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European Football Weekend Round-Up By Zach Lowy

Each Monday, I’ll be writing a weekly round-up on this season’s action at BET Central, including the managers on the hot seat and the coaches who are delivering the goods for their clubs, the young prospects who are putting themselves in the spotlight, and the players and teams who are making the headlines or flying under the radar in the 2021/22 season.

Weekly Round Up

“At 35, Falcao is no longer the world-class forward that he was during his previous spell in Madrid when he led Atleti to victory in the Europa League Final against an Athletic Club side captained by Andoni Iraola — his current manager at Rayo — but he still has the same lethal goalscorer’s instinct that saw him become a revelation over his two seasons in Spain.”

El Tigre

It’s been nearly two months since I wrote about Radamel Falcao’s Rayo Vallecano debut for BET Central, and it’s fair to say that things are going swimmingly for El Tigre, who followed up his debut goal against Getafe with back-to-back goals against Athletic Club and Cádiz. He scored the sole goal of the match in Rayo’s 1-0 victory over Barcelona, and 10 days later, he came off the bench to score in a 1-2 defeat to Real Madrid, reaching 300 professional goals. With 5 goals in 332 minutes, or 1 goal every 66 minutes approximately, he has the best goal-scoring average in La Liga.

However, all good things must come to an end, and if his injury-plagued time at Galatasaray was anything to go by, it was only a matter of time before Falcao’s body let him down. The Colombian suffered a tear in the adductor magnus muscle in his right thigh on November 8, an injury that is expected to sideline him for a month. Rayo Vallecano, who have already begun the process of negotiating a one-year extension for Falcao, will be deprived of their top scorer and Andoni Iraola will look to his other options to fill the vacancy: Sergi Guardiola, Yacine Qasmi, and Andrés Martín. However, it is expected that the number one option to take advantage of Falcao’s absence is Randy Nteka.

Randy Nteka’s Spanish Journey

Born in Paris to an Angolan father and a Congolese mother, Nteka headed to Spain at the age of 19 with the dream of making a professional footballing career, joining CD Betis San Isidro in February 2017. “My mother tried to keep me out of trouble,” stated Nteka in an interview with El Mundo. That’s why I always played football to avoid problems, to escape from that bad life. Every time I left home, she wasn’t sure if I would come back in one piece. I always wanted to make it up to her and the first thing I did with my first professional contract was buy her a car.”

He had received a call from an agent who told him he could play for a top-level club and packed his bags for Madrid, but when he arrived, he found himself lost in a foreign country where he did not speak a single word of the language. “I felt a bit deceived because I was hoping to do a trial with a big club. “I called my father and told him that I couldn’t take it anymore, that I was going back,” said Nteka in an interview with Movistar.

Digging Deep

It was then when Betis San Isidro, a club in Madrid’s regional leagues, offered him an opportunity. Nteka would work as a doorman/janitor for the club’s facilities, earning €300 per month by cleaning the changing rooms, opening the doors for the teams, and taking care of the stadiums and the pitches, whilst also living in a shared room that was paid by the club. However, within two months, Nteka had reached a breaking point and was desperate to return to Paris. “I thought football was no longer for me,” said Nteka. “I didn’t tell my mother what I was going through so that she wouldn’t suffer.” He called his father asking to come home, but his father told him that if he wanted to make a career in football, it was now or never — if he persisted, sooner or later, his opportunity would come.

 “The boy came to us in February… he had no equipment, he didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and since we couldn’t pay him, we gave him a job and a shared room,” said Betis San Isidro manager Pablo García in an interview with El País. “We made a big effort for our economic situation, we gave him 300 euros and we paid for the shared room, which was another 300. With us he played as a midfielder, he was good at attacking. He was ahead of the rest. We were so sure that Randy was a second division or first division player that when Fuenlabrada came to sign him, they did not pay us anything at that time and we accepted a 10% percentage of a possible transfer.”

Nteka Shines On The Field

Nteka registered 3 goals in 13 appearances and joined Rayo’s B team, where he would play a few friendlies, but he was unable to be registered due to a collapsed sale of a player which prevented Rayo from having the space in their squad to sign him. Nevertheless, Nteka’s impressive performance in a friendly against Fuenlabrada convinced the Kirikos to sign him on a permanent deal, with the player’s salary increasing to €800 per month. Nteka would end up shining for Fuenlabrada in the second division, scoring 24 goals in 141 appearances before joining Rayo this summer in an operation that also saw Pathé Ciss arrive at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas.

Whilst Fuenlabrada had attached a release clause of €12 million to his contract and had rejected an offer of €3 million from Granada the previous year, the sale to Rayo saw Nteka valued at €1 million with €250,000 of that being in variables. “Nothing adds up,” lamented García. “We have 90 years of life as a club and an operation like this would be very good for us to reach 100, as is our intention.”

As he prepares to turn 24 years of age next month, Nteka has already begun to showcase his unique characteristics in Spain’s top division with 3 goals and 2 assists for Andoni Iraola’s side. An attacking midfielder by nature who has carved out a niche as a central forward, Nteka still remembers the days where he’d cry on the telephone with his father, and when he’d eat whatever he could and rely on the generosity of Betis San Isidro who’d bring him sandwiches to eat. He remembers it all, from playing on the streets of Paris’ banlieues to seeing his father point to the Stade de France and tell him that one day, he’d be playing there. Today, Nteka is no longer watching Falcao play on the television but is instead playing alongside him, and he’ll be expected to pick up the load and help replace the legendary Colombian striker’s goals for the newly promoted Rayo, who sit sixth in the league table with 20 points from 13 games.

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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