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From La Masia to looking for a club: The strange tale of Iago Falque

5:00 PM MYT 11/12/2021
Iago Falque Torino
S.D. Compostela were delighted the ex-Real Madrid and Barcelona trainee was among their numbers but why is he currently without a club?

The excitement in the tweet was palpable, the social media manager of Spanish fourth division side S.D. Compostela packing in photos and exclaimation marks for the latest update from first team training.

It reads: "New session of ours to prepare the derby against Arosa SC!!! A session in which Iago Falque was also present!!!"

The sheer delight is evident that a local hero, a son of Galicia who left to play for some of Europe's biggest clubs, returned home to his local side to keep his fitness up while searching for a new team in January.

Yet for Falque, once on the academy books of both Real Madrid and Barcelona, signed by Juventus and Tottenham among others during his career, it represents the lowest point so far in the fall of a former wonderkid.

Now 31, much was hoped of Falque as a teenager, and he has had a more than respectable and, at times, very succesful career at the top level of European football – yet through poor moves, bad luck and over-inflated expectations, he has not hit the heights which at one time seemed to be his trajectory.

After joining Real Madrid aged 10, he transfered to Barcelona a year later and learned his football craft at La Masia. He did not crack the professional squads, however, and was instead signed by Juve from Barca in 2008.

Falque signed a four-year contract in Turin, and Juve could have paid up to €2.5 million (£2.1m/$2.8m) in compensation should he have met goals and games tragets, but he never made a first team appearance for the Old Lady.

In August 2011, Falque was instead sent on loan to Spurs, whose manager Harry Redknapp made the move permanent in a €1m (£850,000/$1.1m) deal the following January.

There was great anticipation ahead of that loan move, with hope that Spurs may have got the next big thing out of La Masia, even if he had not broken through there or at Juve.

"Iago loves big challenges and this with Spurs is very important," the player's agent and father Iago Falque Snr told Sky Sports at the time. "It will be hard, but he will fight for his place."

To learn the English game, Falque was sent on loan to Southampton in the Championship immediately, but after the Saints suffered a 0-2 home defeat to Leicester on his debut, he never played for them again.

Falque returned to Tottenham, where he made his only Premier League appearance in December 2012 – a five-minute substitute showing in a 2-1 loss to Everton.

He was the stereotype of a young European player who was not suited to English football, a skilled technician with excellent close control, confidence in his dribbling and a first touch to make you gasp.

Often deployed on the right wing but keen to cut inside on his favoured left foot to create shooting chances, comparisons to Lionel Messi are more apt than the usual lazy Barcelona-based pairings.

Yet there was also indecisiveness, a regular habit of dribbling down blind alleys and failing to pick the right pass, guaranteeing that he would frustrate impatient fans and managers.

He did impress when trusted by coaches – such as later on loan at Rayo Vallecano in La Liga and in his one year with Genoa – however, often managers working under constant pressure would not indulge such a mercurial talent.

Certainly, Falque did not enjoy his time in England at all, admitting in a 2018 interview that it had all been too much, too young.

"Maybe the move to Tottenham, it was not a wise decision on my part," he said. "It was the only step back in my career.

"In the end, bad experiences also help you to grow, to mature. It was the momentum in my career that made me sign and the competition was very hard."

Subsequently, he was sent back to Spain on loans to Almeria and Rayo over the course of 18 months, before a permanent return to Italy with Genoa in 2014, where, at 25, he finally found form and regular football.

Playing under Gian Piero Gasperini – who has since gone on to turn Atalanta into a Champions League force – he was played on the right wing of a 3-4-3, and started to look like the wonderkid so many expected.

He netted 13 goals in 32 Serie A matches, helping Genoa to sixth place, although a UEFA licence issue prevented them qualifying for Europe. Spurs at first appeared to have got a good deal by flogging him for €5m (£4.3m/$5.6m) – Genoa soon looked to have snatched a bargain.

Finally showing his potential, he had another shot at the top with Roma as he moved on in search of European competition, but after one underwhelming season was loaned to Torino for the 2016-17 campaign, making the deal permanent at the end of the campaign.

Falque was again found wanting when among the best of the game – his nadir came in a 6-1 Champions League group stage defeat to Barcelona, where he completed barely half his passes to hinder rather than help the team's cause.

Falque initially found form again at Torino, but gradually faded from the first-team picture, and after underwhelming loan spells first back at Genoa then with Benevento, he was released in the summer and is still without a full-time contract.

Instead, after nearly six months idle, he has been training with Compostela, a club that plays in Group I of Segunda Division, the Spanish fourth tier.

It is hard to call Falque a failure, given he has played 177 games in the Italian top flight to date and scored some excellent goals.

But with such innate talent and having been chanced by so many of Europe's top clubs, there is a sense he could have produced so much more so far.

You can check in on more of GOAL's Forgotten Men here.