Dreams, more often than not, are not fulfilled. They are longings that are pursued without a happy ending. Fortunately, the chosen ones do manage to mix dreams with reality.
One of those is Fede Valverde, Real Madrid‘s powerful midfielder, who is once again showing his best side, and what makes him a footballer who is feared and admired in equal measure.
As a boy of no more than 12 years old, one cold morning in Montevideo, Uruguay, he woke up, somewhere between frightened and euphoric. He ran to his parents and told them that he had dreamt that everyone in a big stadium was applauding him.
The problem came when he told his parents that he was wearing white. It couldn’t be. His and his parents’ team wore yellow and black, and the rival team wore white. One, Penarol. The other, Nacional, the enemy.
They let it be. After all, it had been the dream of a child who spent his days playing football, and to a certain extent it was logical to assume a mistake in the retelling of the dream.
The surprise came when the story was repeated a few days later and at that moment, the current Real Madrid player realised that the scene was not described in his native Uruguay.
The stadium was even bigger. He and his teammates were still dressed in white and the whole stadium was cheering his name: ‘Fede, Fede, Fede’, but with a strange accent. So much so that he told his mother that they were not Uruguayan. Is there a team who wear white and whose fans speak Spanish, but a little differently?
Fede continued to do his thing. He played football, football and more football. He was building his body, his head, beginning to attract the attention of so many teams, but the family did not quite believe everything that was said. Real Madrid saw him and made a move.
After the first meeting was with the family, his mother couldn’t quite get her head around what was happening. She didn’t believe it.
Juni Calafat went to Montevideo to get a signature and the necessary assurance of being able to count on one of the most exciting young players in South American football.
The first thing the mother did in that meeting with Juni Calafat was to ask if he really represented Real Madrid. When she found out that he did, she burst into tears, excited about the path her son Federico was about to embark on months later.
The dream was getting closer to becoming a reality. The first step had already been taken.
The next came when, still a 17-year-old boy, he travelled to Madrid to sign the contract and begin to get to know what was to be his home.
At first, there were no plans to do anything because he was just another youth player arriving at the club’s academy. However, Juan Pedro Damiani, the then-president of Penarol, turned up in Madrid and did not want to miss this special moment.
When Florentino Perez found out about the presence of his Uruguayan counterpart, he wanted to make the event a little more official.
“One day he was at my house, with his mother,” Juan Pedro Damiani remembered in a chat with MARCA. “My son, who was nine years old, was there too.
“‘He will play in one of the best teams in the world, he will be an important player and he will be in the most important matches there are’. His mother didn’t believe it. But there he is.
“He was a great kid, humble and a different player. He was one of the many players who came out of Penarol‘s youth academy. During my time there we built a training centre that continues to bear fruit,” said the former president, who did not want to leave Valverde alone at the time of signing.
The problem came when Valverde didn’t even have a shirt, let alone a jacket with which to avoid breaking the protocol of the event.
Armani? Dolce Gabanna? No, the agent and player hurried to Zara so that the then-shy Valverde wouldn’t embarrass himself.
“Real Madrid have an advantage and that is Juni Calafat,” Damiani said.
“He knows how to spot young talent like very few others.
“He is an absolute guarantee. He knew that when he came for Valverde, he was right on the money.”
A dream come true
Since finding his best form, Valverde has become a permanent fixture in Carlo Ancelotti‘s Real Madrid XI and has produced displays such as the one against Levante, showing power, strength and a very modern style of football.
Only goals have been missing, but despite this the crowd chanted ‘Fede, Fede and Fede’, just like in his dream.
But he knows that the toughest work is yet to come. On Thursday he hit the woodwork three times, but the belief is clear that “the goal will come in the final in Paris”.