On the evening of 25th August, a young man by the name of Leo Baptistao made an instant impact in his first ever La Liga appearance, scoring a second half winner for Rayo Vallecano in a 2-1 victory over Real Betis. However only the most ardent Rayo fan would have been aware of the trials and tribulations which the striker had suffered in the years prior to his starring role in the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Arriving in Madrid at the age of 16, the Brazilian who also holds an Italian passport contracted hepatitis soon afterwards, and returned to his homeland to be treated by his father, who is a doctor. Once fully recovered, his next crisis occurred when the Spanish authorities denied him the necessary paperwork to rejoin the Rayo youth team set up, leaving him in limbo until a loan spell with CD San Fernando eventually resolved the problem.
Leo began the 2011-12 season as part of the first team squad, but broke his collarbone in the pre season Trofeo Vallecas and spent much of the campaign on the sidelines. Homesick and badly affected by the death of his cousin, he admits that there were times when he seriously considered packing his bags and going home. However this summer he was again welcomed into the first team fold, this time by new coach Paco Jemez, and on the eve of his 20th birthday, he announced his arrival on the big stage in memorable fashion.
Since that evening Leo has started two of the next three games, and has doubled his goal tally for the season with a late goal against Atletico Madrid last weekend. There is plenty of competition for places up front at Vallecano, with the experience of Montenegro forward Andrija Delibasic and Piti complemented by the youthful exuberance of fellow ‘cantera’ graduate Lass Bangoura, along with Nicki Bille and Chori Dominguez who have recently arrived from Villarreal and Valencia respectively. However given the strife that Leo has endured to make it to the top, do not expect him to give up his first team place without a fight.