By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Jose Callejon has been an example of honesty, humility and hard work in his 18 months at Real Madrid, never complaining at his reduced role on the bench and always giving his best when called into action. Now, however, he deserves to start.
Callejon was one of several fringe players in the side as Madrid beat Ajax 4-1 in their final Champions League group game on Tuesday night. And like some of his team-mates, the former Espanyol forward had a point to prove to coach Jose Mourinho. He duly did so, netting the second with a clinical finish in off the post after a Luka Modric pass, and adding the fourth with a header from an Alvaro Morata cross to round off a satisfying evening.
On the sidelines, Mourinho looked pleased, and later purred: "Callejon is always in my head because he plays well and he gives everything on the pitch."
In November of last year, Mourinho famously jumped on Callejon's back to celebrate a crucial Cristiano Ronaldo goal in a vital win over Valencia at Mestalla, running along the touchline and leaping onto the unused substitute like a triumphant horseman.
A cheeky Catalan cartoon later mocked: "Mourinho has finally found a use for the cantera." Callejon, although a surprise summer signing from Espanyol in 2011, had come through the youth ranks at La Fabrica and returned three years later.
At Espanyol he was a fixture in the side's attack, but has had to bide his time back at Madrid. However, he went on to become more than a trusty steed for Mourinho in 2011-12, scoring 15 goals in 37 appearances - most of them from the bench.
He did start in two Champions League games, netting twice against both Dinamo Zagreb and Ajax in the group stages last term. And two more in Madrid's meeting with the Dutch side on Tuesday leaves Mourinho with a dilemma. With Angel Di Maria performing well within his capabilities this season, Callejon has now staked a genuine claim for a starting spot in this Madrid side.
He is long due a Spain call-up, too. National coach Vicente del Bosque revealed in an interview with Marca (published on Monday) that he would call up 14 Barcelona players if necessary. But there was no mention of Callejon, a player seemingly underrated by both club and country - as well as football observers across Europe.
However, the 25-year-old is just the type of player valued by Mourinho: he never stops running, works hard defensively, scores goals and respects the values of his club. He is also an example to those academy players hoping to make the step up to the first team and, right now, is a man in form. His time has surely arrived.
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