When Jesús Vallejo was 18 years old, he became captain of his childhood club, Real Zaragoza. In the same game that he received the armband, he also scored his first goal for the first team, and the symbolism couldn’t be more evident. The crowd at La Romareda saw a star ignite that night, and it shone so bright that even the guys in big black suits back in Real Madrid’s head office could see it, and when Madrid catch a shooting star front of their noses, we all know how it ends. It didn’t take more than a couple of days after the end of Vallejo’s debut season until Real Madrid proudly announced the signing of Real Zaragoza’s golden calf on a six-year-contract.
Despite his fantastic season with Los Maños, Florentino Pérez and company weren’t quite sure that he was ready for one of the most stacked squad in Europe, with Real Madrid’s defence boasting the likes of Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, Nacho Fernaández and Pepe. But two loan spells later, he is back in the Spanish capital, and here to stay.
Last season, Jesús Vallejo enjoyed a splendid breakout season in Germany, forming an imposing centre-back partnership with Argentine rock David Abraham, leading Eintracht Frankfurt to an eleventh-place finish, only six points off a Europea League spot. Frankfurt’s season promised more but a catastrophic ending, with Die Adler earning a measly seven points in its final thirteen games. It’s no coincidence that Vallejo, such a vital piece of Eintracht’s early success, missed nine of these thirteen games, causing the team’s downturn during the homestretch of the 2016/17 season.
Despite his young age and unfamiliarity with the German football and society overall, Vallejo impressed scouts and dropped jaws during his loan in Germany. Without exaggeration, you can easily say that Vallejo was one of the best centre-backs in Bundesliga up until his injury in February would subsequently afflict him for the rest of the season. Eintracht Frankfurt’s coach, Niko Kovac, showered Vallejo in compliments during the season and one of the most remarkable quotes came prior to a cup game against Ingolstadt.
“I have not seen a player like him before, neither as a player or as a coach. The boy is outrageous.”
When Vallejo was unveiled as an official member of Real Madrid’s first team last month, it was hard to believe that it was a 20-year-old who entered the stage. The words that seep out his mouth are everything but unconsidered, something that not seldom permeates a youngster’s personality. Instead he’s calm, wise, proper and mature in his appearance in front of the assembled Madrileño press. Now, it’s easier to understand his immediate success in Bundesliga. The only way to make a name for yourself in a foreign country is by wise choices and by not exposing yourself to people who will derail your progress. These attributes mirror Vallejo’s personality and style of play on the pitch. He’s intelligent and elegant but also intense and robust, the best of both worlds.
The only thing that doesn’t always goes smoothly for Vallejo is his aerial duels. 2.5 aerial duels won per game last season isn’t impressive, and it’s not even good enough for a top-50 spot among centre-backs in Bundesliga. It’s not a terrible number, but it’s far from the very best, and he must improve if he wishes to challenge for a starting spot for the best team in football.
With his 183 centimetres, he’s not the biggest threat in the air and his attacking opponents are usually a few centimetres taller, but Vallejo minimizes this issue with his intelligence. Vallejo, just like other great, dimuntive defenders, weighs it all up by mastering basically every other necessary department of a centre-back’s game. Last season, the Zaragoza product averaged 3.1 interceptions per game, which places him among top 7 Bundesliga centre backs in that area.
Vallejo’s season in Eintracht Frankfurt can’t be summarised in any other way than a huge success. For a long while, it looked like the Real Madrid loanee would lead the club to one of their best finishes in modern time, but the aforementioned injury had other plans. A glorious season got an inglorious ending, but no shadow should fall over Vallejo; if anything, it only highlighted his performances even more.
The 20-year-old is now back in the Spanish capital as a Real Madrid player. He’s the same raw talent that Pérez and company shipped away on two straight loan spells two years earlier, but the player himself is completely different. Two years older, two years smarter, two years stronger and, finally, two years better.
Real Madrid possesses a player who evolved from a promising teenager to a superb defender who may very well be a fixture in the Spanish national team for years to come. This is a player who will not be satisfied with a spot on the bench, not when he can challenge for second centre-back spot alongside the obvious defensive general and figurehead, Sergio Ramos. Don’t be surprised if it’s Jesus Vallejo who accompanies Sergio Ramos in the most important games of the season and not the likes of Nacho Fernández or Raphaël Varane.
The fans of Real Zaragoza took to Jesús Vallejo from day one. Eintracht Frankfurt’s fans did the same after a row of impressive games that couldn’t lead to anything else than the hearts of the people in the Commerzbank-Arena. Now, it’s time for the young centre back to secure a place in the hearts of the Real Madrid supporters, and become a part of the most enriched history book of them all.
By: Marcus Bring/@rakimode
Photo: Louie Hendy/@LH_BCFC