Vengeance drives Valero on

Four goals and countless assists meant that Valero picked up the coveted Don Balon award for the best Spanish player in the 2009/10 season. Mallorca's financial problems allowed Villarreal to take Valero on loan this season, with a view to a five-year permanent deal at the end of the campaign. The Madrid-born star settled into life on the east coast and earned his first call-up to the senior Spain side in October 2010, writes Paul Hirst.

It may have felt like a hammer blow at the time, but his release from Real Madrid may have proved to be the making of this young midfielder, who is now attracting interest from Barcelona after making waves with Villarreal.

Four years after leaving the club he had supported since he was a child, Valero has become a key player in an impressive season for the Yellow Submarine, who stand third in the Spanish Primera Division.

The 25-year-old has scored twice and set up four goals as part of a deadly four-man attack employed by manager Juan Carlos Garrido.

Rewind four years, however, and the confident displays said to now be attracting the gaze of Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola were nowhere to be seen.

While Madrid fans lapped up the club's unprecedented success, Valero was one of a number of players of a forgotten generation of ‘Cantaneros', who were victims of the Galactico era.

With Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham on the pitch, there was no place for Valero and fellow youth system products Juanfran, Javi Garcia and Jose Manuel Jurado, who were all left to look for a new club away from the bright lights of the Santiago Bernabeu.

For a 22-year-old who had grown up in the Hortaleza region of Madrid, the 2007 exit proved hard to stomach.

“It's not easy taking that step away because you always dream of doing something with Madrid,” said Valero, who had spells at Mallorca and West Brom before signing for Villarreal last summer.

“I've been a Madridista since I was small. My father always took me to the Bernabeu. I remember training and watching them through the barricade. It was great watching the likes of Roberto Carlos, (Fernando) Hierro, Raul and (Fernando) Redondo.”

Despite starring for Spain at under-17, 18 and 19 level, Valero endured a frustrating two-year spell in the Madrid C and Castilla teams before making his competitive debut in the Copa del Rey in 2006.

Another substitute appearance in the UEFA Champions League against Dinamo Kiev followed and despite the departure of free-spending president Florentino Perez, Valero left, citing a lack of patience from the Madrid hierarchy as the main reason for his exit.

Valero continued: “Madrid is one of the best teams in the world and they want immediate results. Spending four or five years to develop young footballers is not allowed, but that's what a canterano needs. You're not going to play well if you're only allowed five minutes in a Copa del Rey game. When you end up doing badly, to them it appears that you're not a worthwhile player.”

After a successful season with Mallorca, Valero joined West Brom for a GBP4.7million club record fee. But Valero failed to get to grips with the physicality of the English Premier League and was sent on loan to Mallorca, where he blossomed at the heart of the midfield to guide Los Bermellones to a fifth-placed finish in La Liga.

Four goals and countless assists meant that Valero picked up the coveted Don Balon award for the best Spanish player in the 2009/10 season. Mallorca's financial problems allowed Villarreal to take Valero on loan this season, with a view to a five-year permanent deal at the end of the campaign.

The Madrid-born star settled into life on the east coast and earned his first call-up to the senior Spain side in October. If he were to leave Villarreal, helping Barca win the Primera Division would give Valero a perfect opportunity to exact revenge on the club that ditched him four years ago.

The man himself left no doubt as to where his future lies when asked if he would ever play for the Blaugrana despite his history with Madrid. “My past with Real Madrid means nothing,” he declared. “Barcelona is one of the best in the world and I would love to play for them.”

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