Real Madrid Hero Joselu Inspires Incredible Comeback with Stunning Goals

There was a time in 2015/16 when Joselu was getting a reputation as a Stoke City super sub. He has taken that mantle to Real Madrid, inspiring the incredible semi-final turnaround against Bayern Munich that sets up a Champions League final at Wembley against Borussia Dortmund. The striker, now aged 34, had come off the bench with nine minutes to go in the second leg at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and Madrid trailing 1-0 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. He equalised in the 88th minute when he pounced as Manuel Neuer spilled a shot from Vinicius Junior. He then scored the winner in the 91st minute when Antonio Rudiger slipped a pass across goal and he was there to tap home. He was initially given offside but the goal was allowed after VAR checks, sparking incredible scenes – and dejection for fellow Stoke old boy Maxim Choupo-Moting in the Bayern camp.

Steve McManaman, watching for TNT Sports, said: “We’ve seen it before, we’ve seen it again! You never thought you’d say Joselu to the rescue, but what scenes! He’s been criticised quite a bit for the chances he’s missed but who cares when he produces a moment like this.” Alan Shearer said the night of glory was a reward for gambling, with the first just in case of “the one-in-a-hundred chance” Neuer blotting an otherwise superb performance when he couldn’t keep hold of Vinicius Junior’s shot. The second was put down to “great movement” and body adjustment to make a close-range finish seem easy. He added in a preview for The Athletic: “I had plenty of opportunities to see Joselu during his two years at Newcastle. It wasn’t easy playing up front for my old club at that point — they weren’t producing anywhere near as many chance as the likes of Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak get these days. Still, seven goals from 52 games underlines the fact that Joselu didn’t make much of an impact.

“But I don’t want to be disrespectful — he’s just scored two goals for maybe the biggest club in the world to get them to the Champions League final. He might score the winner in the final. He’s obviously not top, top quality, but there’s something in there that they thought, ‘He’ll do, we’ll take a gamble on him’. And centre-forward play itself is all about gambling.”

It is wrong for Joselu to be called a Stoke flop. He was in a strong squad which finished ninth in the Premier League, and only left because he wanted to play more regularly. He showed under Mark Hughes that he could make a big difference from the bench, such as a dramatic 4-3 win at Everton, even if that game is better remembered for how he hugged referee Mark Clattenburg following the award of a last-minute penalty.

He has fond memories of his time in the Potteries – and his nickname as a big striker at Madrid is Crouchy, bestowed on him by England midfielder Jude Bellingham. “That was a good year: we finished ninth, beat City and United and reached the [League] Cup semi-final, only losing on penalties at Anfield … I played with good footballers: Crouch, [Marko] Arnautovic, Jonny Walters,” he said in a heart-warming interview with the Guardian recently. He added: “I loved Jonny Walters. He fought, he was committed, physically he was a beast, he scored over a hundred goals. Crouch was an incredible guy. Jude calls me Crouchy now because I’m a tall striker who likes a cross. Others followed Jude and it’s stuck. But he’s 2 meters tall, I’m only 1.92. Crouch was very funny and helped me a lot. Boy, I had good times with him. “It was hard [to leave] because I had got to know everyone there but they were looking for a shift in style. I still follow Stoke. They just can’t quite get back to the Premier League. The players have gone but I have loads of friends there. I had people from Stoke at my wedding, people from Newcastle too.”

Former Stoke City striker Joselu came off the bench to inspire Real Madrid against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final. There were good goals, in a thrilling 4-3 win at Everton, in a 3-1 victory over Alex Neil’s Norwich and success away at Watford and Bournemouth – and he featured in 22 out of 38 league games, although only 10 from the start, and it was fair enough that he wanted more game time. Joselu went on loan to Deportivo and came back for pre-season in 2017, impressing with clever runs and some fiercely-taken goals, including two beauties at St Pauli in Hamburg. It was put to Mark Hughes that he might not quite be aggressive enough elbow-pointing kind of striker to really lead the line in England, but Hughes wasn’t really buying that, telling the Sentinel in Hamburg: “He’s a certain type of striker. He’s clearly not the kind of guy who is going to be battering around and throwing elbows into defenders. But he’s an intelligent forward, a clever player who makes good runs. He can pick little pockets of space and he understands if he gets in there then he’s a good finisher. He strikes a ball very cleanly, as any technical player would do.” Nevertheless, Joselu’s sale was sanctioned, for £5 million to Newcastle United, and it would be another step in his long journey to Wembley and a date with destiny against Borussia Dortmund on June 1. He was third top scorer in La Liga last season as Espanyol were relegated – and made an instant impression as a super sub for Spain along the way – and joined Real on loan for this term. No one quite knows what will happen next. In his place at Stoke came Jese Rodriguez, who had won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016, and Choupo-Moting. But that’s two more other stories. What are your memories of Joselu? Have your say in the comments section.