Javier Portillo seems set to star for Real Madrid CF this season - and he did not cost a cent.
While Real Madrid CF's side for the UEFA Super Cup meeting with Feyenoord will contain the usual mixture of established Spanish stars, such as Raúl González and Fernando Morientes, and big-money international acquisitions, like Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos, one name in the European champions' squad will be a 20-year-old fresh out of their youth system who may not have cost them a cent, but is already worth €15m.
Javier Portillo did not make his Madrid first-team debut until March, but the prolific young striker did not waste any time in making his mark. Brought on as substitute during the second half of their UEFA Champions League second group stage match against Panathinaikos FC, he promptly scored a late equaliser from 25 metres to maintain Madrid's unbeaten record in their pool.
But then, getting goals has never been a problem for Portillo - since joining Madrid as an eleven-year-old, he has scored nearly 400 for their youth and reserve teams in competitive games, and 700 in total. Indeed, having begun last season in the 'C' team, his prolific form saw him promoted to the 'B' squad - ending 2001/02 with a hatful of goals for both sides.
'Such a good player'
However, this summer has seen Portillo linked with moves to some of Madrid's keenest rivals, with FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC both courting the forward. Former Barcelona coach Carles Rexach, who first revealed his interest in the player in May, prior to leaving the Camp Nou, said: "He is a type of player that is in danger of extinction because he scores goals very easily. Portillo has the quality to score long-distance goals, which makes him even more dangerous. Of course, I'd love to rely on such a good player. Nowadays, it's very rare to find this kind of player. He plays really well and also scores a lot of goals. Having these players on your side makes you stronger."
Even though Madrid are yet to draft him into their regular lineup, they have Portillo on contract until 2007, with a buy-out clause of €15m. And the striker himself intends to stay and try and win a place alongside Raúl - whose scoring record in Madrid's youth ranks has been outstripped by Portillo.
'I feel really good here'
"I have a long future here at Real," he said when news of Barcelona's interest became public. "I feel really good here with Real Madrid and I have a long future here but it is always an honour to find out there are other big team poised to sign you and bet on youth." Madrid fans certainly want Portillo to stick around, and believe that this is the season for his real breakthrough, after his spectacular rise up the ranks in recent months.
International recognition has already come his way - he was called up for the Spanish Under-21 side in May - and having been part of Madrid's squad in the recent friendly tournament involving AS Roma, Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München, Portillo name seems set to become a regular fixture on Vicente del Bosque's team sheet.
And should he appear in Monaco, Feyenoord may wish that all they had to worry about was Raúl and Zidane.