It’s late March 2002 in Athens. Not removed from the centre of city, at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, a Champions League second group part match is unfolding between Panathinaikos and Real Madrid. With each side already assured of qualification for the quarter-finals, the match is successfully meaningless, nevertheless with 10 minutes left, the Greeks are on target for a well-known 2-1 victory.
That’s till the 81st minute, when a fast free-kick is taken in the center of the pitch by Real, caught in the excessive interval of their Galáctico period. The recipient opens his physique together with his first contact and nudges the ball ahead earlier than unleashing a 35-yard shot that beats Antonios Nikopolidis. The scorer just isn’t an enormous star, however slightly a 19-year-old making his first-team debut. His identify is Javier Portillo.
Born in 1982 in Aranjuez, a small metropolis some 40km south of Madrid, Portillo joined Real at the age of 11. To name him prolific throughout his time progressing via the ranks can be an understatement. Portillo was steadily in comparison with membership legend Raúl, whose personal youth document he surpassed by supposedly netting as much as 700 occasions throughout his eight-year improvement in La Fábrica. A medical finisher who got here alive in the six-yard field, Portillo was justifiably seen as the shining hope of Real’s academy, and subsequently beneath immense strain to succeed.
Not that he confirmed it, scoring a exceptional 29 objectives in 18 video games for the C staff in 2000/01 previous to being promoted to the B aspect. Fourteen in 11 appeared to reiterate Portillo’s high quality. His objectives have been then essential as Castilla ended 11 factors clear at the prime of the Segunda B Grupo III in 2001/02. Such type and a suspension for Pedro Munitis prompted Vicente del Bosque to call Portillo on the bench for the aforementioned Panathinaikos recreation, and though it remained his sole senior look that season, he was awarded a winners medal after the triumph in Glasgow.
The summer time of 2002 introduced a primary skilled contract for Portillo, who signed a five-year cope with a €35m launch clause. Most media consideration that summer time was targeted on one other ahead signing phrases. It was none aside from Brazil’s World Cup hero Ronaldo, who signed on from Internazionale – however this didn’t forestall Portillo that includes in the upcoming pre-season.
His first two appearances that marketing campaign have been the stuff of goals, ending with silverware in a single and a hat-trick in the different. Portillo got here off the bench in the UEFA Tremendous Cup, changing Guti with 20 minutes to play in a Three-1 win over Feyenoord, and fewer than a fortnight later, he hit a hat-trick in an Eight-1 Copa del Rey thrashing of fourth tier UD Sanse. That season he would document eight strikes to complete as the competitors’s prime scorer.
With the signing of Ronaldo, the unproven Portillo was all the time more likely to be restricted to alternatives from the bench, however Del Bosque did attempt to present religion. Sadly, the affect and switch technique of Florentino Pérez stilted his progress, with Portillo not often handed a constant run of begins. However, he nonetheless appeared in the opening two group video games in the Champions League, prior to creating his LaLiga debut in October 2002 in a cushty Four-1 win over Alavés.
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It might take till simply his third recreation for Portillo to open his league account for the senior staff. Approaching in the dying seconds as an alternative to Raúl, inside a minute Portillo had managed to attain the ultimate objective in a Four-1 win over Valencia. A lot credit score went to Zinedine Zidane for his particular person talent to create the probability, however take nothing away from Portillo who did what he all the time had in the all-white of Los Blancos, ending from shut vary.
It might take one other month for Del Bosque to throw his younger charger into the combine once more, and as soon as extra, Portillo delivered with a aim in a fleeting four-minute look towards Real Valladolid. Three days later, Portillo latched onto Zidane’s pull again to equalise proper at the demise in the Champions League second group part match with Borussia Dortmund, a outcome that was essential in sealing Real’s development to the quarter-finals.
The 21-year-old would seem in 4 of the subsequent six league fixtures, netting 3 times to complete the season with 14 objectives throughout 24 video games. Understanding at a ratio of a aim roughly each hour, it was a particularly encouraging debut marketing campaign from the younger striker. Portillo would additionally gather a league winners medal for his exploits, with Real famously pipping Real Sociedad to the title on the ultimate day.
The shape was such that Del Bosque’s alternative, Carlos Queiroz, positioned additional religion in Portillo throughout the following season. A uncommon homegrown expertise amongst the hordes of Galácticos, sadly the additional publicity did little to assist. In 30 matches throughout all competitions in 2003/04, he hit a dismal two objectives, with a type of once more coming at lowly Sanse in the Copa del Rey second spherical.
Pre-season in 2004/05 noticed one other managerial change happen, with José Antonio Camacho changing the sacked Queiroz. The brand new supervisor was lower than impressed with Portillo, sending the 22-year-old on mortgage to Fiorentina in July. His time in Florence was to be sad, nevertheless, as he struggled to adapt to the defensive nature of the Italian recreation, with simply 4 beginning appearances and one aim in the league.
Following a slender Three-2 loss to Lazio in January, Portillo was on his approach again to Spain, recalled owing to a scarcity of enjoying time. By now, Vanderlei Luxemburgo was in cost, however it did little to assist Portillo, who would go on to play simply 134 minutes again at the Bernabéu that season.
In the summer time of 2005 he was loaned out once more, this time to Belgian champions Membership Brugge. This yr restored Portillo’s confidence considerably, as he recorded a good return of 11 objectives in 32 video games and was named the league’s greatest overseas participant. Highlights have been each objectives to see off Gent in a 2-1 victory, alongside a positive curling strike that secured a 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Sadly, Brugge have been unable to defend their title, ending up in third place as Portillo opted towards extending his keep.
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Upon returning to Real Madrid, his time was up. Portillo discovered himself in the unenviable place of eighth-choice ahead behind Antonio Cassano, Gonzalo Higuaín, José Antonio Reyes, Raúl, Robinho, Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The boy who as soon as held a €35 million launch clause was now free to maneuver on.
Portillo determined to stay in LaLiga and signal on at newly promoted Gimnàstic. Scoring in solely his second match towards Celta, there would solely be one in the subsequent 15 league video games as the Tarragona outfit fought a dropping battle with relegation. A change in each Gimnàstic and Portillo’s fortunes got here in early December with the sacking of Luis César Sampedro.
His alternative, Paco Flores, had a system that took a little bit of getting used to however from late January, there was no wanting again for Portillo. He opened the scoring after simply eight minutes towards Espanyol, powering residence a header from Juan Díaz’s cross previous to profitable a penalty that was duly transformed by Alejandro Campano. Gimnàstic went on to win Four-Zero, with Portillo scoring in his subsequent two video games, an away draw with Celta and slender Three-2 loss to Osasuna.
It was in early March that Portillo’s high quality actually shone by means of as he gave Gimnàstic temporary hope of an unlikely survival. Key to this was the opener in a 2-Zero win at Athletic Membership, which he adopted up with the solely objective of a shock 1-Zero win over league-leading Sevilla. He missed a return to the Bernabéu owing to an uncommon clause in his contract that said he was unable to play towards Real, however was again amongst the objectives in the following match as the 10 males of Gimnàstic held on for some extent towards Recreativo.
Additional objectives sealed little greater than comfort outcomes for the now relegated Tarragona aspect. This late flurry and Gimnàstic’s relegation did, nevertheless, put Portillo on the want lists of a number of top-flight sides, and he settled on Osasuna.
Tasked with changing Roberto Soldado, who returned to Real after a profitable mortgage spell, it was to be one other false daybreak. Failing to attain in his opening 9 matches, from that second on he by no means actually performed his means again into the aspect. His second season for Osasuna was even worse, with a solitary aim in 22 video games. After enjoying simply 38 minutes in the opening half of 2009/10, Portillo opted to maneuver on in January to second-tier Hércules.
Even the decrease degree of high quality failed to assist Portillo’s objective drought, together with his first objective for Hércules coming in Might 2010 towards Albacete. What was of significance, nevertheless, was whereas he needed to wait 623 days for that objective, the subsequent one got here inside 15 minutes. A 5-1 win was adopted up by a Zero-Zero draw at Cartagena that arrange a nervy two last video games.
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The primary one with Rayo Vallecano seemed bleak at half-time, with right-back Coke having put the guests 1-Zero up at break. Simply three minutes after the restart, although, Portillo equalised – however Hércules wanted extra. Going for promotion again to the prime flight, which they final graced in 1997, the clock ticked ominously on in the direction of 90 minutes, upon which the blowing of Alejandro Hernández’s whistle would put Hércules’ destiny out of their palms on the remaining day.
Then, in the 88th minute, it occurred. A wayward cross from the proper ended up on the fringe of the field. It was met by a Hércules head, and fell in the six-yard field. There to instinctively rifle residence, simply as he was eight years beforehand to complete Zidane’s cross towards Valencia, was Portillo. With Betis drawing at Salamanca, the Estadio José Rico Pérez was despatched into delirium. The end result meant all Hércules wanted to do was win at already relegated Real Unión on the ultimate day, and their 13-year top-flight exile can be over.
A 2-Zero victory was duly secured, with Portillo grabbing the first after 17 minutes to assist dispel any nerves. Regardless of solely scoring 5 objectives in 16, Portillo turned an on the spot hero. Sadly, the story of his profession can be performed out as a mere footnote in Hércules’ solitary season again, with summer time signings David Trezeguet and Nelson Valdez most popular and Portillo consigned again to his acquainted position on the bench.
Upon relegation, Portillo determined to modify to fellow Segunda outfit Las Palmas, once more coming good at the finish of the season with 4 objectives in eight video games. That summer time the membership agreed to terminate the remaining two years on his contract to permit Portillo to return to Hércules.
It’s claimed the sole motivation for this was his connection to majority shareholder Enrique Ortiz, the father of Portillo’s girlfriend, Laura. The refusal of sporting director Sergio Fernández to signal Portillo led to his dismissal from the membership, while key striker Urko Vera had his contract rescinded to fund the deal. Nearly all of the membership’s followers have been incensed at such a choice, and as the membership spiralled downwards underneath growing money owed, his presence was seen with disdain.
Handed the captain’s armband on a number of events, Portillo’s 17 objectives have been very important in serving to the Alicante aspect keep away from one other relegation in 2012/13. Sadly, such a destiny befell Hércules the following season, though Portillo remained and dropped right down to Segunda B for 18 months. In the third tier he did not make a telling contribution, lastly saying his retirement in December 2015, a choice he described as “a bitter farewell” owing to continued abuse.
One might maybe view it as a becoming finish to the fable of Javier Portillo, now filed away beneath the all too acquainted class of ‘what might have been’. Whereas he by no means got here near matching the expectations positioned upon his younger shoulders, to name his profession a failure can be unfair. He discovered love and respect by way of the sport, and he can all the time look again on moments the overwhelming majority of us won’t ever reside – even when it stays a disgrace that issues didn’t work out at Real Madrid.
By James Kelly @jkell403