Newcastle owner Amanda Staveley's glimpse of unlikely goal machine as Rafa Benitez speaks out

It was the day Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi 'fell in love' with Newcastle United. Little did the pair know that they were watching a future Champions League finalist playing in black and white.

Jose Luis Mato Sanmartin, or Joselu to you and I, scored for the Magpies against Liverpool at St James' Park that afternoon. Now, nearly seven years on, the once maligned veteran is about to board a flight back to England to potentially play in the biggest game of all for Real Madrid at Wembley. It is Roy of the Rovers stuff. Who better to try and sum it up than Rafa Benitez, the former Real Madrid boss who brought Joselu to Newcastle.

"It's very difficult in football to get credit instantly," he told ChronicleLive about the 34-year-old's late career renaissance. "When we signed him, I was convinced that he was a player with quality in terms of finishing, holding the ball, passing the ball. He could use both feet and was good in the air but, obviously, the Premier League has another tempo.

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"I remember some of the fans were not very happy but the reality is that he is a player who in another environment, like in Spain, is a threat in the air, technically good and always around the box. If you have chances, he will score goals."

Joselu has done that, all right. There have been 19 goals in all for Real Madrid, including a last-gasp double against Bayern Munich in the semi-final, which left the Spaniard declaring: "My dreams are not this beautiful."

To think Joselu, wearing a replica shirt, was watching the 2022 Champions League showpiece as a fan with his father; now the Madridista is just one win away from getting his hands on Old Big Ears following his return to the Santiago Bernabeu last summer.

It is rare Real Madrid turn to former players, but there was a reason why Carlo Ancelotti felt moved to bring Joselu back on loan after losing Karim Benzema last summer. Despite playing for an Espanyol side who were relegated, only Robert Lewandowski and Benzema scored more goals in La Liga last season than Joselu.

That form earned Joselu his first ever senior international call-up and the striker went on to score two goals in two minutes on his debut for Spain. It was just the start. Most players are starting to wind down at 34, but Joselu has gone on to hit remarkable new heights and played his part in UEFA Nations League, La Liga and Spanish Super Cup triumphs for club and country.

That was an unimaginable prospect when Joselu was out of favour at Stoke City in 2017 and Newcastle stumped up an initial £4m plus £1m in add-ons to sign the striker.

"We didn't have too much money, but these are the kind of players that you can bring without costing you too much," Benitez said. "He was a good player where maybe he could give you something or as a back-up because he was always professional, working hard and ready if you needed him at any time.

"He was tactically clever. He knew what we wanted and if he was not playing, he was someone trying to be ready. That's really important for a squad when you want to achieve something.

"It's not that you have the best players and after you don't have anyone behind. No. You have players who can do a job during the season.

"Sometimes he comes from the bench and does well. Why? Because he's a professional and in a good position. When you create chances, he will be there. When you have to play counter-attack, he can hold the ball and link with players but if you have players with real pace, it's always a different approach."

There lies the difference. In a side packed with superstars who create a host of opportunities, Joselu is enjoying his best ever goal scoring campaign despite mainly being used as a substitute. Carlo Ancelotti even said that Joselu was the 'perfect reflection of what this squad is', which is the ultimate compliment, while Jude Bellingham added that his team-mate 'deserved it all' because he had been an 'amazing member of the squad throughout the whole season'.

In contrast, during his two seasons at Newcastle, Joselu scored just seven goals for a side reliant on the counter-attack in the fast-paced Premier League in their battle to stay up. This willing worker ultimately struggled to even make the bench in his final months at St James'.

Joselu could have stayed and, in his own words, 'picked up the money', but the Spaniard wanted to play. So began a journey back to Real Madrid, via stints at Alaves and Espanyol, after Joselu never gave up.

"He's a player that has a good mentality," Benitez added. "But, technically, he's a good player, too. I remember we did an open training session in the stadium and he was scoring great goals - volleys and headers - from crosses. He was doing really well because technically he's gifted. He can do things right but, in the Premier League, you have to do things right and fast."