From winning his first professional contract aged 31 to playing in European competition this season, Enric Gallego’s remarkable story in football - including balancing semi-professional football contracts with shifts between van driving and bike repairing - is certainly one of the least trodden paths in the game.
Gallego signed for Getafe this summer and will play in the Europa League this season, after his new team narrowly missed out on reaching the final Champions League spot in May. But not long ago, the Catalan striker was juggling his passion for football with other jobs just to make ends meet.
The hard-working forward began his career in the regional leagues, before joining CE Premià in the fourth tier of the national leagues at the age of 22. He then spent what would be considered a footballer’s prime years bouncing between clubs in the third and fourth tiers of Spanish football.
During this period, Gallego balanced his football life with his other work life, which took many different varying forms. Among the jobs he worked, he spent time as a van driver, a delivery man, a bricklayer, and worked in an air conditioning company. He was given the opportunity to work in the bike repair shop by one of the directors of Cornellà when he played there too.
He then joined Extremadura in the form of his life - the first club he played for outside of his native Catalonia and a long way away from home - midway through the 2017/18 season. The team decided he was the missing key for their promotion push after a goalscoring streak of almost a goal every game - 18 goals in 19 appearances - for UE Cornellá in the first half of the season.
Gallego continued his hot streak with his new side, battling for 10 goals in 14 games which would eventually lead Extremadura to the notoriously difficult Segunda B playoffs. Spain’s third tier is divided into four different groups, pitting group winners against each other in mini playoffs for a quicker route to promotion, as well as the teams that finish between 2nd-4th in each group. This system means that it’s perfectly feasible that league winners can miss out on promotion, while the team that finished three places in the league behind them could achieve it.
The target man helped push his side over the line and reach the coveted second division, where he would play as a full professional for the first time in his life, at the age of 31 years and 11 months. Halfway through that campaign, Gallego continued to impress, and Huesca decided he was their man to help them battle relegation from Spain’s Primera División, the top flight of Spanish football. Gallego made his La Liga debut at the age of 32.
“In one year, my life has totally changed,” the Catalan said upon his arrival at Huesca. “It’s all happened very fast, but the challenge of the Primera División doesn’t scare me. I’m very excited and confident in the work I can do.”
While he couldn’t help La Liga’s smallest club avoid relegation, the forward impressed on a personal level, and was snapped up this summer by high-flying Getafe as they begin their second ever European dream this campaign. They paid €6mto activate the release clause in the striker’s contract.
“I take it all as naturally as I can,” the striker commented in his unveiling as a Getafe player on his remarkable two-year transformation from semi-professionalism to playing at the European level. “I think that in Segunda B I behaved in the most professional way I could, and now I’m just doing the same. All I want to do is contribute my part and make it a good year.”
From the most humble beginnings, grinding out a playing career that would have driven most players to give up hope on making it to the big time, Gallego shows that above all else, hard work still pays greatly in the world of football. He should have little problem fitting into a team with such a hard-working ethos like Getafe, that have greatly benefited from this outlook and playing style.