Vitolo's boundless energy something to behold for Sevilla, Spain
As Sevilla are preparing to visit Camp Nou on Wednesday evening, Vitolo doesn't hide his aspirations to call the legendary stadium his home in the near future. Responding to recent reports regarding the Catalans' interest in his services, the star remarked: "Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world, and any player would like to play for them."
It is easy to see why Barca are keen to make Vitolo one of their key targets come summer, because in the last year he has proved his abilities beyond doubt for the national team. He has become the ultimate first-choice player, starting all five of Spain's 2018 World Cup qualifiers so far and scoring four times, making him La Roja's joint top scorer in the competition alongside Diego Costa.
It wasn't only the minnows from Liechtenstein, Macedonia and Israel that suffered from his strikes -- Vitolo was also on target in the all-important 1-1 draw against Italy in Turin on Oct. 6, which currently gives Spain the upper hand in the fight for the top spot in their group. At the age of 27, Vitolo's time has finally arrived.
The road to success wasn't straightforward. Vicente Del Bosque stated his admiration for Vitolo's talents on numerous occasions and used him three times as a substitute in 2015 but never saw the Sevilla midfielder as a legitimate squad member. The Sevilla midfielder wasn't taken to Euro 2016, partly because the previous Spain coach was rather reluctant to gamble on new players and preferred those he had trusted for several years.
The situation has changed dramatically under current boss Julen Lopetegui, and Vitolo is flourishing. He is grateful to the coach for giving him confidence, and finds similarities between him and Sevilla's Jorge Sampaoli.
"They have the same philosophy and demand the same things," he said.
Lopetegui is full of praise for his star.
"We are delighted with Vitolo. He is a complete player, and that is what we need in the team," he claimed.
One of Lopetegui's most important innovations is using nominal midfielders as wingers in the 4-3-3 formation, with Vitolo and David Silva positioned out wide. The duo have developed a supreme mutual understanding almost immediately, and Vitolo said: "Playing with David Silva is a spectacle, and it is very easy to get along with great masters like him. The truth is that there are good players at Canary Islands, and I hope that more will follow us."
Gran Canaria are famous for producing the talents of Juan Carlos Valeron and David Silva, both born in Arguineguin, but it is important to know that Vitolo is a proud Canarian as well.
People from the region tend to be self-confident and imaginative, and those qualities are evident in Las Palmas, where Vitolo grew up and whose club he continues to support wholeheartedly. He is blessed with those qualities too, but his most important asset is probably stamina.
Vitolo is tireless and simply can't stop moving around. The Sevilla star usually covers the most distance per game compared to other players, at times running more than 12 kilometres in 90 minutes. Even more remarkably, he runs at least three kilometres per game at full speed.
"He is a player of excellent technical quality combined with powerful physical conditions," Sevilla's fitness coach Moises de Hoyo said.
De Hoyo's assessment is hardly surprising when you take into account that Vitolo's career started thanks to a medical recommendation.
When Vitolo was a kid, his mother, Maria, was constantly exhausted by his boundless energy. He woke up early, never wanted to go to bed, and was so hyperactive that the family decided to turn to doctors for advice.
The solution was to find an activity that the boy would love. Swimming wasn't enough, so football came to the rescue. There were evening trainings for children at the local Arbol Bonito club, where Vitolo could run wild without being asked to stop.
The coaches immediately noticed his talents, and he soon joined Las Palmas, but -- just like with the national team -- success didn't come easy. Initially positioned as a centre-forward, Vitolo wasn't prolific in front of goal, and even used to cry because of it. He made his debut for the reserve team at the age of 18, was promoted for the first squad at 20, then tore knee ligaments just three months after making his debut in Segunda Division.
Many would have given up along the way, but Vitolo is not a quitter. He tried harder than ever, especially after recovering from the injury, and eventually became one of the team's stalwarts. The prodigy scored 10 goals in the 2011-12 season, improved that mark to 15 in 2012-13, when Las Palmas were nearly promoted. Inevitably Monchi -- arguably the best sporting director in the world -- was quick to bring him to Sevilla for just €3million.
Vitolo's development under Unai Emery was impressive, and his contribution to winning the Europa League three times in a row can't be overestimated. Versatile in the extreme, he can play on both wings, in central midfield and was even tried out as a full-back on both flanks. Dedicated and humble, he was certain to give his utmost at every position, but his skills remained a bit underrated until Lopetegui and Sampaoli arrived. This term, he is finally seen as a star in his own right and has been linked to top clubs as a result.
Barcelona can afford to pay the €35million buyout clause included by Sevilla last summer, when the midfielder signed a new contract until 2020, but they should be wary of him as a rival on Wednesday.
On his previous visit to Camp Nou, Vitolo scored the opening goal, only for Barca to come back and win 2-1. The script was virtually the same in November, as Vitolo found the net early at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, but Barcelona won 2-1 again.
He knows that it takes to outwit the Blaugrana defence, and Sevilla desperately need him after going four matches without a win in La Liga and getting thrown out of the Champions League by Leicester City. It seems unlikely that they can surprise Barca on current form, but Vitolo might be the man to put them back on track. He then could be ready to move on to the biggest challenge of his life.
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin