"Jese will be our winter signing." This remark by a certain Carlo Ancelotti sums up just how eagerly awaited the young forward's return was at Real Madrid.
A revelation in his breakthrough season, Jese had been heavily tipped for a place in Spain's squad at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ before disaster struck in March. In the opening stages of the UEFA Champions League last-16 second leg against Schalke, the Los Blancos youth product was left in agony following a challenge from left-back Sead Kolasinac. Stretchered off, his worst fears were later confirmed: he had torn the meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The injury would require surgery and sideline the hotshot for some 258 days. That is over eight months of rehabilitation, of blood, sweat, tears and most importantly, music. That's because, besides being a crowd-pleaser on the football pitch, Jese is also a budding musician. As he told FIFA.com during an exclusive interview, "Music helped me a lot. It was my crutch, especially after the operation, because I couldn't do anything [physically], so I would spend my time after treatment writing songs."
After a couple of years as one half of duo Big Flow, the rising reggaeton star has gone solo under the stage name Jey M. "Now I devote my free time after training and matches to music. Others go out and about, but I prefer to stay at home and dedicate myself to music," said the 21-year-old, proceeding to reveal that he is one of the players – alongside Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and James Rodriguez – who call the tune with regards to the soundtrack in the Merengues dressing room.
Besides great players, what we've got here are great people, and so we've grown from a team into a family.
Jese's musical aspirations take nothing away from his ability to get pulses racing with the ball at feet. If there were any doubts about this, they were blown away during his superb comeback appearance in the Copa del Rey against Cornella, a game most notable for the youngster's goal and his warm embrace with his coach. "He told me to just go out there and enjoy it and to do what I do best," noted the starlet.
Ancelotti kept close tabs on the forward while he was laid up. "He went through the same injury [as a player] and has helped me a lot with his experience and words. The best advice he gave me? Three months ago, when I was on the comeback trail, he told me, 'You're 21, so you mustn't rush things. You have to listen to your body and your mind and keep calm, because you've got many years of football ahead of you.'"
It so happens that, according to Spanish popular knowledge, natives of the Canary Islands are calm folk. Born in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, Jese lives up to the stereotype, exuding composure even while looking back on the difficult moments. "I had a very tough time, but I think that things in life happen for a reason. Maybe I had the injury because I needed to learn and become a more mature footballer. I know that I've come back stronger," he argued. "You learn from everything, even from these experiences. I've learned to be more professional in every respect. I take better care of myself now in terms of my diet, the attention I pay to [conditioning] my muscles and my fitness. I intend to keep applying everything I've learned until I retire from the game."
Getting back in the groove
Jese has returned to the fold in the nick of time for the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014, one of the few tournaments Real Madrid have never won. "We're taking things slowly, managing my game time because we don't want any scares, but I think the gaffer will give me some opportunities in Morocco. We'll need to make use of the whole squad because there are some intense months in store at the business end of the season and this team will be in the running for several competitions, so everyone's time will come."
The home-grown hero has been forced to watch on while the side have gone from strength to strength. "The improvement has been amazing. They've beaten some very impressive records. And it takes a family, not just a team, to do something like that. If we weren't as tight-knit as we are, such a big change wouldn't have been possible. From the outside looking in, people think it's easy, but it's not."
"Dressing rooms are full of egos and we have some top players here, but what I see is that the competition is very healthy. There is no one-upmanship or jealousy, just competition for the good of the team. That's because, besides great players, what we've got here are great people, and so we've grown from a team into a family," the starlet added.
Like many of his team-mates, Jese is quick to credit Ancelotti for his role in this process. "Everyone knows he's a great coach, but I'd highlight his human qualities: he knows how to handle groups, which is the toughest part of the job, particularly at Real Madrid, where there are so many great players and egos. And he does it with aplomb. He instils a real sense of peace and calm. When he gets angry, though, you'd better take cover! He knows how to motivate us and to choose his moments. You can really tell that he used to be a player."
With the end of our conversation in sight, there was still time for the charismatic youngster to let out a laugh and once again demonstrate his level-headedness when asked which of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale he sees himself displacing in the team: "That's up to the boss and it's an even taller order with James [Rodriguez] having joined and Isco in such sensational form."
This pitch-perfect response was the cue for the boots to come off and the hat to go on as part of Jese's transformation back into Jey M. Whichever persona he is performing as, however, one gets the impression that this up-and-coming entertainer will keep hitting the right notes.