Growing up in the Spanish capital, Angel Berlanga was a season ticket holder at Real Madrid and marvelled at the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo showcasing their skills at the Santiago Bernabeu. In 2014, the Auckland City captain came agonisingly close to an unthinkable finale against his boyhood club, when only extra time stood in the way of the New Zealand side facing the European champions at the FIFA Club World Cup.
It wasn’t to be for Berlanga, though. Despite grabbing an equaliser against San Lorenzo in the semi-final, an extra-time goal from Mauro Matos downed the plucky Navy Blues, sending the Copa Libertadores winners to the 2014 showpiece final instead. But 2016 presents another chance for Berlanga to contemplate coming up against his beloved club, with Auckland and Real Madrid having both reached the Club World Cup once more, this time in Japan.
If Berlanga’s dream meeting with the Spanish giants is to come true, his Auckland side will have to reproduce another valiant run akin to 2014, where they stormed to a third-place finish against the odds.
"When I equalised to make the game 1-1 it was an unbelievable feeling but so was everything about Morocco 2014,” Berlanga told FIFA.com. “To win a bronze medal was an amazing moment but you can't help but wonder about what might have happened.”
While originally from Madrid, years spent living in New Zealand has left Berlanga feeling more like a Kiwi than a Spaniard. The ball-playing centre-back initially arrived as a budding traveller and after falling in love with the country, the Oceania nation is now the place he calls home.
"Not many people in New Zealand realise, perhaps because of my name or accent, but I’ve spent more time here in this country than in Spain,” said the former CF Rayo Majadahonda player. “I've been here on and off since I was 18 and now I'm 29 so I feel like Auckland’s my home, my family. I’m grateful for the opportunity this country and club has given me.
“Everyone here helps you, they make you feel welcome. It’s going to be my seventh season and it’s quite impressive that when I came here I was travelling and thought I’d be in New Zealand for four or five months, and now I’ve been here seven years."
*Taking the armband
*Set to make his sixth consecutive tournament appearance at Japan 2016, Berlanga is certainly no stranger to the Club World Cup. But this year will have added meaning for Auckland’s No5, who now holds the responsibility of being club captain.
While the Spaniard donned the armband at last year’s tournament in the absence of 88-time New Zealand international Ivan Vicelich, Berlanga has since been appointed as the Navy Blues’ permanent skipper, following in the footsteps of a player who won six OFC Champions League titles with the club.
"Taking the captaincy was a big honour for me because when you are seven years with any team it has an emotional pull for you. I don't feel pressure to match what Ivan accomplished because there is only one Ivan and I can only be true to myself - Angel Berlanga - and do the job to the best I can.”