Long since the days of the emergence of Raul, Guti and Iker Casillas have Real Madrid been longing for some home-grown talent to grace the side.
Javier Portillo came and went. Francisco Pavon hung around a bit too long. Roberto Soldado and Dani Parejo moved on due to lack of first-team chances. But now the La Liga leaders have their wish. And Jese Rodriguez is a definite keeper.
When club president Florentino Perez announced the world-record signing of Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Jese could probably be forgiven if he felt that maybe he would fall into the same basket as the rest of Madrid’s youth products of recent years. But as the season has progressed Jese has more than proven his worth to the side.
The 21-year-old was snapped up by Madrid at the age of 14 in 2007. The 2010-11 season saw him gain his first taste of professional football, and he hasn’t looked back since. Jose Mourinho briefly acknowledged his existence, handing him his first-team debut in 2011-12 but he was quickly thrown back into the shark tank that is the Real Madrid Castilla side to gain more experience. A record-breaking season later (22 league goals in 38 games) and he is a firm favourite of Madridistas.
Since the turn of the year, Jese has seemingly overtaken both Isco and Alvaro Morata in the Los Blancos pecking order. Ancelotti’s recent preference to play 4-3-3, and the current untenable position of Luka Modric has made fitting in Isco, a preferred ‘no. 10’, quite tough. And Jese’s form has made it even tougher. With a total of eight goals and four assists in 18 games Jese is flourishing in his breakthrough season.
As of 25th February, Jese averaged 0.81 goals per 90 minutes in La Liga whilst Bale was only averaging 0.75 goals. He also averaged 0.65 assists every 90 minutes played, placing him second in such La Liga statistics just behind Bale at 0.68.
Bearing in mind the majority of his appearances have been late cameos from the bench, this makes his statistics appear evermore impressive. Each of the three occasions he has completed a full game, he has scored in.
In a recent interview with el Larguero Jese revealed his lofty ambition to claim the coveted Ballon d’Or prize in just four years. Some may regard this as arrogant. Besides, he has received not wholly inaccurate comparisons in his style of play to Cristiano Ronaldo.
This may seem premature but, the young man from the Canary Isles, relishes the similarities. He plays predominantly from the left side as a right-footed attacker. He has phenomenal acceleration, excels in one-on-one situations and has a penchant for cutting in onto his lethal right foot. He even has a short sharp backswing which partially mirrors that of Ronaldo.
Ancelotti said in a recent interview that, “Jese isn’t a surprise anymore. He is already an important player for us.” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque admitted that Jese remains in his thoughts prior to the announcement of his World Cup squad.
But Jese remains grounded and is eager to get as much game time for his club and to carry on making it more difficult for the manager. Carry on at his rate and it will be tough for Del Bosque to keep him out.
The recent return of Gareth Bale to fitness and goal-scoring form has limited Jese’s opportunities to just two substitute appearances in the last three games. Prior to this, and during Cristiano Ronaldo’s three-match suspension, Jese had scored in two of three league starts.
But for now Jese remains very much the next best choice after Madrid’s two multi-million pound stars. Jese’s rapid rise from Madrid B to the first team gives hope to young hopefuls who may have found themselves marginalised in previous regimes. But Jese is no ordinary product of the academy. He has the potential to get to the top, and he knows it.