Remember me? How Stoke reject Joselu outshone Kane

He was the stop-gap target intended to be a temporary replacement for Karim Benzema ahead of Kylian Mbappe’s arrival.

But the man once deemed not good enough for Stoke City will now forever go down in Real Madrid folklore.

“Joselu… I don’t think he’ll be sleeping much tonight. He’ll be useless in training tomorrow!” said Real midfielder Jude Bellingham to TNT Sports after the 14-time European champions staged another breathtaking comeback.

“He deserves it all. He has been an amazing member of the squad throughout the whole season and this is his night.”

It is the classic rags-to-riches tale. Two years ago, Joselu was attending the Champions League final in Paris as a fan.

At the start of next month, he will be in their squad – most likely back where he started Wednesday’s pulsating semi-final against Bayern Munich – on Carlo Ancelotti’s bench as Real go in search of a record-extending 15th European Cup.

Joselu is the toast of Madrid after scoring more goals in three minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu than he did in an entire Premier League season at Newcastle United.

Joselu scored twice in three minutes late on to send Real Madrid to the Champions League final
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Joselu has scored five Champions League goals this season, with four of those coming in braces against German teams

Joselu is the 34-year-old striker whose two most recent clubs – Alaves and Espanyol – from whom he is on loan at Madrid – were relegated from LaLiga in the last two seasons prior to the current campaign.

But most will remember Joselu as the Stoke City reject who has now scored more goals in Champions League semi-finals than he managed at the Britannia Stadium.

From Premier League struggles…

Joselu - pictured on the bench next to Bojan - scored just four goals in 22 Premier League appearances for Stoke
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Joselu – pictured on the bench next to Bojan – scored four goals in 22 Premier League appearances for Stoke

At Newcastle, Joselu scored six league goals in two seasons
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At Newcastle, Joselu scored six league goals in two seasons

To the darling of the Santiago Bernabeu…

… while Barcelona papers focus on disallowed goal controversy!

Joselu’s story has been a slow burner for both club and country.

Born in Stuttgart and raised in Galicia, he did not win his first senior cap until March 2023 when two days short of his 33rd birthday – making him the oldest Spain debutant since 2006.

Prior to that was a tortuous struggle via Celta, Real Madrid – he was promoted from the B squad in 2011 but scoring on his LaLiga debut proved a false dawn – Hoffenheim, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hannover before the Premier League beckoned.

Everton fans will recall the time during the 2015/16 season when, trailing 3-2, Mark Hughes summoned Joselu from the bench to equalise and subsequently embrace Mark Clattenburg for awarding a late penalty as Stoke completed a dramatic comeback.

But the highlights reel from his time in the Potteries is rather thin, in part because he was a fringe player in a strong squad that finished ninth in the Premier League. He soon departed in search of more regular first-team football. He was loaned to Deportivo and sold to Newcastle under Rafael Benitez the following season.

On his time at Stoke, Joselu said in a recent interview with The Guardian: “That was a good year: we finished ninth, beat Manchester City and Manchester United and reached the [League] Cup semi-final, only losing on penalties at Anfield. I played with good footballers: [Peter] Crouch, [Marko] Arnautovic, Jonny Walters.”

Real Madrid players celebrate after their teammate Joselu scores his side's second goal
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Joselu is the third player to score a brace as a sub in a semi-final, along with Georginio Wijnaldum in May 2019 (Liverpool vs Barcelona) and Rodrygo in May 2022 (Real Madrid vs Manchester City)

He added: “I loved Jonny Walters. He fought, he was committed, physically he was a beast, he scored over 100 goals. Crouch was an incredible guy. Jude calls me Crouchy now because I’m a tall striker who likes a cross. Others followed Jude and it’s stuck. But he’s 2m tall, I’m only 1.92m. Crouch was very funny and helped me a lot. Boy, I had good times with him.”

Madrid needed a hero – and the most unlikely source answered their SOS call as Joselu made the most of a Manuel Neuer mistake to tap in the leveller after 88 minutes. Three minutes later he steered in a second, which was originally disallowed before it was given after VAR intervened.

While the spotlight has been on Thomas Tuchel for his decision to replace Harry Kane in the 85th minute with another former Stoke striker in Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Ancelotti was able to toast another special Champions League night for the club after his decision to send on Joselu paid off.

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Thomas Tuchel reveals why he controversially substituted Harry Kane in the 85th minute before Real Madrid scored twice to reach the Champions League final

“It happened again, here. It is quite useful at the Bernabeu with our supporters that we can do something that is unexpectable,” reflected Ancelotti, who would have wanted Kane as a like-for-like replacement for Benzema.

“Joselu did a fantastic job. He is a fantastic striker and we could use more the width to put crosses in and we did really well. We had a lot of energy at the end of the game.

“Unbelievable [mentality] and I am really grateful to the players because they work really hard, they build a fantastic atmosphere. They are really humble, really generous and I think it is the best squad I ever had in my career.”

A club of so-called galacticos will be further garnished next season with the likely arrival of Mbappe. Brazilian wonderkid Endrick will also be making the switch to the Spanish capital.

Joselu
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Joselu is the talk of the town after his late heroics

But this is Joselu’s moment in the sun. A 2018 tweet from a Newcastle journalist that ‘Joselu has just hit the corner flag with a shot from 20 yards’ was seized upon and reposted furiously after Wednesday’s Champions League heroics.

His career appeared to be winding down at Alaves and Espanyol but Real returned in June 2023 to announce a loan deal, with an option to buy at the end of the season.

Former Stoke team-mate Shay Given described it as “almost like a Roy of the Rovers story”, even if Real fans expecting the arrival of World Cup winner Mbappe from PSG were perplexed.

Manuel Neuer's mistake allowed Joselu to equalise
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Joselu was signed by Real Madrid on loan with an €1.5m buy option and has now scored 17 goals this season

Yet the gamble has paid off with Joselu being in the right place at the right time on 17 occasions this season. He has scored for Spain, won LaLiga – his first major club trophy – and now has European football’s biggest prize in sight.

He couldn’t quite do it on a ‘cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke’, but the Spaniard born in Germany will always have the night when he inked one of the great Champions League comebacks in living memory.

Former colleagues from Newcastle and Stoke attended his wedding – and they will now be tuning into the biggest game in European football at Wembley hoping there is one final chapter in Joselu’s Real Madrid fairytale.

Bellingham hails Real Madrid’s desire to seal Champions League final berth

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Football writer and broadcaster Henry Winter and The Times’ Martin Hardy praise Jude Bellingham after Real Madrid reached the Champions League final at Wembley

Bellingham hailed Real Madrid’s never-say-die attitude and insisted he felt no nerves after a dream night where they produced a trademark late show to down Bayern Munich and reach another Champions League final.

It could have been a different story at the Santiago Bernabeu where Madrid’s 13-month unbeaten home record was in serious danger after Alphonso Davies fired the visitors ahead in the 68th minute.

Carlo Ancelotti remained composed and so did his team with substitute Joselu able to level two minutes from time before the same man steered home in the first minute of stoppage time to complete a dramatic 2-1 victory.

Bayern were left furious deep into stoppage time when Matthijs de Ligt had an effort ruled out for offside after the whistle had been blown before the ball ended up in the net, but the carnival atmosphere in Madrid was already in full swing and they will now target a 15th European Cup title to go with the LaLiga crown clinched a matter of days ago.

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Bayern Munich boss Tuchel says the decision to disallow a late goal for his side was against every rule of modern football

“We have seen it a lot of times this season where it looks like we’re dead and buried. It doesn’t matter who scores the goal because someone always manages it. That mentality of never-say-die,” Bellingham told TNT Sports.

“They [the fans] are unbelievable. They are the best in the world by far.

“Coming here, there is a reason why we turn so many games or why when we’re down in certain legs that we always manage to come back in the second leg. It is because of these lot. They give you an energy that you can’t get from anything else.

“You come here and that is all they talk about. They talk about how you’ve had the 14th, but how they want the 15th. The lads said it was the same when we won the 10th, all they asked for was the 11th, but that is why I love being here because you can never be settled.”

Bellingham produced an all-action display for Madrid and was able to get the better of fellow Englishman Harry Kane on Wednesday night.

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Football writer and broadcaster Henry Winter and The Times’ Martin Hardy discuss Thomas Tuchel’s decision to substitute Harry Kane

It means a reunion with old club Borussia Dortmund in the final at Wembley on June 1.

Asked if he felt any nerves as the seconds ticked away with Madrid behind, Bellingham insisted: “Not really. I really would want to say I do, but in the changing room, I was looking around and I just thought I couldn’t be in a better position with better people.

“Where else would I rather be? I was seven at Birmingham, dreaming of nights like this. To then get here and want to be somewhere else doesn’t make any sense to me. Yeah, I am just so happy to be here and part of this night.

“At Wembley, against Dortmund, it is a weird one. I can’t believe it. I am so looking forward to it, the atmosphere, the game itself. A Champions League final, man.”

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