Football Features

Forgotten Celta Vigo players, from ‘Zorro’ to Guardiola’s escape artist

By Steve Jennings

Celta Vigo Forgotten Players

Published: 12:30, 9 July 2020

Let’s be honest, when you think of La Liga two teams come to mind: Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Think a little harder and you might consider Atletico Madrid. Then maybe Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal.

Indeed, Celta Vigo aren’t among Spain‘s most historic clubs. Not even close.

They’ve won the second division title three times and finished runners-up in the Copa del Rey on three occasions.

That’s not much to write home about, but perhaps it’s time Celta received a bit more recognition because there is a remarkably long list of famous players who have passed through the club’s ranks over recent years.

Here are 12 of the best.

1. Rodrigo

Celta period: 2005-2009
Current club: Valencia
Record transfer: £26.3m (to Valencia)

Brazil-born Rodrigo moved to Spain in his early teens and was given a shot at a career in football by Celta’s academy. The forward was eventually spotted by Real Madrid, who snapped him up at the age of 18 following a worthwhile education at Celta.

Rodrigo went on to play for Benfica and Bolton Wanderers before Valencia made an initial loan permanent in 2015. The 29-year-old chose to play for Spain and featured for his country at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and recently saw a move to Barcelona collapse.

2. Diego Costa

Celta period: 2007-2008
Current club: Atletico Madrid
Record transfer: £32m (to Chelsea)

Another Brazil-born Spain international, Diego Costa, spent the 2007-08 campaign on loan at Celta from Atletico Madrid. In fact, all three forwards in Spain‘s 2018 World Cup squad (Costa, Rodrigo and Aspas) were Celta players in 2007-08.

Costa scored six goals in 31 appearances in the Segunda Division. He would eventually go on to become a key player for Atletico, the club he returned to after a successful three-year spell at Chelsea.

3. David Silva

Celta period: 2005-2006
Current club: Manchester City
Record transfer: £24m (to Man City)

Just about every English football fan will be familiar with David Silva, the Spanish magician who has graced the Premier League since 2010.

But most won’t be aware Silva spent the 2005-06 season on loan at Celta from Valencia, scoring four goals in 34 appearances. He has since gone on to become one of the best playmakers in Europe, winning four Premier League titles, two European Championships, a World Cup, and a greatly admired by current manager Pep Guardiola.

“What he has done is incredible, fantastic,” the City head coach said.

“Not just for the game today, for the last 10 years. What we want is for the people to come back to the Etihad for a game for him as one of the legends of the club.

“In the small spaces, he is maybe the best I have seen.

“As I say, the way he works in the pockets, is incredible. The young players learn from David by example, not by the words.”

4. Claude Makelele

Celta period: 1998-2000
Current club: Technical mentor at Chelsea
Record transfer: £16.8m (to Chelsea)

It’s not often a player is able to effectively re-brand a position but such was one Frenchman’s impact on the game, the “Makelele Role” was born. Yet many football fans are ignorant to the fact the role was arguably refined at Celta, where Makelele made 86 appearances before joining Real Madrid in 2000.

Three years later, the midfielder joined Chelsea and became a vital cog in Jose Mourinho’s unstoppable machine. Makelele is now back at Stamford Bridge as a youth coach and technical mentor.

5. Jordi Cruyff

Celta period: 1999
Current club: Head coach of Ecuador
Record transfer: £1.4m (to Man United)

Being the son of one of football’s true legends was always going to make things difficult for Jordi Cruyff. But the former midfielder turned out for two of Europe’s biggest clubs, Manchester United and Barcelona, during his playing career.

Towards the end of his stint at Old Trafford, Cruyff was loaned to Celta where he scored two goals in nine matches. Spells in Ukraine and Malta followed before Cruyff retired. He has since coached in China and Israel, and is currently the manager of the Ecuador national side.

6. Sylvinho

Celta period: 2001-2004
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £3.3m (to Celta Vigo)

Sylvinho made a combined 88 appearances for Arsenal and Manchester City in England, but he truly made his mark in Spain.

The Brazil international was one of Celta’s stand-out players between 2001-2004, his displays earning him a move to Barcelona where he enjoyed the most successful spell of his career, winning La Liga three times and the Champions League twice. He has since taken to management but lasted just five months in charge of Lyon before facing the sack in October 2019.

7. Jose Enrique

Celta period: 2005-2006
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £7m (to Liverpool)

Perhaps best remembered for his 129 appearances for Newcastle United between 2007 and 2011, Jose Enrique actually spent more time (five seasons) at Liverpool, though he played a slightly lower total of 99 games.

Prior to joining Newcastle, he spent a season on loan at Celta from Valencia, where he played 17 times in all competitions.

8. Benni McCarthy

Celta period: 1999-2003
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £7.9m (to Porto)

After joining Celta from Ajax in 1999, McCarthy enjoyed a decent debut season in Spain, scoring 14 goals. However, the striker failed to score a single goal the following season and was loaned to Porto.

It’s safe to say McCarthy took to life in Portugal, where he scored 12 goals in 11 appearances before being signed permanently in 2003. He scored a total of 58 goals in 124 games for Porto.

Spells with Blackburn Rovers (good) and West Ham United (not so good) followed. The 42-year-old most recently managed Cape Town City in his home country of South Africa but was dismissed in November 2019 after just two wins across 18 games.

9. Michu

Celta period: 2007-2011
Current club: Technical secretary of Oviedo
Record transfer: £2 million (to Swansea)

A Premier League cult figure if ever there was one, former Swansea City striker Michu originally drew plaudits for Celta in Spain. He made 112 appearances for the club, scoring 17 goals.

The following season, Michu scored 17 goals for Real Zaragoza, which earned him his move to Swansea. But injuries prevented the Spaniard from building on an impressive debut season, and he retired at the age of 31 in 2017. He has since taken up a technical secretary role at boyhood club Oviedo.

10. Mido

Celta period: 2003
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £10.5m (to Marseille)

Like Michu, Egyptian striker Mido provided moments of genuine class during his time in the Premier League. The former Tottenham man joined Celta on loan from Ajax in 2002, scoring four goals in eight matches.

Since retiring in 2013, Mido has tried his hand at management in Egypt, Belgium and Saudi Arabia.

11. Giuseppe Rossi

Celta period: 2016-17
Current club: Real Salt Lake
Record transfer: £10.4m (to Fiorentina)

He may have failed to make the grade at Manchester United, but Rossi provided plenty of brilliance for both Villarreal and Fiorentina, only for injuries to prevent him from returning to a top European club. The Italian scored 32 goals for Villarreal in 2010-11.

A troublesome knee sent his career into a tailspin, and he managed only six goals in 29 appearances for Celta during a loan spell in 2016-17. He joined Genoa in December 2017 but left the club at the end of that season. He has since trained with Man Utd, Los Angeles FC and Villarreal before joining Real Salt Lake.

12. Zvonimir Boban

Celta period: 2001
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £8m (to AC Milan)

Before Croatia rose to prominence at the 2018 World Cup and reached the final, the European nation first took the quadrennial tournament by storm in 1998. Boban, captaining the side, guided Croatia to an unexpected third, in a squad replete with fine talent including Davor Suker and Robert Prosinecki.

The aptly named ‘Zorro’ was a playmaker grandmaster and helped AC Milan to four Scudetti during the 90s as well as a Champions League triumph in 1994. Towards the end of his glittering career he turned out for Celta on loan in 2001 but made just four league appearances before hanging up his boots.