2015-16 marks the return of Las Palmas to La Liga, 13 years after they had last been in Spain’s first division.
While Las Palmas’s history might look modest when it comes to trophies – though they were very, very close to winning the league all the way back in 1969 – the club from the Canary Islands has always had a sort of special mystique surrounding it and their return to the top flight of Spanish football has been met with approval from most.
It wasn’t by any means an easy promotion; in a playoff played in June with a place in La Liga at stake, Las Palmas lost 3-1 at Saragoza before mounting a comeback at home with a 2-0 win, in a match that had an undescribably emotional finish, with Las Palmas scoring the winner 5 minutes before the final whistle. In their return to La Liga, Las Palmas have some very promising young Spanish players in their roster and the 23 year old Argentine Sergio Araujo, who was the hero for Las Palmas last season and who has attracted interest from some big clubs in Europe.
With that said, Las Palmas’s return to La Liga is also a farewell tour for one of the most beloved Spanish players of the past two decades: Juan Carlos Valeron. The 40yo Spaniard is widely regarded as one of the most talented playmakers of the XXI century and he’s a pretty consensual players too, with his peers and rivals fans having nothing but praise for him. The very warm reception and applause he got at the Vicente Calderon last week isn’t completely unrelated to the fact that Valeron once played for Atlético, from 1998 to 2000, but you can fully expect him to have a similar reception in every stadium he plays during his farewell tour.
Valeron’s career has been plagued by some underappreciation – from the public, not his peers, with even the likes of Iniesta and Zidane praising him to no end – and especially by the knee injury in early 2006 that sidelined him for over 3 years and pretty much ended his career as a top level player. Also, a lot like Las Palmas, his career hasn’t been decorated with trophies, the 2002 Copa del Rey (with Deportivo) being the biggest trophy he’s ever won. Despite that, he will still be remembered as a great player who brought much joy to footbal fans over the years; perhaps fittingly, his last campaign in La Liga won’t be with the Deportivo jersey he wore for most of his career, but representing his hometown club Las Palmas.
At 40, Valeron is far past his physical prime, but he still has a lot to give; he’s a player who’s always relied on his technical skills, perfect ball control and amazing vision and those still remain brilliant. You can fully count on a season filled with magical moments from El Flaco, who, a lot like Iniesta after he scored the World Cup winning goal for Spain, will receive admiration and applause everywhere he goes.