Jesé reinvents himself

The troublesome young Real star is making waves for club and country

Spain number 10 Jesé Rodríguez tests Greek goalkeeper Sokratis Dioudis during the European Under-19 Championship final.
Spain number 10 Jesé Rodríguez tests Greek goalkeeper Sokratis Dioudis during the European Under-19 Championship final. JAREK JOEPERA (AFP)

The under-18 tournament in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, did not work out for Jesé Rodríguez. He was sent off in the first game for fighting and excluded from subsequent squads as punishment. But Spain's successful European under-19 campaign in Estonia was quite a different story for the Real Madrid youngster; there, he was top scorer and voted player of the tournament. He also scored the winning goal in the final against Greece and banged in a hat-trick against Portugal.

Jesé isn't the first Castilla player to be the top scorer at the under-19 Euros. Last year Álvaro Morata achieved the same feat in Romania, netting six for La Rojita. In a quiet summer for Real in the transfer market, Morata has been promoted to the first team, a reasonably rare occurrence at Real. Castilla earned promotion to Segunda División last season, with Jesé scoring in both legs of the playoff against Cádiz. Already with the under-19 national side ahead of the Euros, he asked permission to play in the first leg. Granted. He flew back to rejoin the Spain squad in Florentino Pérez's private jet, then returned a week later to play in the 5-1 win over Cádiz.

José Mourinho has not yet decided whether Jesé will join the first team for pre-season training as he did last year. He played 22 minutes in a match against Real Sociedad last season, his Liga debut, and also appeared in a cup game, on both occasions replacing Cristiano Ronaldo.

During 2011-12 pre-season, he scored his first goal for Real against Guangzhou Evergrande FC in a friendly - impressive for a player who only debuted with Castilla, in the third division, in January 2011.

Only 19, Jesé is by far the youngest player at Castilla; his teammates range from three to five years older than him. He has always played in higher age categories. When he arrived at Real in 2007, he was invited to play a tournament in León before signing for the youth ranks. By that September he was already training at the club's Valdebebas complex.

When last season, because of his age, he should have been playing in the youth A team, he was at Castilla, where he scored 10 goals in 39 games.

Insolent, fast, very technical and with a thunderous shot, Jesé has been compared to Ronaldo and, like the Portuguese star, he can play on the wing or as an attacking midfielder. "He's a strong kid, quick, and has a great change of pace. He's right-footed but can play on either wing," says Julen Lopetegui, the Spanish under-19 coach.

Until recently Jesé could not separate the double image of a prodigious but conflictive talent, which was most in evidence when he assaulted a referee in a derby against Atlético and was banned for 15 matches.

Now, he is making headlines with the ball at his feet but without losing his audacious edge: "Castilla is my team at the moment and I'm happy there. Mourinho knows he has good players in the reserves and that he can call upon us any time he wants."

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