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The Derby reject outscoring Gareth Bale in Spain and catching Premier League eyes

It took only 14 minutes for Alberto Bueno to score four goals against Levante last Saturday. Fourteen minutes to become the first Rayo Vallecano player in history to find the back of the net four times in one La Liga game. It was the fastest ‘poker’ in the Spanish top flight since Brazilian World Cup-winner Bebeto’s effort in a crazy six minutes for Deportivo against Albacete, some 20 years ago now.

Bueno’s effort was as complete as it was swift, featuring a perfect hat-trick of a headed opener, right-footed second and left-footed third. He followed those with a further right-footed goal for good measure, for four strikes that now make him the top-scoring Spaniard in La Liga.

He may not be a star name, but 12 league goals this season put Bueno level with Champions League-winner Mario Mandzukic in the scoring charts, as well as one place higher than Villarreal’s much-lauded Luciano Vietto. He has also scored two more than the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale.

Not bad for a striker whom Derby County passed on signing back in 2011. That year, the Rams decided against executing an option to buy after Bueno spent the season on loan from Real Valladolid.

In fairness, Nigel Clough’s decision made perfect sense at the time: Bueno started brightly in England, scoring three goals in his first seven Championship appearances, but form soon dried up and only two more strikes followed in his 22 subsequent games.

Back then, few in England would have predicted he would go on to become such a notable fixture of La Liga. To outscore Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Torres and Aritz Aduriz. To win the league’s player of the month prize for February. Then again, Bueno’s career has never been easy to predict. Early appearances among footballing royalty led to major disappointment, and now, finally, resurgence.

Royal background

La Liga’s top Spanish scorers

12 Alberto Bueno (Rayo Vallecano)

9 Aritz Adruiz (Athletic Bilbao)

9 Sergio Garcia (Espanyol) 

8 Dani Parejo (Valencia)

8 Nolito (Celta Vigo)

7 Alvaro Vasquez (Getafe)

6 Juanmi (Malaga)

(up to 5th March)

It all started at Real Madrid, whom he joined at 13. In eight years at the club, Bueno rose quickly through the ranks, playing for the under-19s at age 15 and sharing a forward line with Juan Mata. 

At that time, he kept pace with the Manchester United midfielder, winning the U19 European Championship alongside him and Gerard Piqué in 2006. Bueno scored twice in Spain’s 2-1 final win over Scotland, finishing the tournament as top scorer.

Promoted to Real Madrid’s reserve team Castilla in the Spanish second division, he joined a golden generation of Madrid academy products: besides Mata, Bueno trained and played alongside future stars like Negredo, Fiorentina’s Borja Valero and Valencia’s Dani Parejo. His third season with Castilla suggested there was a genuine chance he could make it at the highest level: 16 goals in 36 games made him their top scorer in 2008/09.

That same year, injury problems for Ruud van Nistelrooy left the Madrid first team in need of bodies up front.

For once, Bernd Schuster looked to the academy, giving Bueno his senior debut in the Copa del Rey against Real Unión Irún in October 2008. A mad month ensued: debuts in both La Liga and the Champions League arrived within three weeks, as did a first senior Madrid goal when he scored a beautiful curling effort from the edge of the area in the second leg of the Copa del Rey tie with Real Unión.

Bye-bye to the Bernabeu

Then Bueno made a big decision. While many clubs would take full advantage of a young talent with his obvious potential, the striker doubted Real Madrid’s commitment to youth.

Given Florentino Pérez was about to usher in a new Galáctico era, the player’s logic was probably sound: abandoning his boyhood club was a risk, but probably less of a risk than staying. They asked him to continue with the first team, and he said no.

Soon, everything would change. Joining Real Valladolid for a club record €3 million in the summer of 2009, he went from kid brother to star man, and things took a turn for the worse.

Bueno couldn’t live up to expectations, scoring only a single goal over the course of the next season and contributing to Valladolid’s dismal third from bottom finish. Relegation meant they couldn’t afford his high salary, forcing the loan to Derby.

Though he wasn’t consistently effective in England, Bueno seemed to connect with the Rams fans, just as they left an impression on him. He speaks fondly of his time in Derby and England in general, explaining recently that “it was great because I needed confidence and Nigel Clough gave me that... I’d love to repeat my experience in England”. Those recent words haven’t gone unnoticed in the Premier League.

Bouncing back 

A return to English shores looked unlikely in the immediate aftermath of Bueno’s spell at Derby. Nobody was tremendously impressed by his seven second-tier goals in his first year back at Valladolid, nor the five in La Liga the following season.

Fact file

Name Alberto Bueno Calvo

Born Madrid, 20 Mar 1988

Height 5ft 10in

Goals and games:

2008-09 Real Madrid (6 games, 1 goal)

2009-13 Real Valladolid (90, 14)

2010-2011 Derby (loan) (29, 5)

2013- Rayo Vallecano (65, 24)

Yet as is so often the case, Bueno found the right environment to maximise his talent with Rayo Vallecano and Paco Jémez. Following the move to Vallecas in 2013 he immediately made a significant improvement in front of goal: his 11 La Liga strikes were vital for a side fighting to stay in the Spanish top flight.

This season has been more profitable still, for both player and club. His current tally of 12 suggests he will significantly top last year’s numbers, his five February strikes earning him the league’s Player of the Month gong.

Unsurprisingly, the four rapid-fire goals against Levante made an impact on the Spanish press, giving Bueno’s name the kind of resonance it once had when he scored that beautiful effort for the Madrid first team. And with his contract up in the summer – Rayo want to keep him on, but their finances are heavily restricted – he has also attracted attention from further afield.

Villarreal are known admirers,while foreign clubs are circling – and allowed to talk terms with him. Wolfsburg and Inter Milan have recently been joined in the running by Southampton. 

Meanwhile, there is talk of a Spain call-up. That may be premature but the longer he maintains his current form, the less fanciful it will sound. Should that happen, it could provide another chance to link up with old friend Mata, who didn’t forget last Saturday to phone Bueno and congratulate him.