When you think of an Argentine Manchester City forward smashing four past Real Madrid, your mind might first turn to Julián Álvarez as the only man capable of such a feat, or perhaps in days gone by Sergio Agüero during his goal-filled prime in England.
You would be wrong. Álvarez's first clash against Madrid will take place next Tuesday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (where, of course, he lifted the Copa Libertadores back in 2018) while ‘El Kun’ never achieved such a tally with either Atlético Madrid or City. Not even Lionel Messi, Madrid's tormentor-in-chief for more than a decade, managed to hit a famous poker against the Merengue despite finding the net on a total of 26 occasions over the years against Barcelona's biggest rivals.
One of that illustrious trio's compatriots, however, has beaten them all-out, announcing himself to the wider world of football in sensational fashion. And his story is as much one of the shape of the modern game as it is a testament to his talent and determination in slowly climbing the ranks.
Valentín 'Taty' Castellanos is La Liga's new sensation, scoring all of Girona's goals on Tuesday in an historic 4-2 rout of Madrid to bring his tally to 11 in his first season in Spain. Like Messi, the Mendoza native moved to Catalonia having never played a senior game in his native country. But the 24-year-old has taken a rather more circuitous, not to say curious path.
While the young striker's career has already spanned four clubs in as many countries, three of those share common ownership. After crossing the Andes as a teenager to join Universidad de Chile's youth system, Castellanos was sold on in 2017 after just a single Copa Sudamericana appearance off the bench. His destination: Uruguay, and a revolutionary venture in South American football.
Castellanos was one of the first signings made by the newly renamed Montevideo City Torque, formed in 2017 when the City Football Group, bankrolled by its astronomically wealthy backers in the United Arab Emirates, completed its takeover of the minnows. And when the time came for the next transfer, it was once more within the Group, this time to New York City FC in Major League Soccer, where he hit more than 50 goals in four years and helped his side to the 2021 title. Then, at the start of last season, amid ultimately fruitless links to a move back to Argentina with River Plate, another City transfer beckoned. Girona, in whom the Group hold a 47 pe cent stake, took the talented striker on loan from their cousins across the Atlantic Ocean and have seen the decision pay off handsomely as Castellanos' goals have helped the club cruise towards mid-table safety in the current term.
In addition to the aforementioned clubs the City Football Group controls or holds significant stakes in eight more teams, spanning across five different continents. Their most recent acquisition is another side in South America, Brazil's Bahia, who in December 2022 approved the sale of 90 percent of club assets to the Group, handing them a foothold in one of the world's most fertile football breeding-grounds. If anything City are late to the party, with Red Bull Bragantino, subject to a similar agreement with the soft drinks giant, now a fixture in the top flight and just missing out on Sudamericana glory two years ago. Just to compound this sense of corporate dystopia, New York City's great rivals are neighbours, the Red Bulls, forming what is surely the first football franchise derby in the sport's history.
There is still one land, however, which remains uncharted territory for the mega-clubs. Thanks to its iron-clad regulations concerning fan ownership Argentina has remained impervious to advances from the likes of City and Red Bull, and despite the efforts of power-brokers such as Mauricio Macri in recent years that does not look like changing any time soon. That is not to say that the nation cannot reap the benefits: if Castellanos continues in this vein he may well get the call from Lionel Scaloni to challenge for a spot in the Albiceleste's already formidable strikeforce, and perhaps eventually even join Álvarez in Manchester to conclude his long, globe-trotting journey up the City ladder.