Real Madrid and Barcelona target Dani Ceballos - Five things to know
Real Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos earned the Most Valuable Player award after helping Spain finish as runners-up at the European Under-21 Championship in Poland. Now, he is one of the most sought-after playmakers in La Liga.
According to reports, Real Madrid and Barcelona are both hoping to sign the 20-year-old. Given he remains under contract with Betis until June of 2020, Ceballos' modest €15 million release clause makes him an even more attractive transfer target.
Here are five things you may not know about the rising star.
1. He was the one that got away for Sevilla
Born in Utrera -- a municipality in the province of Seville -- Ceballos began his playing career at Sevilla, but was released in 2009 due to chronic bronchitis. He was 12 years old. He did not, however, give up on his dreams of playing professionally.
"I suffered from asthma and I was the smallest in the team," he told El Pais newspaper. "It was a very difficult time for me as I had been playing for Sevilla for seven years. I spent two years working with a personal trainer because I knew in my mind that I wanted to be a footballer."
He joined city rivals Betis, and shone in the youth ranks before making his senior debut in 2014.
"Betis was the one that gave me the opportunity to feel like a footballer," Ceballos said. "I have to thank them for all they have done for me and if I'm here today, it's because Betis put their trust in me. Everything has been short and very intense."
2. His mother is his role model
Ceballos shows a maturity and work ethic that exceeds his 20 years of age. According to Ceballos, that maturity is the direct result of his family -- especially his mother.
"To have such a humble and hard-working family stamps certain values on you that you then transmit on the pitch," Ceballos said. "My family has been crucial for me being a footballer, and my mother even more so.
"Before I got my driving license a few weeks ago [May 2017], she had taken me to training since I was a boy. Everything I owe it to her."
3. Poyet almost ruined him
The turning point for Ceballos came with the arrival of Victor Sanchez del Amo, who replaced Gus Poyet at the helm of Betis. Under Poyet (who was appointed in May 2016), Ceballos made just one start before the Uruguayan was sacked and replaced by Del Amo on Nov. 12.
"The new coach [Poyet] was not counting on me and I really feared I would lose my place in the Spain U-21 side," Ceballos said. "They were very tough times because I spent seven league games without playing. After Victor's arrival, everything changed and I was able to turn around what had been a difficult situation."
Spain U21 coach Albert Celades never lost faith in Ceballos, telling ABC Sevilla in March: "We've always counted on him even when he was hardly given minutes by Poyet at his club. He is a player that we like."
4. He has played for Spain's youth teams
Ceballos got a taste of international success when, after making seven appearances with the youth team, he helped Spain win the 2015 European U19 Championship. A regular on Spain's U21 side, it will not be long before Ceballos makes his senior bow.
Shortly before Ceballos embarked on his adventure at the European U21 Championship, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui told Onda Cero radio: "Ceballos is within the parameters of a player that we like. He is improving and growing and that is good for him and for Spanish football."
And winning with Spain is the midfielder's main aim: "Every player dreams of playing at a World Cup, at European Championship, and I want to try to play all of that."
5. He looks up to Barcelona's Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid's Isco
Anyone wanting a hint as to where he might play next season will be disappointed by his choice of idols. Ceballos will play with one of his heroes regardless of whether he lands in Madrid or Barcelona next season.
"I identify myself a lot with Iniesta and with Isco, players that play behind the striker and have absolute freedom to get the ball and move the team," Ceballos said. "They are the two players that I try to learn from at national level.
"My ideal position and where I feel more comfortable is at No. 8, behind the striker and creating play for the team."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.