“He is one of the most promising centre-backs in European football,” a Villarreal statement read in June of 2017, proudly proclaiming the signing of Rúben Semedo from Sporting CP. “He is a defender with lots of promise, who has a strong physicality, who is quick at cutting the ball out and who is strong in the air.” One year later on, though, and Semedo’s career and entire life is in need of a reboot.
The Portuguese’s time at Villarreal did not go at all as expected. First, there were the poor performances which saw the €14m man dropped when Javi Calleja took over as coach in late September. Then there were the injuries which required surgery in December. But, most shockingly and most famously, there was the off-the-field trouble. Lots of it.
It was reported in November of 2017 that he’d taken out a gun at a Valencia nightclub and he was subsequently questioned by police, before being released after no weapon could be found. Then, in January of 2018, another unsavoury report surfaced, this time claiming that Semedo had smashed a glass bottle on the head of a young man, again after a night in a club.
But the worst was yet to come. On February 20th, of this year, the player was taken into police custody after it was alleged that he’d been part of a group that assaulted a man, kidnapped him, fired shots towards him as a scare tactic, tied him up, stole his keys and then went to raid his house. Initially denied bail, he spent a total of 142 days in Picassent Prison, just outside Valencia, before he was eventually released on bail on July 13th. He now awaits trial on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery, while told he cannot leave the country or go within 300m of the alleged victim, while he must also check in with the courts once per week.
He’ll await that trial at SD Huesca. Amazingly, Semedo signed for a new team within a week of release, joining the newly promoted LaLiga side on a one-year loan on July 19th.
For Huesca, giving him a second chance was a major risk and a decision which attracted criticism and ridicule – as a look at the replies to their announcement tweet of the signing shows. The sporting director Emilio Vega’s claim that Semedo is in good shape physically because he played some matches while in prison didn’t help either. It’s a move will be seen as opportunistic by some outside Spain and as desperate by those who know the scarce resources Spain’s smallest clubs have to work with. But whatever Huesca’s reasoning, it has been a bold decision to offer Semedo a second chance in LaLiga.
Semedo must, then, seize this opportunity, grasping it with both hands and working hard to restore as much of his reputation as possible. Following a truly chaotic year, over one third of which he spent behind bars, the 24-year-old’s primary mission has to be to get his career and his life back on track.
In Huesca, this might be possible. At the 5,500-capacity Estadio El Alcoraz, he’ll be somewhat out of the spotlight, while the day-to-day temptations will be fewer and further between, unlike in Valencia, where he lived during his time at Villarreal. Huesca is a tranquil city of just over 50,000 people in the off-the-radar autonomous community of Aragon, the Spanish region with the second lowest population density. The region also has one of the largest elderly populations. It’s safe to say that Huesca is not known for its nightclubs.
This has to be a positive for Semedo as he seeks to focus on football and on football alone. Just as he himself admitted that it was a positive experience to go to Reus on loan in the 2014/15 season and to “get away from the environment and bad influences” of Lisbon, this move into another small Spanish town will surely help. If Netflix were to commission a LaLiga version of their famous ‘Last Chance U’ series then then Huesca would probably be their Scooba, Mississippi, and the club knows this. “This club and this city will be good for him, as this is a tranquil place and an extremely welcoming place,” sporting director Vega told Cadena SER. “It’ll be like a family for him here and this will allow him to perform to his highest level.” Interestingly, Vega also confirmed that Huesca will not be monitoring Semedo’s off-the-field behaviour, meaning he’ll have to take responsibility for himself from the off. There won’t be any stabilisers as he readjusts to normal life.
“I am very happy to be here in Huesca,” he said at his introductory press conference, at which questions about his legal situation were forbidden. “I was very keen to play again and Huesca have given me an opportunity to do so in the first division. I didn’t hesitate to accept their offer. I thank the club for this opportunity they are giving me to prove what I can do best, which is play football. I am really excited to try to help Huesca achieve their goals.”
In a purely sporting sense, this move to the Estadio El Alcoraz makes sense too. It has to be kept in mind that even before his troubles with the law in the 2017/18 season he hadn’t been playing well when in action for Villarreal. A series of errors saw him lose confidence quickly, but a defensive-focussed set-up at Huesca should be optimal for helping the centre-back to unlock the talent that saw him become such a highly rated prospect in the first place. The fact that Leo Franco, the new coach at Huesca, is a former goalkeeper should lead to sensible and detailed organisation of the centre-backs and the entire back line, even if there are doubts about the inexperienced Franco’s abilities to mould a functioning attack. Semedo will also be very much aware that he isn’t a guaranteed starter, with Jorge Pulido expected to be one of the starting centre-backs and with Semedo and fellow new arrival Pablo Insua to battle for the other spot. This internal competition could be healthy for Semedo, who’ll know never to take his minutes for granted.
From what he has said so far on this new chapter and second chance, it seems that Semedo is aware of how lucky he is to still be able to call himself a LaLiga player. He is also aware of what he can bring to Huesca and of how this could become the most unlikeliest of happy marriages if he returns to top form. “I am a strong defender, who is quick and who is good in the air,” he stated, with just enough confidence, on his first day. Whatever happens when Semedo’s trial comes around, at least for now the focus is partly back on his football.