Be honest. When you think of La Liga, three teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – come to mind.
Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll probably consider Valencia, Sevilla and maybe Villarreal. It will probably take a while before arrive at Celta de Vigo. Indeed, Celta aren’t among Spain’s most historically significantly clubs. Not even close.
They’ve won the Spanish second division three times and finished runners-up in the Copa del Rey on three occasions. It’s not much to write home about. However, if not for their trophy count, Celta deserve more recognition for the remarkably long list of extremely famous and accomplished players who’ve passed through their ranks over recent years.
Here are 12 of the best.
Celta period: 2005-2009
Current club: Leeds United
Record transfer: £27m (to Leeds United)
Brazil-born Rodrigo moved to Spain in his early teens (and ultimately decided to play internationally for Spain) and was given a shot at a career in football by Celta’s academy. After a worthwhile four-year education at Celta, he was snapped up at the age of 18 by Real Madrid.
After two seasons with Real Madrid’s B and C sides, Rodrigo went on to play for Benfica, for whom he thrived (when he wasn’t on loan to Bolton Wanderers). In 2015, a second loan spell became a permanent move, to Valencia. He starred for five seasons in Valencia before joining the Marcelo Bielsa-led revolution at Leeds United in 2020. To date, he has bagged seven goals across 29 matches in all competitions for the club.
2. Diego Costa
Celta period: 2007-2008
Current club: Atlético Mineiro
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 Iago Aspas) played for Celta in 2007-08.
Costa scored six goals in 31 appearances for Celta in the Segunda Division, before going on to star for Atletico Madrid, and later for three years at Chelsea, before returning to Atletico.
3. David Silva
Celta period: 2005-2006
Current club: Real Sociedad
Record transfer: £24m (to Man City)
Just about every English football fan will be familiar with David Silva. The Spanish magician graced the Premier League for a decade before returning home in 2020, to join Real Sociedad.
However, most won’t be aware that Silva, at the time a Valencia player, spent the 2005-06 season on loan at Celta, scoring four goals in 34 appearances. He’s since gone on to become one of the best playmakers in Europe, won four Premier League titles, two European Championships, a World Cup, and the undying admiration of his countryman and now-former manager, Pep Guardiola.
“What he has done is incredible, fantastic,” the Man 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 Makélélé
Celta period: 1998-2000
Current club: Technical mentor at Chelsea
Record transfer: £16.8m (to Chelsea)
It’s not often a player effectively re-brands a position as his own, but such was one Frenchman’s impact on the game. However, though most fans equate the birth of the “Makélélé Role” with the stalwart midfielder time at Real Madrid, whom he joined in 2000, the role was, in fact, actually defined – and refined – at Celta, where Makélélé made 86 appearances over two seasons, before departing for the Spanish capital.
Three years later, Makélélé joined Chelsea and became a vital cog in Jose Mourinho’s unstoppable machine. He is now back at Stamford Bridge, as a youth coach and technical mentor.
5. Jordi Cruyff
Celta period: 1999
Current club: Technical director at Barcelona
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. It must be said, however, that the former midfielder’s career did include stints with two of Europe’s biggest clubs: Manchester United and Barcelona.
Towards the end of his time at Old Trafford, Cruyff was loaned to Celta, where he scored two goals in nine matches. Subsequent spells in Spain, with Alavés and Espanyol, and sides in Ukraine and Malta followed, before Cruyff retired in 2010. He’s since coached in China and Israel and the Ecuador national side, before assuming his current role, as technical director at FC Barcelona.
Celta period: 2001-2004
Current club: Manager of Corinthians
Record transfer: £3.3m (to Celta Vigo)
Sylvinho made a combined 88 appearances in England 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. Those efforts earned him a move to Barcelona, where he enjoyed the most successful spell of his career, winning three La Liga titles and a pair of Champions Leagues. He’s since taken to management as well. His first spell in charge, with Lyon, lasted just five months before he was sacked in October 2019. Since May 2021, he’s been back in Brazil, coaching with his boyhood club, Corinthians.
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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, despite turning out less frequently (a total of 99 games) for the Reds.
Prior to joining Newcastle, while still a Valencia player, he spent a season on loan at Celta, appearing 17 times in all competitions.
8. Benni McCarthy
Celta period: 1999-2003
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £7.9m (to Porto)
McCarthy joined Celta from Ajax in 1999, and 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 that McCarthy took to life in Portugal, scoring 12 goals in 11 appearances, and earning a permanent move in 2003. In 124 games for Porto, McCarthy scored 58 goals.
He went to have spells with Blackburn Rovers (good), West Ham United (not so good) and Orlando Pirates in his native South Africa (also good), before retiring in 2013. McCarthy, now 42, has since moved into coaching. He most recently managed South African side Cape Town City, but was dismissed in November 2019 after just two wins in 18 games.
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. Though many in England will remember Michu for his exploits with Swansea City, the striker originally drew plaudits in Spain, for Celta, where he made 112 appearances, and scored 17 goals between 2007 and 2011.
The following season, now playing for Real Zaragoza, Michu scored 17 goals, and earned his move to Swansea. Sadly, injuries prevented the Spaniard from building upon an impressive debut season in Premier League, and ultimately forced him into retirement in 2017, at the age of just 31. He has since linked up with fellow Spanish Premier League standouts Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla to invest in his boyhood club, Real Oviedo. For the next nine months, he served as a technical secretary role with Oviedo, before moving to now-second division side Burgos CF, as director of football.
Celta period: 2003
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £10.5m (to Marseille)
Before the Egyptian was playing his trade with Tottenham, Mido played in Europe for Ajax and Celta de Vigo, for whom he scored scoring four goals in eight matches during a 2002 loan spell. Like Michu, Mido provided moments of genuine class during his time in the Premier League.
Since retiring in 2013, he has tried his hand at management in Egypt, Belgium and Saudi Arabia.
11. Giuseppe Rossi
Celta period: 2016-17
Current club: Unattached
Record transfer: £10.4m (to Fiorentina)
He may have fallen short at Manchester United, but Rossi provided plenty of brilliance for both Villarreal and Fiorentina. Unfortunately, injuries prevented him from ever returning to one of Europe’s very top clubs. In his last truly healthy season, 2010-11 with Villarreal, the New Jersey-born Italian scored 32 goals in 56 games.
A disastrous knee injury subsequently sent his career into a tailspin. By the time he arrived at Celta, though he was still just 29 years of age, Rossi was very much in his twilight. None the less, he turned out 29 times for Celta, and managed six goals in 2016-17. He then joined Genoa for the second half of the 2017-18 season, before taking some time away to train with Man United, Los Angeles FC and Villarreal, before returning to competitive football, first with Real Salt Lake in 2020, before moving to Serie B side SPAL in 2021.
12. Zvonimir Boban
Celta period: 2001
Current club: Retired
Record transfer: £8m (to AC Milan)
In 1998, long before Croatia rose to prominence with its run to the Final of the 2018 World Cup, the Eastern European nation took the quadrennial tournament by storm. Boban, captaining the side, guided Croatia squad replete with fine talents, including Davor Suker and Robert Prosinecki, to an unexpected third-place finish at France ’98.
The aptly named ‘Zorro’ was a playmaking grandmaster who helped AC Milan to four Scudetti during the 90s, and a Champions League triumph in 1994. In 2001, in the final chapter of his glittering career, Boban made four league appearances for Celta as a loanee before hanging up his boots.