In many ways, Jese Rodriguez is the stereotypical youth team star battling against the Galacticos at Real Madrid. A battle of the Pavones against the Zidanes, rather than the Pavones complementing the Zidanes.
When president Florentino Perez started his ‘Galactico' policy during his first stint at the top the idea was to bring the world's best players to the club but to also promote youth. For every Zinedine Zidane who was bought for mega-bucks there would be a Francisco Pavon, a young player promoted from the club's youth set-up.
It hasn't quite worked out that way and 22-year-old Jese, who broke onto the scene so emphatically last season, is experiencing that first-hand. He is Madrid's modern-day Pavon.
Just over a year ago the Las Palmas-born attacker was the star of the future. The next Raul, they said. His form was so good that there were calls for him to replace Karim Benzema in the starting line-up and he was reported to be on the verge of a call-up to the Spanish national side. Madrid fans love their big names but what they love more are their ‘home-grown' stars. They have a different, closer, connection.
Jese made eighteen Liga appearances in his breakthrough year with the first-team last season, scoring four goals and chipping in with five assists, but all that came crashing down when he suffered a season-ending knee injury early on in the Champions League quarter-final clash against Schalke on March 18. Not only did it end his season, it wiped out his pre-season and the early months of this season.
"Now he's starting to get into good shape," said Carlo Ancelotti on the player's return. "He needed time to recover from his injury. It's normal to return to action after nine or ten months but there are problems for up to a year." The Italian was wise to ease Jese back into action after such a serious injury but the next few months are going to be crucial for the player's future.
The Madrid coach has stuck to his promise somewhat in that he gave the player a start against Eibar earlier this month, albeit his only start of the season so far. He scored the final goal too, a strike that followed goals against Cornella in the Copa del Rey in his comeback game and against Sevilla, when he came on to replace the injured James Rodriguez midway through the first half.
"He lacks minutes but I think he's going to get more minutes until the end of the season," Ancelotti added. The striker will be counting the minutes, for sure. He vented his frustration at not getting much match action on his return during Madrid's victory at Elche. The player had been warming up for the whole of the second half and came on to play just over 20 seconds in added time without even touching the ball. He was spotted on the bench looking unhappy in conversation with assistant Fernando Hero.
Since then reports in Spain have linked him with a move to pastures new in the summer and there will be no shortage of suitors if he wants out. Jese is expected to start tonight's match against Almeria at the Bernabeu but that is only owing to injuries to Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric. That the match is against Almeria also helps. Ancelotti would not have handed the youngster minutes had it been Sevilla or Valencia, up next for Madrid in La Liga.
Now he's starting to get into good shape. He has needed time to recover from his injury. It's normal to return to action after nine or ten months, but they have problems for up to a year. Khedira had problems. Now I think he's going to be fine, he lacks minutes but I think he's going to get more minutes until the end of the season.
Jese wants to succeed at Real Madrid but his patience will not last too long. He knows that when all of the ‘BBC' are fit they will play. He is sitting waiting on injuries to get his moment. His situation mirrors that of Alvaro Morata and Morata's success at Juventus, who he departed the Spanish capital for last summer, will undoubtedly be playing on the attacker's mind. Morata spent years waiting for his chance and didn't get it, maybe Jese will look to jump ship earlier.
This season only Lucas Silva has played fewer minutes than him. Jese has featured for 479 minutes in total, roughly five full matches, and although he has been involved in 20 of the 29 possible matches since his return to fitness, the vast majority of them have been from the bench. Jese may be a modern-day Pavon but he is also an attacking version of Asier Illarramendi, a man who comes on with matches already sewn-up or a last-ditch attempt to change the game in his side's favour.
Last season he was the star of the future but now his future may sit elsewhere. Madrid have some big decisions to make at the end of the season, no matter how the campaign ends up, and the future of Jese is one of them.