Manuel Agudo Durán - known to us by his nickname, Nolito - is considered the #1 transfer target of arguably the best team in the world, Barcelona. He's shining for his current club, Celta Vigo, and is said to be on the verge of becoming part of Spain's squad in the upcoming European Championships.
But the world wasn't always so rosy for Nolito, a late bloomer and a fighter.
He was born in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz, a town in the south of Spain. His biological mother could not raise him, as she was in prison. Instead, his grandparents were the ones who provided for him. When he speaks of his parents, he also means his grandparents, Dolores and Manuel. Nolito dedicates all his goals to his grandfather, who passed away in 2008.
His family was far from rich, but Nolito was grateful they provided him with food and clothes. Nolito enjoyed playing on the street and still brings that streetwise sensibility to his game. As a left winger, he brings tricky dribbling, an eye for goal, and increasingly improved passing as Barcelona found this season when he scored once and provided two assist in a 1-4 loss to Celta.
Nolito began his career in the youth system of UD Algaida de Sanlúcar, a club in his hometown which no longer exists. Afterwards, he joined Atlético Sanluqueño, followed by a move to CD Mestalla (part of Valencia CF), and then Écija Balompié, a tiny Seville club in which he would start making his breakthrough.
During his two seasons at Écija, he started to shine. Remarkably, he got a goal against Real Madrid in a Copa del Rey match. Los Galacticos got the first goal via Antonio Cassano, but the team boasting the likes of the original Ronaldo and David Beckham in the lineup were in for a shock. In the 81st minute, young Nolito, brought in as a substitute, smacked on the volley past Diego Lopez. Écija would earn themselves an improbable draw. While Madrid would win the return leg easily, 5-1, the draw still ranks as an achievement.
His performances caught the eye of the Blaugrana, and in 2008 he joined Barcelona B, aged 22. Under Luis Enrique, Nolito began to become a serious professional.
"He made me see I could live from football," Nolito mused about his former, and perhaps future, boss. "He told me I was good, but I had to believe in myself and be mindful of things like nutrition. At that stage, I was either going to go up or go down. He was key."
Nolito got his first-team debut under Pep Guardiola, and he got his first goal for Los Cules in the Copa del Rey against Club Atlético de Ceuta.
In 2011, with opportunities few and far in between, the player left to join SL Benfica on a free transfer. He enjoyed a good first season in Portugal, scoring 15 goals. But his second season saw him playing markedly less, at which point he decided to return to Spain.
Granada made a move, and got him on loan for the remainder of the 2012-13 season. He scored 3 goals as Granada avoided the drop. Nolito memorably took a corner kick that Cristiano Ronaldo deflected into his own net to give Granada a 1-0 win over Madrid, with the Andalusians amazingly failing to register a single shot on goal. It was Granada's first win over Real Madrid in 40 years.
Celta snapped up the attacker in the summer, reuniting him with Luis Enrique. Nolito has only fond memories of the coach and his physical trainer Rafa Pol, both currently with Barcelona. He credits both for teaching him not just how to press but when to press, and how to make every movement count.
Nolito's first season at Celta was a success, as he netted 12 goals and notched 2 assists in the league. He finished as Celta's top scorer for the year as the team ended the season an impressive 9th, having finished just a point off relegation the season before.
Lucho left to manage Barcelona, where he won a famous treble last season. Nolito improved on his first season, this time scoring 13 goals and dishing 13 assists in the league, and his team did one better than the year before, finishing 8th.
This term, Nolito has gotten 8 goals and 5 assists in La Liga while Celta are a mere 6 points from the Champions League spots.
Will Nolito join his former club and his former boss? It's hard to say, but both Luis Enrique and Nolito are seemingly dead set on making it happen. And I think we all can see why.