youth setup, but left El Requexón in 2003, when the Vetusta, or B team, was dissolved due to economic problems. He joined Berrón's juvenil team - making his first team debut in the Tercera during the 2004-05 season.

And while most people called it a step back, he knew that his decision was right. For someone who was looking to become a welder after leaving Oviedo, in his mind he saw it akin to jumping up a division, remarking that "I thought it would be good to play against older, stronger people".

After a season at Berrón, followed by two more in Asturias in the Tercera with Lealtad and Langreo, he was left in the summer of 2007 with a Segunda B club in the Canary Islands, and more offers in the Tercera in Asturias. Taking that risk was more than just jumping a division, it was keeping an eye on the prize - professional football.

Knowing that Las Palmas and Tenerife keep a close eye on all lower clubs in the Canary Islands, this was his chance. And at Pájara-Playas, the then 21-year-old went on to score nine goals, highest at the club, and earned a move to Las Palmas.

He had achieved professional football after fighting in the Tercera - and that to at the age of 22. But the fight was only beginning.

The Segunda is merciless. You can be too good for it and never play in the top-flight. But the moment you're not good enough, you are gone. You're back in the Segunda B, where clubs keep "circulating" players from a pool that is designed to be limited, because the league is designed to keep the pool limited. Good luck getting back in the Segunda after that.

Saúl Berjón playing for Las Palmas in the derby against Tenerife

Familiarity always helps - and being familiar with football in the Canary Islands helped him establish himself with the side. His five and three goals in the two seasons he played at the club earned him a move to the most coveted side in the division - Barcelona's reserves.

In his last season with Las Palmas, Paco Jémez came in and empowered Saúl Berjón to lead the team. Playing in nine of the last ten games, his performances were enough to convince another attacking and possession minded coach, Luis Enrique, to sign him. For €300,000, no less.

The risk was that his playing time would reduce, and all would be lost. The prize was playing for the best team in the world.

Read more in part 2 tomorrow!


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