José Callejón has spent his entire footballing career playing at the highest level, lining up alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaká and Gonzalo Higuaín. The 33-year-old has made over 400 combined appearances for two of the biggest clubs on the continent and won senior caps for his country. However, it’s his brother, Juan Miguel ‘Juanmi’ Callejón, largely absent from European football, who is perhaps more widely worshipped.
The Callejón brothers – twins, in fact – grew up in the industrial town of Motril, near Granada in Andalusia, Spain. Such area is renowned for its production of sugar canes, rather than professional footballers. José and Juanmi’s father, though, dreamed that his sons would be paid to play football one day.
Both youngsters were spotted by local club Costa Tropical while playing a school match. “From the start, I noticed the speed and goal-scoring of José. Juanmi was more technical,” Rafael Salguero, the coordinator at Costa Tropical, told Marca some years later. At the age of 15, the two midfielders were attracting interest from much further up the food chain.
Barcelona came in with an attempt to scoop both brothers up and take them to La Masia, but their hearts led them to the capital. Real Madrid seduced them with the promise of playing in La Fábrica, the most efficient academy in Spain and perhaps on the planet. It wasn’t easy to bid Motril goodbye, though.
“It’s tough seeing your children leave at 15, for sure,” father José María admitted to Marca. “You lose all your teenage years, so it’s difficult.” The boys were visited by their parents at weekends. During their six years in the academy, José María racked up 400,000km in mileage driving up and down the motorways to and from Madrid.
It was by no means a race between the two siblings, but Juanmi was the one who reached the Castilla rung of the ladder first, making his professional debut for Madrid’s B team a couple of months before José. At the end of that season, Castilla were relegated to the Segunda B División, Spain’s regional third tier.
José’s attacking instincts really shone through the following campaign, netting 21 goals in 37 league games for Castilla. Juanmi, meanwhile, continued to learn his trade alongside Dani Parejo in midfield. It was that summer, of 2008, when, for the first time in their lives, their paths split. Both brothers left Real Madrid for other top-flight clubs, with José signing for Espanyol and Juanmi for Mallorca.
When the two sides met for the second time that season in Barcelona the following March, fortunes had veered in opposite directions in the Callejón family. Jose was impressing in LaLiga and scored his first Espanyol goal against Mallorca in a 3-3 draw, with Juanmi watching from the bench, waiting for his first league appearance since September.
The arrival of Mauricio Pochettino to Cornellà did wonders for José’s game, as he nailed down a starting place under the Argentine coach for the next couple of campaigns. Juanmi meanwhile left Son Moix in search of first-team football, spending a spell on loan at Albacete before joining Córdoba on a permanent deal.
In the summer of 2011, when Juamni was arriving at relegated Hércules, Jose returned to Madrid, with Los Blancos convinced he could still belong at the Santiago Bernabéu. Under José Mourinho’s wing, he enjoyed two years among the elite, playing in the Champions League and winning a LaLiga title.
When Napoli emerged on the scene in the summer of 2013, though, he was weighing up his options again. Yet to receive a senior Spain call-up, José was pushing for a place in the World Cup squad. The opportunity of more regular game time, whilst remaining in European competition, was too attractive to turn down.
By the time José landed in Italy, Juanmi had already left Spanish shores. After six months in Greece with Levadiakos, the 26-year-old made the bold step of not just changing country again, but continent too. Bolívar, the most supported club in Bolivia, offered Juanmi the platform on which he could revive his career. It was there, at the Estadio Hernando Siles, the vast bowl of a stadium etched into the rocky landscape of La Paz, where Juanmi finally found his calling.
Even though he wasn’t an out-and-out forward, nor had he ever possessed much poise in front of goal, the Spaniard endeared himself to the Bolívar faithful with a truckload of goals. He would finish as top scorer in the Bolivian Primera División for two seasons in a row, firing Bolívar to title after title after title. There was even talk of Juanmi acquiring Bolivian citizenship in order to play for the national team, such was the reach of his reputation in the South American country.
In the meantime, as Juanmi rose to deity-like status across the Atlantic, José was becoming a favourite in Naples. He’d missed out on the flight to Brazil with Vicente del Bosque and co, but was selected to represent Spain in the November internationals later that year.
By then, he was a Coppa Italia champion under Rafa Benítez, playing the full 90 minutes in the final against Fiorentina. A prized asset at the Stadio San Paolo for his cracking combination of quality on the ball and work rate off it, José had also settled in at a club he could call home.
Juanmi found the pull of La Paz too strong to resist once he’d bidden farewell to Bolívar to move to Saudi Arabia. During his second stint in the Bolivian capital, he reached and comfortably surpassed the milestone of 100 goals in the Primera División, as well as securing another Apertura in what was his final act for El Más Grande.
Now back in Andalusia with Marbella, the 33-year-old Juanmi can look back at his achievements in Bolivia with great fondness and pride; even if José experienced the more usual career for a Real Madrid academy graduate.
By Billy Munday @billymunday08