Albert Celades has had plenty to celebrate despite Real Madrid CF's indifferent season.
By Andy Hall
When former FC Barcelona player Albert Celades made the controversial decision to join his old club's fierce rivals Real Madrid CF from RC Celta de Vigo in 2000, his former Barça captain Sergi Barjuan said he was "heartbroken".
Celades has had his share of heartbreak in the last 12 months. While Barcelona, the club where he started his career, were rising to the top of the table in Spain, the midfield player was loaned out to play a season in France for FC Girondins de Bordeaux before returning to the Santiago Bernabéu to join one of the most consistently underperforming Madrid sides of recent years.
After arriving at the club, Celades' main role was deputising for Claude Makelele and Iván Helguera as the midfield pivot, but a series of niggling injuries denied him an extended run. Last season, he was loaned out to Bordeaux as a means of giving him match practice.
This year, everything has changed. With Makalele having left for Chelsea FC and Helguera moving into defence, the 29-year-old has been the preferred partner for David Beckham in the centre of midfield, and is determined to carve out a permanent niche in Mariano García Remón's first XI.
"Personally I am very happy to have returned to the side and to be playing regularly after a year out in France," he told uefa.com, "I just hope that we can string together a few decent results so that we can recover our confidence and hopefully the team can improve and I can improve my own game too."
Certainly, things are looking up for Madrid after two goals in consecutive games for summer signing Michael Owen saw them earn 1-0 wins against FC Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Champions League and Valencia CF in the Primera División and break a run of indifferent results.
And some of that success is down to the diligent but unglamorous Celades. García Remón said of him: "Albert is a player with great technical skill that gives us a sense of stability in midfield and that is precisely what we need at the moment."
For the player, the Matchday 2 game which saw Madrid come back from two goals down against AS Roma to win 4-2, marked the start of the recovery. "The most important thing about beating Roma was the way in which we found our composure in a difficult game," he said.
'Show of character'
He added: "Roma hit us with two goals at inopportune moments; the first one in particular was a strange goal for Madrid to concede. But we managed to turn the score around in our favour and that was a great show of character on our part."
Celades has few explanations as to why Madrid have struggled this season. "We are playing many clubs who have a great deal of quality," he said. "The standard of teams both in Spain and in the Champions League is extremely high and it takes a lot of effort to beat them."
However, he is hopeful that - now they are back to winning ways - he can lay down roots in the first XI, and avoid being replaced by a new signing when the transfer window reopens in January, as has been rumoured. "People are free to say what they like about the state of the team but it's the decision of the coach to say whether we are lacking in any areas or not," he said.