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How Juan Carlos Valerón became the most elegant Spanish playmaker of his generation

How Juan Carlos Valerón became the most elegant Spanish playmaker of his generation

It’s the opening day of the 2009/10 LaLiga season and all eyes are on Actual Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu. In an all-white package for the first time is Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s greatest and most costly footballer. Unsurprisingly, it takes little greater than half an hour for the Portuguese to attain. The opener of what is going to develop into a record-breaking haul, it’s a disappointingly common penalty.

There’s, nevertheless, one other strike on this recreation worthy of extra detailed description. Standing on the edge of the field, the scorer effortlessly brings a cross down earlier than slotting low into the nook. It doesn’t come courtesy of a person whom Florentino Pérez deemed worthy of paying £80m for, although. As an alternative, it’s scored by a 34-year-old midfielder for Deportivo.

He’s somebody who David Silva wears his shirt quantity in tribute to and Andrés Iniesta categorised as a small quantity of footballers he would pay to observe. A person who Arrigo Sacchi described in the similar breath as Zinedine Zidane. This can be a participant who impressed a Four-Zero comeback over a conquering AC Milan aspect and is arguably one of Spain’s biggest midfielder skills. The video display flashes up with the goalscorer’s identify for the world to see: 21. Juan Carlos Valerón.

Born in 1975 in the small coastal city of Arguineguín in the Canary Islands, Valerón learnt his commerce enjoying on the streets of Gran Canaria. Beginning out in the B group of native giants Las Palmas, he would make the leap to the first workforce at the age of 20, happening to assist his membership win promotion to the Segunda División. In 1997 he moved away from residence for the first time, stepping as much as LaLiga to hitch fellow island membership Mallorca.

A powerful sole marketing campaign in the Balearics, which introduced a fifth-place league end and runners-up spot in the Copa del Rey, prompted additional curiosity in the midfielder. It was now time for Valerón to go to the Spanish mainland, the vibrant lights of Atlético Madrid the vacation spot. Admittedly not the drive they’re immediately, enduring a tumultuous existence underneath controversial president Jesús Gil, Valerón was relegated in his second season in 2000.

In response, he would transfer to Spain’s prime staff, at the time neither Barcelona or Actual Madrid, located in the fishing port of A Coruña. Signing for Deportivo for £7.5m in July 2000 as half of a double cope with Joan Capdevila, for Valerón the transfer would pay dividends. In the 13 years about to unfold with Depor, he would set up himself as a membership icon.

He would rating in simply his third recreation for the reigning champions, netting the opener in a Three-Zero win over Racing Santander, happening to attain three extra occasions that season. It was not the stats by which Valerón was measured, nevertheless, for this was a uncommon breed of midfielder.

Learn  |  Diego Tristán: the sensible however tortured lizard of Galicia

Possessing such finesse that he might dictate a whole recreation of soccer, Valerón’s head was all the time up, with the ball seemingly glued to his foot as he glided round the pitch in sluggish movement, plotting his subsequent cross with pinpoint precision. Generally known as El Flaco (The Skinny One) owing to his lanky, slight physique, this isn’t one thing that ever brought about Valerón problem in his quest for greatness.

His first season in Galicia would finish seven factors behind Actual Madrid as Depor relinquished their title. Nevertheless, Valerón exacted revenge the following yr, with a conquer the similar membership to deliver his first piece of silverware. The 2002 Copa del Rey remaining noticed the midfielder withdrawn on the hour for the extra defensive Aldo Duscher, as Deportivo held on for a 2-1 win. This end result ended Actual’s hopes of a treble of their centenary yr, coming at their very own stadium to additional rub salt into the wound.

By now, Valerón was being described by the press as “Spain’s Zidane – only better”. Key to this have been his imperious performances in the Champions League. In each video games towards Manchester United, he dovetailed completely with the tenacious Diego Tristán, masterminding a Three-2 win at Previous Trafford. Following that he ran Arsenal’s Igors Stepanovs and Sol Campbell ragged at Highbury, scoring and making a aim in a displaying so good it elevated him to new ranges of fame.

This, nevertheless, is one other half of Valerón’s story, one which the participant was brazenly uncomfortable with. The shy baby from a city of 2,500 inhabitants by no means left him, with El Flaco famous for his unassuming modesty and retaining his personal life simply that. He regularly made it recognized how, regardless of being very happy to signal autographs or pose for photographs, this celebrity picture made him uncomfortable. As an alternative, Valerón noticed himself as an odd man: “I am no more important than a bricklayer.”

Tristán would go on to win the Pichichi for prime scorer in 2001/02, with Roy Makaay matching his teammate in the following marketing campaign. Regardless of how little Valerón sought the highlight, it’s silly to recommend anything than he was the elementary cause for such excessive aim returns.

In the 2002 World Cup he was a assured starter for Spain, seen as the major trigger for a brand new wave of optimism relating to what have been then worldwide soccer’s most infamous underachievers. A gaggle stage aim for Valerón in the Three-1 win over Slovenia indicated a promising begin, though La Roja exitded at the arms of questionable refereeing in the quarter-final with South Korea. Undeterred, Valerón returned to northern Spain in time for the 2002 Supercopa, scoring the opener in the first leg as Deportivo dismissed Valencia Four-Zero.

One other notable efficiency – as soon as once more coming the Champions League – was a Three-2 triumph at Bayern Munich. Makaay was the man of the hour, scoring a hat-trick towards his soon-to-be employers, credit score for the objectives should go to their creator. For the first, Valerón lifts a luxurious ball over the defence, whereas the second sees him cushion a excessive ball on his chest earlier than sliding by means of the narrowest of angles for the onrushing Makaay.

Learn  |  The rise and fall of Deportivo La Coruña

A horrific problem from Actual Valladolid’s Juan Manuel Peña in the late September contest noticed Valerón fracture his fibula. Sidelined for 2 months and with his Bolivian injurer extensively condemned in the press, Valerón shrugged it off in attribute type: “That’s football.”

The 2003/04 season began with a aim of unimaginable nonchalance, as Valerón effortlessly lifted a wide ranging chip over Athletic’s Dani Aranzubia. For each his unwavering affect and loyalty to the membership, he was rewarded with a brand new six-year contract extension in February 2004. Little over two months later, Valerón would repay that religion in arguably the biggest Champions League comeback in Spanish soccer historical past.

Returning house Four-1 down from a bruising quarter remaining first leg with AC Milan, it appeared a misplaced trigger. Nevertheless, an early aim from Walter Pandiani was adopted by Valerón heading in Albert Luque’s cross, and Deportivo went on to win 5-Four on combination. The primary time a aspect had come from three right down to win in the Champions League, it was made all the extra exceptional by the reality Milan have been the holders and going into the match hadn’t conceded an away objective in Europe all season.

Sadly, Deportivo have been to fall to Porto in the semi-finals, and following that the decline started. After ending six factors behind champions Valencia, in 2004/05 they have been to finish in eighth. In the meantime, their remaining Champions League marketing campaign was to finish in catastrophe, exiting at the group stage having not scored a aim. This signalled the departure of iconic coach Javier Irureta, alongside a number of of the Tremendous Depor workforce. Luque went to Newcastle, Pandiani to Birmingham, while Mauro Silva and captain Fran retired.

Valerón, nevertheless, remained, and in the absence of all these former icons began the season nicely. He opened the scoring in a Three-Three draw with Barcelona, happening to internet an exquisite objective towards Celta Vigo in the Galician derby. Leaving Matías Lequi flailing on the flooring after a futile slide deal with, Valerón turns earlier than sliding coolly beneath José Manuel Pinto. Little over a month later he would once more open the scoring towards former aspect Mallorca, though would fail to finish this match.

Two minutes from time he tore cruciate ligaments in his left knee, and over the subsequent season and a half would play simply two minutes of aggressive soccer. Arsène Wenger believes this damage nightmare stole his profession, with the injury relapsing 3 times over the following 18 months. Deportivo suffered in his two seasons away, with each campaigns ending in, albeit profitable, relegation dogfights. It proved that the Depor orchestra was nothing with out its skinny Canarian conductor.

It was a painstaking street again to health, with Valerón detailed to put on a unique colored bib in coaching to warn teammates to not deal with him. Naturally this singling out embarrassed the midfielder, who made his long-awaited return in January 2008. Approaching for the remaining 15 minutes of a Three-1 win over Valladolid, with a lifeless man’s tendon inserted in a single of his knees, it was a sight many thought they might by no means see once more.

Learn  |  The nice and cozy Riazor night when Deportivo tore AC Milan aside

It will take one other six months till he was match sufficient to start out once more, with this milestone coming in an Intertoto Cup match with Israeli outfit Ihud Bnei Sakhnin. In his first full season again, Valerón’s affect was sufficient to steer Deportivo again up the desk. The 2008/09 marketing campaign led to seventh place, though there was an embarrassing 6-1 UEFA Cup defeat to Aalborg to cope with.

Foreshadowing the imminent earthquake, Valerón’s complete profession path was then altered by occasions on the pitch in 2010/11. Now approaching 36, he was considering of retirement at the conclusion of the season however ended it with relegation. A 2-1 loss to Valencia on the last day confirmed the drop, triggering an outpouring of tears. Whilst a person of few phrases, the incoherent post-match interview from Valerón that day spoke excess of his notoriously high-pitched voice: “It just … I mean, if … all it would have taken … man, just one of those … how could that ball have not … I can’t”.

With the membership that he had brazenly declared as his residence in freefall, Valerón postponed hanging up his boots in obligation. It will show impressed, as the drop down noticed Depor win the Segunda and head again into LaLiga. This trophy meant as a lot as the different 5 he would win in his profession. In a uncommon outpouring of emotion, Valerón declared: “It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life, I could not go without returning the team to the Primera.”

Sadly, it now appeared Valerón was outstaying his welcome. An underwhelming season again noticed Depor drop right down to the Segunda as soon as once more and, realising his waning powers, the midfielder determined to go away. In one other transfer of poetic proportions, he determined to return residence for the first time in 16 years and signal a one-year contract with Las Palmas.

Stating the way it was “impossible to say no”, his first season again would finish in heartache as Córdoba triumphed in the dying seconds of the playoff ultimate. A lowered position in the aspect for Valerón got here throughout the following season, a marketing campaign that noticed Las Palmas bury their playoff demons with a late winner towards Zaragoza.

Now aged 40, the fairy-tale each fan in Spain wished for got here true as Valerón returned to LaLiga for one remaining yr. Like a rock legend performing a farewell tour, in all of the matches Valerón performed that season he acquired a hero’s welcome, universally applauded at each the Bernabéu and Camp Nou. After his ultimate match, a Zero-Zero draw with Athletic, he was given a standing ovation twice, and thrown into the air by his adoring teammates. 

Juan Carlos Valerón was fiercely loyal and principled man who by no means sought the highlight, however whose otherworldly skills so awkwardly discovered it. “He’s a player that we must put on a pedestal as high as the moon,” commented Quique Setién following his retirement in Might 2016. While Valerón might disagree, the relaxation of soccer definitely wouldn’’t.

By James Kelly @jkell403