The historic, cathartic and biggest night of Taty Castellanos’s curious career | La Liga

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The historic, cathartic and biggest night of Taty Castellanos’s curious career | La Liga

The league

Girona striker earned redemption after miss at Barcelona to become first to score four against Madrid in La Liga for 75 years

Redemption is rapid round here. In the darkness of the bench, hidden a little but not enough, Taty Castellanos hung his head. A couple of minutes earlier, the Girona striker had been clean through at the Camp Nou, not just one on one but two on one. This was their moment to beat Barcelona for the first time, his moment, but instead of roll the ball into teammate Viktor Tsygankov or bend it into the net, he sent a shot wide. Withdrawn swiftly after, half an hour before the end, he sat and sobbed and didn’t stop. Some time later, his coach said: he’s still in the dressing room, crying.

That was 10 April; this was 25 April. Castellanos couldn’t sleep then and he couldn’t sleep now, still awake at 4am and forced to take a pill, but it was different. Fifteen days later and 101km north, Castellanos was taken off early again. This time he was smiling, leaving to a standing ovation, Estadi Montilivi going as mad as he said his mobile was. What he had done – and this line is no longer the empty cliché it once was – had gone round the world. “Crazy,” he called it. “I never imagined this.” Nor did anyone else. What he had done no one had done in 75 years.

“When I scored the first, lots of things went through my head: family, friends, my mum,” Castellanos said. “And then the goals kept coming and I thought: ‘It’s my night.’” By the end of it, he was holding the match ball, having scored four times to lead Girona to a 4-2 victory over Real Madrid. As he stood at the side of the pitch, trying to make himself heard over the most maddeningly-catchy club anthem in Spain (which will accompany you all day now if you’re daft enough to click here), he was beaming. “This is a dream night,” he said. “Now to enjoy it with all the people who supported me, because that’s fundamental.”

Castellanos had scored as many goals in one league game with Madrid as Eden Hazard has in four years of them, more than every other team playing on Tuesday night: Cádiz, Osasuna, Madrid, Betis and Real Sociedad had managed three between them. Some of the stats are quite something. No one had ever put four past a Carlo Ancelotti team, going back 1,274 games. And while Castellanos had actually scored four this time last year and against a Real too, Salt Lake is not the same as Madrid, even a Madrid all too aware the title race was already run. No one had done this to them in a decade – not since Robert Lewandowski with Dortmund – and no one had done so in the league since Real Oviedo’s Esteban Echevarría, way back in 1947.

Any excuse, eh? And it gets better because if that may not be entirely, strictly-speaking true, what with Echavarria actually scoring five, don’t worry because the last player to get four bang on was Emilín three years earlier, following Vicent Martínez Català four years before that, in 1940 – and both of those played for Oviedo too. Anyway, this was not just a golden opportunity to be biased. It was historic. It was also cathartic, the biggest night of Castellanos’s curious career so far, a company man taking another step up the ladder. With everything building towards the Champions League semi-final, it turned out the City striker who destroyed Madrid wasn’t Erling Halaand, at least not yet, four goals arriving like a warning from the future.

Real Madrid’s Luka Modric looks bereft after Girona’s third goal. Photograph: Joan Monfort/AP

Discovered by Leopoldo Luque, a father figure and World Cup winner with Argentina in 1978, Castellanos had got used to falling and getting up again. A Messi fan with a Maradona tattoo, he was rejected by River and Lanús, moved to Chile when he was 17, and really began when he was signed by the City Group, progressing from within, every step shared. He played for Montevideo City Torque in Uruguay and New York City FC. There, he was guided by David Villa, winning MLS’s Golden Boot and the MLS Cup. This summer, the penultimate rung: he joined Girona, another part of the City Football Groupowned by them and Pep Guardiola’s brother, Pere.

Castellanos has started every game, which is not to say it has been easy. The work, the movement, all those other things a forward does didn’t always bring the reward. When he missed the chance against Barcelona, it cut deep. As the comments came, he closed his social media accounts. On Tuesday night a fortnight on, his coach Michel said: “He deserves it; after shutting down Twitter and Instagram, I’m happy he can turn it back on again.”

This was Castellanos’s night, but it was also Girona’s, responsibility spread. At the Camp Nou, Míchel said: “Missing that chance hurts forwards more than all the work they do. But Taty has given us so much and will continue to. Forwards are there to miss chances and I’m convinced he will bring us happiness.”

Five days later, Cristhian Stuani, the veteran Uruguayan striker who competes with him but guides him too, had a message, delivered privately as well as publicly: “We’re the ones who carry the weight of scoring, a beautiful pressure that makes us grow. We’re together, we’ll make it.” That night Castellanos scored against Elche. Nine days on, he has four more.

That takes Taty to 11 for the season and a Catalan radio commentator to a tattoo parlour after an ill-advised pre-game promise – four was one more than was needed, in fact. More to the point, it takes Girona to their target seven games early. Promoted to first for the first time in 2017, relegated in 2019the team seemingly destined to fall in the playoffs for ever and ever finally found their way through them last summer. Now they’re staying. “I don’t know if it’s mathematically done, but it’s very close,” Míchel said on Tuesday. “This victory allows you to let loose. The dressing room deserved a night like this.”

It has never really been in doubt, except that doubt never disappears entirely. Sitting in the middle of the table – and much of this is applicable to Rayo Vallecano, Osasuna and Mallorca too – may not seem very exciting, but it is an achievement that shouldn’t be reduced just because it came to feel routine. Girona are a good side, not just Castellanos. He is not the first with City links – remember Patrick Roberts – and he won’t be the last, although this is not a side whose sole supplier is in Manchester. Yan Couto and Yangel Herrera are City players while Aleix García played six games under Guardiola. He has impressed enormously this season. Alongside him, so has Oriol Romeu, his best friend from the same tiny town – Ulledecona, population 6,421. Tsygankov is not just a list of cold symptoms; he’s “special” the coach says. Arnau Martínez has been exceptional. To name just a few.

This midweek, Girona defeated Madrid 4-2 and the following night Rayo beat Barcelona 2-1. Sure, they were games conditioned by the fact that for Madrid the league is gone and for Barcelona it is done, but they were not just victories, they were destructions. They were also not one-offs.

Taty Castellanos acknowledges the fans after Girona’s victory. Photograph: Lluís Gené/AFP/Getty Images

Rayo have beaten both this year. Winners over Madrid on the night when Fede Valverde produced the shot of the season, literally sending the ball over the bar, over the wall and into someone’s living roomRayo are unbeaten by Barcelona since returning to primera: four games, two wins, no defeats, no goals conceded until Lewandowski’s late strike on Wednesday. Girona meanwhile, are unbeaten against Madrid this season and the only team whose historic head-to-head against the European champions has them in the lead: played six, won three.

“That was fun,” said Rayo’s manager Andoni Iraola, with the big two both beaten in 24 hours. Girona and Rayo may well be the two most enjoyable teams in The league. With Míchel and Iraola respectively, they have coaches determined not just to survive, but to play. They make La Liga a better place, and having reached 43 and 41 points this week, and their clubs will be back to do it again next season.

There’s no night out like Vallecas where Rayo, the biggest pain in the arse in the first division – in Xavi’s words – tore into Barcelona, scoring two when they could have scored five or six.

When Rayo beat Madrid, it finished 3-2. Girona went one better, finishing 4-2. They have also had three 2-2s, three 3-2s and a 6-2. There have been 93 goals in their games: no team has more. They have only kept three clean sheets – and one of those was against Barcelona. That night Castellanos hung his head and cried, victory slipping past the post; two weeks and one day later, he was smiling and they were safe, redemption completed in record time.

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