In between the squabbling amongst the Press, Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid Castilla Coach Alberto Toril about the merits of Madrid’s youth system, Jose Callejon must have felt particularly awkward.
A product of the academy himself but not a regular in the Madrid first team, the debate clearly touched a nerve with the forward, who recently defended the tattered reputation of the La Fabrica: “A lot of stupid things have been said about the Madrid academy. The whole squad are valued as Madrid players. There are some that go directly into the first team and others like me who have to step down to get back in again, but we don’t need to keep on deliberating the matter.”
Callejon joined Madrid's youth system when he was 15, spending six years there before joining Espanyol, where he developed into one of the Catalan side’s most important players, and earned himself a €5.5m move back to Madrid in summer 2011.
He started just 11 games last season, only five of which were in the League, but came off the bench 20 times. This season he has not fared much better in Jose Mourinho's plans, being in the starting line up on just three occasions so far.
But whenever he does get given a chance, he usually makes the most of it. In 2011-12 he scored 13 goals in just 1,314 minutes of match time, with Cristiano Ronaldo the only Madrid player to record a better goals-per-minute average.
Nonetheless, competing for a place in a team containing Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria is no easy task, and his place as little more than a reliable substitute has persisted.
That was, until he came off the bench against Borussia Dortmund last Tuesday and produced one of the best performances of his Real Madrid career. With Higuain suffering from a hamstring tear and Benzema also similarly injured, Mourinho turned to Callejon at half-time. Within two minutes the 25-year-old had put the ball in the net, although it was harshly ruled offside, and later created three other chances to score, including one effort that was cleared off the line. His energy and pace helped stretch Dortmund's defence and his contribution was vital to Madrid's second-half revival.
The Bernabeu faithful, who were emphatically outsung by the Dortmund fans in the first half, really got behind Callejon, one of their own, and his efforts and all-round performance spurred them on to do the unthinkable: make some noise and support their team. In Callejon, Madridistas saw the perfect antidote to all the negativity about Madrid’s supposedly weak academy, and he was lauded in the Press, too, with Marca praising his contribution on their front page, along with that of Michael Essien, while AS dedicated their cover to him the following day, claiming he had made Madrid fans believe in the club's traditions again. Mourinho also praised his performance, whilst ruing that his goal had been ruled out.
Mourinho has confirmed Callejon will play against Levante on Sunday, owing to the injuries to Benzema and Higuain, but there is evidence from the Dortmund game that the Spaniard has the ability to keep his place in the starting line up even when those two players return.
Although Callejon is not as experienced nor as talented as Higuain or Benzema, he brings something to the team the other two strikers are occasionally accused of lacking: hard work, energy and passion. His background with the Madrid academy makes him very popular with long standing Madridistas, as they believe he understands the club's traditions better than foreign players.
Callejon himself has remarked: “Ever since I was little I have followed Madrid. I grew up in the youth team and I have been fortunate enough to be able to return to the first team. These colours mean a lot to me and I will always defend this badge to the death because it means so much to me.”
Giving Callejon a bigger role in the side could assuage those fans who are unhappy with Mourinho’s general conduct and his infamous comments about the Madrid academy.
That alone is not a reason to give him more games, but, coupled with his performance against Dortmund, his electric pace and eye for goal, he has made a compelling case to no longer be seen as just a second-string player.