As Real Madrid and Getafe’s players trudged off the pitch at the Estadio Coliseum, the veteran striker Jaime Mata went to greet Madrid’s two-goal hero Joselu.
Mata congratulated Joselu and, with a mixture of disbelief and enthusiasm, made a gesture as if to say, “I can’t believe it!”. With a smile on his face, Joselu hugged him, not quite knowing how to respond.
It was an image that summed up the special moment Joselu is enjoying in the Spanish capital. His two latest goals — his 11th and 12th of the season in all competitions — had just taken Madrid back to the top of La Liga, two points clear of surprise package Girona.
“For me it’s a dream, the simple fact of being able to be here,” the 33-year-old told Real Madrid TV after the game. “I came here to take advantage of moments like today. I’m super proud of everything I’ve done in my life and career to be able to end up here and I’m enjoying it like a little boy.”
Joselu might not have expected to enjoy such prominence when he re-joined Madrid on loan from relegated Espanyol last summer. The nine-time Spain international spent three years at Madrid’s ‘B’ team made up of youth players, Real Madrid Castilla, at the start of his career and even made two appearances for the first team, scoring twice. He then took a winding road back to the Bernabeu, which included time in Germany and at Stoke City and Newcastle United.
Few would have foreseen his Madrid return. But when Karim Benzema made a surprise departure to Saudi Pro League side Al Ittihad in June — and with the board patiently waiting on the saga with Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe — Los Blancos turned to Joselu as a low-cost option to serve as a back-up striker.
As The Athletic detailed, the deal to sign Joselu was a one-year loan option for €500,000 and included a €1.5million buy option. Voices within the club suggested he would play more than expected and highlighted how he had been the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga last season, with 16 goals for a side who had finished second-bottom.
Head coach Carlo Ancelotti moulded his system to a 4-4-2 ‘diamond’ in Benzema’s absence with Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo as his two forwards. But the Italian used Joselu’s physical qualities against defensively strong opponents including Union Berlin and Getafe at the start of the campaign.
Joselu has never been an undisputed starter, but two injuries to Vinicius Jr allowed him more playing time. He has played 1,424 minutes in all competitions — only the 12th-most in Madrid’s squad — but has scored a goal every 119 minutes. Coupled with his four assists, it means he has been involved in a goal every 89 minutes.
Despite not being a star in front of the cameras and not standing out for his technique or speed, that means he is putting up more efficient numbers than Madrid’s starting forwards. Rodrygo has scored a goal every 199 minutes, Vinicius Jr averages an effort every 145 and even top scorer Jude Bellingham averages one every 134.
Crucially, he has proven himself to be Madrid’s best back-up striker in years. The Spanish-Dominican Mariano Diaz, who returned to the club in 2018 and left last year, never managed more than four goals in a season in his second spell there. Luka Jovic’s time there was even disappointing — Madrid signed the Serbian for around €60m in 2019 but he scored three goals in 51 appearances before leaving for Fiorentina in 2022.
Both of those transfers are still a source of regret for those at Madrid given the fees involved. By contrast, club officials had faith in Joselu given he had already passed through the academy and made his La Liga debut with Madrid.
On Thursday night, Joselu stood out again for his heading ability — an aspect of his game that has impressed the coaching staff. At 6ft 3in, the striker is a key weapon when it comes to set-pieces and crosses from the wings.
That has also closed the door on Castilla’s Uruguayan striker Alvaro Rodriguez, the 19-year-old who forced himself into Ancelotti’s plans last season and scored against Atletico Madrid last year. The Madrid boss suggested he could be a possible back-up before this season but he has made one appearance this term.
“He has fewer opportunities because we have Alvaro’s profile with Joselu,” Ancelotti said in November.
That was clear last night, when Ancelotti paired Joselu with Vinicius Jr up front to give Rodrygo some respite. The Spaniard opened the scoring with an expertly taken header in the 13th minute — his seventh in all competitions — then created space for himself before producing a fine finish in the 56th minute.
He could have scored his first hat-trick for Madrid seven minutes later when he ran through on goal unchallenged — but opted to square it for Vinicius Jr instead, who fluffed his lines with goalkeeper David Soria already having committed himself.
It didn’t seem to matter too much to Joselu, who ran around the pitch with a smile on his face as he produced one of his best performances this season.
“He’s having a spectacular season: (he’s) always ready, playing from the first minute,” said Ancelotti. “He is a very humble person, very serious, we are delighted with him.”
The only question that remains is whether Madrid execute their buy option at the end of the season. Sources close to Joselu — who asked to remain anonymous to protect relationships — believe he could receive offers from clubs in Saudi Arabia and the United States. But they also think he can stay at the Bernabeu with the quality he has shown.
“Joselu is doing everything necessary and possible to stay,” Ancelotti said. “He’s a blessing, he’s a different striker to others.”
The Italian is not the one who makes those kind of decisions, but his words can’t hurt Joselu’s situation. As long as he keeps this up, he will be on the right track.
(Top photo by Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
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