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REAL MADRID

The CE Premià scout who discovered Madrid's Mariano

The Real Madrid forward's grandad played for CE Europa and Sabadell. His father also played football but had more success as a bodybuilder.

Things might have worked out very differently for Mariano Díaz Mejía if he had not accidentally crossed paths 19 years ago with Enrique Pimpinela Francés - a coach at Catalán outfit Club Esportiu Premià, then acclimatising to life in Spain's Third Division. Pimpinela was watching a youth team match at Barcelona's La Salle but his eyes were diverted from the field to four-year-old toddler kicking a ball about with his grandad on the sidelines. "What your grandson is doing with that ball is not normal for a kid his age", Pimpinela told the adult, who he knew, and was also named Mariano. "Please, do me a favour, bring him over to our club, Premià on Monday”. Mariano Senior agreed on the condition that the kid's elder brother, Edu Marcel could also come along.

Mariano Senior had been a footballer himself, on the books CE Europa and Sabadell. And had clearly passed on some of his football chromosomes to his grandson. Pimpinela recalled playing against him: "You'd jump to contest a high ball with him and always end up on the floor". His son, the father of Real Madrid's No.18, Pocholo as he is known locally (his real name is also Mariano) also played football, although he enjoyed more success in one of his other hobbies - bodybuilding. Now he runs a gym in Premià, a small town just north of Barcelona. Mariano's mother Mariana, a Dominican with duel nationality, completes the clan.

Mariano's formative years were spent playing with CE Premià. “He was with us until he was eight. Right from when he was little he had a keen eye for goal - I'm not kidding. Then Espanyol signed him. He appeared in the Under-12s Futbol 7 tournament organized by Canal+, but struggled in his second year as he came up against boys who were taller than him. I think they let him go because he was too short. He returned to CE Premià  for a couple of seasons (2006-08)”, Pimpinela explained. Now he was in the Under-16 category, he moved on to the Fundación Sánchez-Llibre (2008-09) and then Badalona (2009-11), where he made his Segunda B debut. That was when Real Madrid beat Barcelona to his signature. 

Mariano arrived at La Fábrica in 2011 and was enlisted into the Under-19s, first under Tristán Celador then Luis Ramis. But at first, it was fellow striker Raúl De Tomás (who is currently at Valladolid) who was grabbing much of the limelight during those first two seasons. It wasn't until the 2013-14 campaign when Mariano started to make a name for himself: 16 goals for the reserves. “He advanced one step at a time. Step by step - not like, say, Raúl who exploded onto the scene aged 17. He reminded me a lot of Carlos Bacca”, José Aurelio Gay, who coached Mariano for a season with Real Madrid C. The teenager received offer from Second tier sides, but preferred to make the leap with Zidane's Castilla in 2014-15, despite the fact that De Tomás, [José Juan] Narváez and Eero Markkanen blocked his way into the side. His time finally arrived last term when he smashed 26 goals. Zidane mediated in his contract renewal negotiations and bnow he is a member of the first team squad and waiting for his chance...