DERRY CITY’s experienced Spanish centre-back insists he’s fully prepared for the physical demands of the League of Ireland.
Cristian Castells was thrown into battle against a Longford team fighting for their Premier Division lives at the City Calling Stadium on Saturday night as Kenny Shiels was, not for the first time this season, forced to alter his defensive line-up in the absence of Conor McDermott.
And the league’s bottom club were all the more dangerous having been armed with hope following news of disharmony at relegation rivals Wexford Youths, who appear to be in freefall.
Longford were prepared to scrap for every second ball, punt long balls up to bustling strikers Don Cowan and David O’Sullivan and they twice took the lead against a team with European football aspirations.
For a man who grew up learning his trade at the fabled Mestalla - a youth graduate with La Liga giants Valencia - it must have been a real eye opener for the towering Spaniard who turns 32 next week.
There was just 388 people dotted around the stadium and it was a far cry from the atmosphere generated by the biggest Brandywell attendance of the season in the FAI Cup semi-final defeat to Dundalk the previous Tuesday night.
But it wasn’t an entirely alien footballing experience for the big Spaniard whose career has saw him trek around Europe to Romania’s second division, Italy’s Serie B, and the Greek Super League where he’s sampled various styles of play and football cultures.
He admits he feels comfortable playing out from the back and with the ball at his feet but he’s also happy to slug it out. It comes natural to the man whose surname is loosely translated from Catalan as ‘human tower’. And as a 6ft 2’’ physically strong centre half it couldn’t be more apt.
Saturday’s match was a big test of his credentials, however, having felt he had a lot to prove after his Derry City debut ended with him being hauled off against Bohemians at Dalymount.
That was just one week after joining the club, so it would have been unfair to judge him on that performance.
I like the football at Derry City because it’s different from the football played by other teams. It’s more like the Spanish mentality as the centre backs are always open, play the ball and take it from the keeper.Cristian Castells
He may lack genuine pace but he showed on Saturday he can be dominant in the air and enjoys a tussle. While his aerial presence was needed on the night it’s more likely his ability on the ball which attracted the attentions of the Derry boss. Castells believes he can adapt easily to Derry City’s style of play given Shiels’ onus on allowing his young, creative players to express themselves.
“I’m very happy with the team because it wasn’t an easy match considering we lost the last match against Dundalk,” he said after Derry fought back from 2-1 down to clinch a vital win in Longford. “It wasn’t easy to play this match as we lost out on playing the final in Dublin but we’re happy with this result.
“The other team were playing the long ball and challenging for the second ball. They were physical and big but it was a good match for me and I’m very happy to win the match.”
After his frustrating start to his City career, he was happy to be back in the team. And anyone who watched the Spaniard urge his teammates on from the bench during the last few games will have seen the passion he has for the game.
“I’m a strong centre back and I like to speak to the players,” he explained.
“My first game I remember I was only here one week. My last official game was three months before that, so it was difficult for me to be 100 per cent after just one week.
“My mentality at training is to talk and help the team. This moment was my time. I’m playing strong and I’m mentally positive.
“Football is my life and at this moment I’ve very, very happy. Not just for me but for the team, which is the important thing. I like the football at Derry City because it’s different from the football played by other teams. It’s more like the Spanish mentality as the centre backs are always open, play the ball and take it from the keeper.
“It’s different football from other teams in this country. I like it because it’s a risk but it’s good for the supporters to watch.”
He’s been in the same squad as Valencia greats Spanish internationals David Silva and David Villa and once made the bench for the La Liga club. And after incredibly sampling football at 17 different clubs, the Spanish journeyman is happy to have found a home at Brandywell Stadium.
And he was delighted to help the Candystripes re-take pole position in the race for third spot on Saturday night.
“I played in the Spanish second division with Valencia and the first team at Valencia on the bench when David Villa and David Silva were there. I also played in Greece in the First Division and Italy in the B division, in Romania’s second division and also in a long list of countries.
“I’ve played for something like 17 teams.
“My dream is to play in England or Scotland or even here as it’s a good mentality at this club. I don’t know what my future is. I just want to stay here and help the team until the end of the season. After that, who knows?”