Alvaro Negredo: the one who got away?

Posted by Rob Train

CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty ImagesA goal at the Bernabeu Saturday would put a smile on the face of Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo, who once played for Real Madrid Castilla.

Real Madrid's transfer business is a constant source of wonder. Summers of incredible spending -- most recently that of 2009, when the Bernabeu filled almost to capacity for the presentations of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso -- are the usual fare supporters demand, and exactly what they get.

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The list of players who have passed through the revolving door since the turn of the century is astounding: from Luis Figo in 2000 to Luka Modric last summer, taking in along the way, to name a few: Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, another chap named Ronaldo, Michael Owen, Robinho, Sergio Ramos, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Julien Faubert.

The relative personal success of each of these world-class signings, the tip of Real's transfer iceberg, is largely irrelevant. If a player is in-demand enough on the world stage, Real will pull out the stops to make sure that player struts his stuff in the Bernabeu. In view of this policy, Florentino Perez's failure to gazump Manchester United for Robin van Persie while stumping up 30 million euros for a midfielder the team didn't really need -- talented as Modric undoubtedly is -- was a curious change of script.

What all of these players have in common is not one ever wore the colors of Real Madrid Castilla. Few who have come through the ranks at Madrid in the same timescale go on to cement a place in the first-team squad. But every now and then, in the back of the board's mind, there must be a tinge of regret at one who got away.

On Saturday in the Bernabeu, one I personally have always wondered about will return to his former club as captain of Sevilla, in potent form, and with his place in the Spain pecking order a lot higher than it was 12 months ago: Alvaro Negredo.

The "Beast of Vallecas" never made a single first-team appearance for Real Madrid in the league, but in his last act at the club he joined from Rayo's youth ranks in 2005 he bagged a goal in a preseason friendly against LDU Quito. It was a trick that Negredo would go on to repeat everywhere he played.

Sold to Almeria in the summer of 2007, Negredo was worth more or less a goal every two games under Unai Emery at the newly promoted club, which finished 8th and 11th in La Liga in the player’s two seasons on the Mediterranean coast.

Emery's work at the helm of modest Almeria led Valencia to snap him up in 2008. Negredo was similarly rewarded the following year with a return to Real, which exercised a buy-back clause. His stay at the Bernabeu, though, was brief; Real sold him on to Sevilla for a tidy 10 million profit as Benzema arrived to join Gonzalo Higuain and Raul in Manuel Pellegrini's strike force.

No matter for the forward from the rough-and-tumble working class Vallecas neighborhood of Madrid. In 3 1/2 seasons with Sevilla, Negredo has scored 69 goals in 163 matches in all competitions while vying for a starting place with Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute a lot of the time. This season though, Negredo is the undisputed starter and has so far banged in 15 in league and cup, including this little gem against Rayo last weekend.

The mark of a great striker is being able to score goals in any team. The greatest, of course, play for the greatest clubs, where their chances of finding themselves on the end of a defense-splitting pass are higher due to the level of service provided. Negredo has never played for a great club. His spell in Andalusia has coincided with a rut that started more or less as soon as Juande Ramos quit in 2007 and culminated in Sevilla's Champions League playoff round loss to Braga in 2010 -- a gradual decline interrupted by the Copa del Rey success in May that year.

A loss to Hannover 96 meant failure to reach even the group stage of the Europa League last season. It is a far cry from Champions League campaigns and successive UEFA Cup wins in the second half of last decade.

Still, Negredo keeps banging them in. With the wiles of Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes in support, a Copa final this year is still in reach after No. 9 found the net from the spot in last week's 2-1 first-leg loss at Atletico.

On Wednesday in Doha, Negredo was one of two strikers in the Spain squad to face Uruguay. The Fernandos, Llorente and Torres -- ostracized and playing like an ostrich on roller skates, respectively -- were omitted and on current evidence there is little suggest either will be recalled to face Finland and France next month.

Whether Negredo would have made the grade at Real if retained in 2009 will never be known. Saturday, he has a chance to at least remind Real stalwarts of the young player who banged in 18 in 40 league games for Castilla in a relegation season in 2006-07; he has yet to add a goal at the Bernabeu to his resume.

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