Feature | Underrated Callejon

The list of players who begin their careers with Barcelona or Real Madrid over in Spain are two a penny. Similarly this occurs in England with Manchester United or in Italy with Juventus, AC Milan and even Inter, but not many ever make it back to the top level.

In the case of Jose Callejon, here is a man who has reinvented himself numerous times to become a terrace hero at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo and with good reason.

After coming through the Real ranks with brother Juanmi, Callejon was sold off to Espanyol where he was coached by Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. He impressed enough over three years at Los Periquitos that Madrid bought him back for £5.5m.

Coached by Jose Mourinho and playing alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria in Real’s attack was a joy for Callejon, but he found himself – rather understandably given the quality of the Madrid side – in and out of the team.

Rafael Benitez, master of shrewdness, managed to broker a deal to bring Callejon to Italy for just 10 million euros in the summer of 2013. Benitez is often overlooked in the recent success of Napoli in favour of both Walter Mazzari and Maurizio Sarri, but a look at the squad today under Carlo Ancelotti shows a lot of the players Benitez signed form the current squad.

Kalidou Koulibaly, one of the world’s best centre halves, was signed by Benitez from Genk, Dries Mertens was plucked from PSV for just €10 million and even Faouzi Ghoulam was whisked away from St Etienne under the stewardship of the former Liverpool boss.

All of those players remain today and have rightly earned plaudits for their versatility in adapting for different styles under the aforementioned bosses but Callejon so often deserves more praise.

Initially signed as a flying winger to add pace and dynamism to the attack, as well as to feed striker Gonzalo Higuaín, Callejon has played all across the forward line and now under Carlo Ancelotti he finds himself further back in midfield.

His adaptability and his consistency have been unrivalled whilst at the Partenopei which has given him fan favourite status. Perhaps the fact he isn’t as prolific as Dries Mertens or as flamboyant as the little wizard Lorenzo Insigne means he doesn’t get the spotlight.

Showing the discipline to go from a player reliant on pace as a winger to winning the ball back in a more combative role is not something just any player can do. Many players who use speed alone find themselves struggling to reinvent themselves as they get older and end up dropping down the leagues but not Callejon.

His vision, leadership skills and technical ability have a new home in Napoli’s 4-4-2 and with the captain’s armband on his arm, it is testimony to a man who has managed to play at the top of his game despite constantly needing to adapt.


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