MADRID (Reuters) - Former Real Madrid forward Jese makes an emotional return to the Santiago Bernabeu with hometown club Las Palmas on Wednesday, wondering what might have been had his promising career with the Spanish giants not been cruelly interrupted by a knee injury.
Jese, who joined Las Palmas at the end of January on loan from Paris St Germain following a disastrous 25-million-euro move to the French champions, was once hailed as one of the hottest prospects in Spanish soccer.
The forward fired Spain to victory as top scorer at the 2012 under-19 European Championship and broke Real great Emilio Butragueno’s goal record with the club’s reserve team before making strides in the first team under Carlo Ancelotti in 2013/14, scoring eight goals in 31 appearances.
His progress was halted when he tore his cruciate knee ligament in a Champions League game against Schalke in March 2014 and his recovery was prolonged when the knee became infected, forcing him out of action for nine months.
The 24-year-old was never short of confidence as a teenager and once declared that he saw himself as a future Ballon d‘Or winner, but admitted in an interview with sports daily Marca on Tuesday that his self-belief had been jolted by the injury.
“It’s not an excuse but it’s a reality that the injury put the brakes on my career and my personal life and after that everything was much harder. Playing consistently and feeling sure about myself is much more difficult now,” he said.
“Only people who’ve had a cruciate ligament injury know what it’s like and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’ve thought a lot about what would have happened if I hadn’t got injured and I‘m sure I’d be an undisputed starter for Real Madrid.”
Jese made 38 appearances in all competitions and scored six goals for Real last season, although coach Zinedine Zidane admitted last year that he would be better off leaving the club, remarking: “If I were his friend, or family member, I would tell him to look for more playing time.”
Jese took the Frenchman’s advice and signed for PSG but it quickly became clear he had moved to the wrong club and their possession play did not suit his qualities of power and pace.
The Spaniard made just two starts and 12 substitutes’ appearances in all competitions, scoring only twice, his troubles worsened by another knee injury and a bout of appendicitis.
The forward, who is a reggaeton artist under the moniker Jey M, also appeared to struggle to fit into his new surroundings.
An October article in newspaper Le Parisien criticised his decision to live in the luxurious Le Royal Monceau hotel rather than moving into his own home and said he had not made a serious effort to learn French.
PSG’s Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said in an interview with Le Parisien that the signing had been a “mistake”, while Spanish coach Unai Emery declared: “Jese needs to play to rediscover his rhythm and confidence.”
Back in the Canary Islands, where he was born, Jese was given a hero’s welcome by 9,000 supporters at his presentation although Las Palmas have lost all four games he has played since joining, dropping to 12th in the standings.
Las Palmas coach Quique Setien believes Jese has been weighed down by the expectations placed on him.
“He is full of hope but feels so much responsibility because of what it meant to come back to the island and have everyone focusing on him, and that’s not positive,” he told a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s La Liga game.
“But once he scores the first goal, more will come.”
Editing by Clare Fallon