Parejo performs, but he does not triumph. He pleases, but he is not liked. His four and a half seasons at Valencia, for him, have been years of transformation both as a player and as a person. From that timid immature boy who arrived from Getafe, now rises a captain who decided to put criticism to one side and make his way helped by newly won self confidence. This has guided him to become one of the best midfielders in the Spanish league.
Compare a mitochondria and a chloroplast and indicate in total five similarities and differences.
It is one of those typical questions one faces in the Spanish baccalaureate access exams, and that Parejo at some point had to answer when he reinitiated his studies in 2013. It happened when he finally settled in a small loft apartment in the centre of Valencia, looking for stability with Isabel, now the mother of his children.
That had been a journey all but natural, and far from easy. The famous words of Alfredo Di Stefano (He actually went as far as to threaten to never return to see Castilla at Valdebebas if Parejo left) led a shy, immature boy to think of himself what he was not, and added an enormous pressure. In those waters, Parejo almost went under.
Every gesture, every moment is a brick used to build his current self.
“I am going through a really rough patch, I have big issues.” It was a relation where the only goal was for Parejo to open the door to the sensationalist press. Instead of a break up, it was a humiliation. In addition he was working under a manager who never knew how to get the best out of him. The continued dissatisfaction and protests of the Mestalla faithful left the player in tears every time he was judged. This led to those words at a press conference.
They had just chased him in a control at one of Valencia’s roads. He had many times the allowed amount of alcohol in his blood. It is a rare happening that a public face strips down in such a manner in front of the press and the world, subjecting his innermost misery to the public opinion. At the same time he also launched a promise and intent; “This was the first time something like this happened to me. It was also the last”.
Because Parejo is a figure molded by every blow it has received….every gesture, every moment is a brick used to build his current self.
It started with his escape from Valdebebas, to the English Championship and Queens Park Rangers, far from the exaggerations born through the recommendations of Di Stefano. But what he found was a world even grimmer. “I arrived a Wednesday morning, and the very same Saturday I was playing”, the footballer told El Pais in a 2011 interview. “After 5 minutes a rival player planted his studs in me, at the height of the knee. While I was on the ground, twisting in pain, he came towards me and started shouting like a madman. The worst thing was that my own team mates were telling me off too. That same evening I called my dad and asked him to get me out of there.”
“Parejo is quick, thinking. He sees the play unfold before anyone else and he has the ability to put the ball where he wants it.”
He also wanted to escape Mestalla. The reply to the criticism by then sports director Braulio Vazquez was uncharacteristically clear; “We signed him on for five years, not for five months”. At times he was the sole defender of what Parejo performed on a football pitch. Despite several intents from Atletico Madrid, it was only Ever Banega’s inconsistency and flair for drama that opened the road for Parejo still being a Valencia player, a captain and the motor of this Valencia team. He had touched the very bottom. And he has not looked back since.
To get to know Parejo better, maybe one has to visit those who know him best.
— Camacho, friend and colleague at Getafe said “He is a midfielder different from any other. He has the ability to arrive in the box and he visualizes plays before anyone else. But he needs to feel well in the team to perform. If he does not, it will not work.”
— Unai Emery stated that he is a “slow fibered player”. Milla, his mentor in the Spanish federation, the slow fiber is combined with a quick brain. “Parejo is not an explosive player, you cannot ask him to be, because his physics are not so. Technically he is a superior player. Parejo is quick, thinking. He sees the play unfold before anyone else and he has the ability to put the ball where he wants it.”
— In June 2015, Braulio said that “At Getafe, Dani played as mediapunta and we thought that if he played a bit further back, he would be even better, as he was not very good with his back to the goal. We saw that if he was prepared well, he would have a great potential. His passing quality was and is spectacular.”
Irremediably, the spirit of Mestalla conspire against the player with pauses. “I am like that and that’s how it is. I will never run like Piatti, I will never be pacy”, says Parejo. The people however, will not stop expressing their opinions. They acclaim or reproach, applaud or murmur. When the team does not perform, all the defects are elevated. If the team is well, the virtues. In any scenario, Parejo is always pointed at.
Mestalla, say those who have suffered it, either lifts you or beats you down. Parejo decided to survive. “I have the ability to play quickly, with one or two touches”, he reveals, even though he does not always fulfill that. To play like that, allow oneself a second or two to organize, is an attribute not within reach for most.
Physical exhaustion is not what he lives from, he doesn’t need that kind of fervor. “Whether it pleases you or not, I will not stop trying, I will not stop risking, because that is my football”. This is the answer anyone asking about his hate-love relationship to the fans will get. He has not always had the confidence to say, and think, such things. This ability came from one source, and one responsible, Ernesto Valverde.
“For all the bad times I have had, every time I see my name in a line up is an incentive to continue working hard”
The first thing the Basque manager did when arriving at Paterna was ask why Parejo was not playing. “Well under me, he will play”, he made clear. The second thing was to tell Parejo to stop asking forgiveness for putting on the Valencia shirt. The third was the gift of what Parejo had never had; confidence, motivation and a defined role in the starting eleven.
In the squad at the time, Parejo was a nullified player. He excelled above anyone else on set pieces while training, but for matches, that was the task of Tino Costa and Ever Banega. On the pitch he was degrading between players that inconvenienced each other, dancing like a soul in pain.
Everything changed when in his debut match against Osasuna, Valverde changed the roles. He decided it was now Parejo who should execute the strategy and carry the team. 15 minutes it took him to score a direct free kick goal.
“I did nothing, it was all him”, Valverde always maintained when asked about the miracle he had made. Parejo, well he was finally content. “For all the bad times I have had, every time I see my name in a line up is an incentive to continue working hard”.
A position beside his abilities, defensive midfielder, completed his game. With that role, the Txingurri (Valverde) gave him all that he had lacked. Work rate, learning that without sacrifice you cannot succeed among the elite. This new path led Parejo away from another, surely leading to nothing but an abyss. What he lost in weight, he gained in moral and muscle. He cut his hair. Ever since, he has trained towards the end of each summer on his own to arrive at training sharp for the preseason, aware that his body punishes the relaxation of summer.
“I mentally prepared myself that I had to take a step to improve both in training and in matches”. And he did not take one, he took three. The player with the sad eyes and old shoes, at the edge of the abyss, somehow managed to create a strange dependency on him. Today it is Valencia that does not function without Parejo, and not the other way around.
“Mestalla will not know how to cope with me”, he told himself. This abstraction from the public judgement has lifted him to a higher level. “Every single bad thing that has happened to me has helped me grow. Now I can deal with anything”, he has declared in public without any reservations. He takes on anything and is not afraid to try again if he failed the first time.
The immature and childish boy who left the stadium crying has been replaced by a hardened and stubborn man. Parejo now plays with a personality, his own, long past the days where every touch of the ball burnt his feet out of fear of the judgement of the stands. He is a captain now, known to rally his team mates during warm up. He allows himself to give the last shout in the tunnel before the match, and far from hiding himself, he is dancing on the green surface, waving his arms, shouting instructions to his team mates. Parejo is a footballer beyond his personality.
With Pizzi, Valencia appeared too small for him. With Nuno, it is La Liga that does not reach him. As demonstrated by Marca recently, the doors to the national team seem closed to him, despite being the Spanish midfielder with the best numbers, as well as being one of the few in Europe to possess such abilities. Maybe, that thing about becoming a prophet in own land could have something to do with it.
His passing with the inside of his foot, shattering the lines of the rival, presents itself as a work of art. But more than his virtues, overlooked, his defects weigh him down heavily. Exaggerated, condemned as he is to live with the penalization of any and every small mistake. He is a victim of what appears, and due to it, a lot of his bad reputation is unfounded.
He is accused of loosing possession too much, but he looses less than Andre Gomes or Feghouli. And only a few more than Javi Fuego (49 versus 59). They say he does not work, but he is one of those in the squad that wins possession most. He is the second when it comes to fouls committed, the most fouled and he is always the one who runs the most per match. And it is so because he is a to-way player; he attacks and defends, runs up and down.
“At this point it is much more difficult for him to progress; the rivals already know him, they man mark him, they block him, and so he is not able to create as before”, says Braulio without being wrong. Parejo is now condemned to gamble, to live surrounded on the pitch, in a team that rarely provide him better options than an individual action. And still, Parejo almost always escapes. No-one seem able to appreciate it.
In the worst moments he faced the wrath of the stands alone. He was blamed already before the match even started. The move to the mid centre loft apartment, a stable relationship, let him enter adulthood and provided him with personal maturity. A reflection of his journey to the centre of the team.
Parejo, one can suspect, is one of those that playing for another team, he would be the one everyone would want you to sign. It is already accepted that despite his numbers, his performance and his abilities, he will never be a legend. That he will probably enter the realm of the forgotten, the very day he hangs up his boots. He knows that this faith weighs his mind. And because of that, one day he decided to distance himself from it. Because deep down, all of us know that if he was any different, we would never forgive that either.
This article was originally published at La Barraca in Spanish as ¿Es Parejo extraterrestre?
(Gracias @desmemoriats por dejarnos traducirlo!)