A remarkable career that has gone from being one of Spain’s best prospects to a Valencia pariah has been topped with an international call-up for Dani Parejo
There’s possibly no Spanish player who generates similar levels of controversy within his own club’s fanbase. And yet, Dani Parejo has managed to overcome stigmas and pressure, criticism and a tough press, to become relevant against for Valencia and finally the Spanish national team, where he has just received his first call-up.
Even though the midfielder played no part in Friday’s friendly against Germany (he is expected to feature against Argentina), Valencia’s mastermind has made the rounds over the last few days due to the rare nature of his career to date.
It’s a path that began in Real Madrid’s academy, peaked with the U-21 national team, slumped in his early years in Mestalla and has ultimately been reborn over the past few seasons, becoming Valencia’s standout player in the midfield.
Parejo’s story is one of huge expectations that, somehow, managed to fall short of what people demanded of him. Easily one of Real’s brightest prospects in the early 2000’s, Madridista legend Alfredo Di Stefano famously pointed out that Dani was “La Fábrica’s best talent, a top class player” when he was only a teenager. He managed to become relevant in the Under-19 national side, where he scored the goal that allowed Spain to conquer the European Championships in July 2007.
After a brief stint with English side, Queens Park Rangers, Parejo’s move to Getafe became permanent and the midfielder become one of the most important assets of a team that was flirting with the European places, something impossible to fathom just a few years earlier. His excellent performance throughout that period ultimately seduced Valencia, who paid a $7.4 million fee for him in 2011.
Under Unai Emery, Parejo didn’t have a good run. Ditto for Mauricio Pellegrino. At Valencia, Parejo was out of his element, a 22-year-old who was still a kid in many ways and had to toughen up very quickly. A couple of incidents related to DUIs were mercilessly criticized by a fanbase who found the perfect scapegoat for all the frustration amassed earlier. He quickly became the laughing stock of the team.
Dani Parejo and Rodrigo in the Spain NT training today. pic.twitter.com/4lazdtPo8l
— VCF News ? (@VCFJuanito) March 20, 2018
And then, along came Ernesto Valverde. And, playing next to Ever Banega deep in the midfield, Dani showed everyone what he was capable of. Again, Parejo had resurfaced only to see himself drowning again: changes both in the management and on the bench ended with Miroslav Djukic first and Jose Antonio Pizzi later failing to make Valencia finish in the top four spots.
But something had changed inside the current captain of the team: slowly but steadily he had come into his own, defining his style, enhancing his physical prowess and improving his leadership on the pitch.
The Madrid-born player has managed to stay afloat through Valencia’s ups and downs with managers of the likes of Nuno Espírito Santo, Gary Neville, Cesare Prandelli or Pako Ayestarán. Under all of them, he was a starter and the team orbited around his slow-paced, clinically precise football-style. Even when disenchanted fans slam him, the midfielder has learnt to ignore criticism and keep improving. This season, statistically at least, the player is an absolute beast: successful passes, goals scored, key passes, assists, ball recoveries, chances generated…the all-around midfielder, in all its glory.
In a Busquet-less Spain due to injury, Julen Lopetegui’s call-up makes sense. We actually don’t know if Parejo will make it to the World Cup; Spain’s midfield is, after all, one of the strongest in modern football and coaches don’t favor making big changes so close to an important tournament.
But the player can be proud of having achieved a nigh-impossible feat: turning around fans’ preconceptions. That, in such a demanding country, can actually be more difficult (and rewarding) than winning some silverware.