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Off-the-radar: The Szymanowski siblings - united in struggle

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Sarthak Kumar narrates a story of struggle - the struggle of two siblings to reach the top of their profession.

Alex Caparros/Getty Images
In light of Barcelona women's fixture today against Valencia, this is the story of Valencia striker Marianela Szymanowski and her brother Alexander.



For almost three years, Guadarrama was the battlefront of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid. The town was completely destroyed - and therefore completely rebuilt into a tourist resort. An artificial town with all signs of history removed.

Their dad’s pizzeria in Buenos Aires was held up at gun-point. Having to rebuild their lives, 12-year-old Alexander and 10-year-old Marianela, along with their parents and their other 9-year-old sister Melani, came to this town in northwestern Madrid to start anew.




Alexander had been playing for the youth team of Ferro Carril Oeste from the age of 10 in Buenos Aires before moving to Spain. Located in a small barrio of Buenos Aires called Caballito, a humble, working-class district, the club was formed by workers of the Buenos Aires Western Railway, and the club still, at least in spirit, belongs to the railway workers.

His first months in Spain were spent on trial at Real Madrid - but four months later he was released. His subsequent journey in Spanish football would be characterized by instability. As far as his youth career is concerned, he played for the cadets of Atlético Madrid, and the juvenils of Unión Adarve, Rayo Majadahonda, Leones de Castilla and Alcobendas.

After finishing his final juvenil year at Alcobendas, he made his senior debut in the Segunda B at nearby San Sebastián de los Reyes in the 2007–08 campaign, suffering relegation from the division into the Tercera. He continued at the club for another season and subsequently joined Antequera in the Tercera for the 2009-10 season.

Scoring six goals in his 34 appearances, his performances earned him a move back to SS Reyes - a move that was to be the start of a rapid rise in the Spanish football pyramid. He helped the club to promotion in 2010-11, which earned him a move to Segunda B club Alcalá. It also earned him a reprieve from having to work a second job - he had worked in a sports shop, as a delivery boy, as an unqualified lifeguard and as a waiter while playing in the Tercera.

His 11 goals in 38 games earned him another rise - this time to Segunda club Recreativo. His first professional season ended with another 10 goals in 38 games, narrowly saving the club from relegation.

In 2013, Alex, who was nearing the age of 25, moved to Denmark, signing a loan deal with Brøndby. Good performances in the first six months meant that, in January 2014, the club activated the buyout clause in Alexander's contract; however, he was released in July 2015 - a year before his contract was set to expire. He returned to Spain and to Madrid, signing for second-tier club Leganés.

The rest, as they say, is history.

12 goals in his first season propelled the club to its first ever La Liga season, and he isn't too shabby in the top tier of Spanish football either.

It's easy to forget that Alex never expected to even make it in professional football. There were times when he was in the Tercera and his dream was to make a decent living from football, and nothing more.

It was Marianela who, in his words, had "blind faith" in his ability.



Marianela's experience in Spain was no easy ride either.

Even though she began playing football at the age of 11, she wanted to be a playwright - it was only at the age of 16 that she seriously considered football as a career. She played with the small Madrid suburban club Rayo Ciudad Alcobendas CF from ages 11 to 18. She then moved to Atlético Madrid aged 19, where she debuted in the Primera División and in the Champions League with the club. Two years later, she joined three-time-champions Rayo Vallecano, whose board had slashed the budget of the team. Essentially, Rayo were no longer league contenders.

But that wasn't the only reason.

On 11th August, 2011, Rayo were playing Peamount United in the Champions League, and Marianela came on for Pilar Villalba in the 81st minute. It was her debut for Rayo - a proud moment.

A moment that was about to go horribly wrong.

A routine kick to the knee, a knee that already had an external meniscus removed and was swollen with fluid, damaged the whole joint and meant that star-signing Marianela was out of the game for more than two-and-a-half years.

At that time, Marianela moved in with Alex - she could not walk or stand for more than half an hour at a time. The pain was unbearable at times - it prevented her from concentrating on even simple things like reading or studying, which meant she had to halt her studies. Two operations later, six out of eight doctors told her there was no way she would return to playing football.

She would go on to make her Rayo return in December 2013, and even went one step further - she played for Argentina in the 2014 Copa América Femenina, finishing fourth. She is now at Valencia, having joined from Rayo in 2016.

An inspiring journey, which - considering that she turns just 27 next month - isn't set to end anytime soon.



Guadaramma might have all signs of history removed, but the Szymanowski family haven't forgotten their roots. They still speak in an Argentinean accent.

And, like the barrio they come from, the once-poor family have worked hard to reach the top of their profession.

Together.