Kirian Rodríguez, leader of Las Palmas, reaches new heights after recovering from cancer

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“Life is a roller coaster,” said Kirian Rodríguez. When Second Division Las Palmas showed up for preseason last summer, the midfielder told them that something was wrong: he was tired, he didn’t want to eat and he couldn’t sleep. He had a swollen spleen, his kidneys hurt, and his calcium levels were too high. Doctors removed a cyst and biopsy results revealed Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer. It was August 2022 and he was 26 years old. He underwent six chemotherapy sessions, crossing them off on a calendar. There were pills and injections, he felt weak and his hair fell out. But the worst thing, he said later, was the fear of never playing football again, which is what really makes him happy.

It’s what makes many other people happy too. “Cancer is something associated with death; Yo I had to be the strong one,” Kirian told ESPN. The day he announced his illness, sitting smiling at a press conference surrounded by his colleagues, he told them in a calm, firm voice that broke only once and only briefly, that he did not want pity and that I would still be there. Still yelling from the stands, still the pain in the ass he always was. Above all he told them that he would play again. There was no rush, but he set a date. Mentally, he needed it: a public promise that needed to be kept, would be made, positivity was part of the process and was consciously chosen. The winter window would be the best they had ever had because he would be back.

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Two days later, in the hospital waiting room, before his first chemotherapy session, Kirian heard a woman talk about that soccer player with the same disease, without knowing that he was sitting opposite. She bit her tongue a little until he heard her mention that he wasn’t likely to play again. “Lady” he said, “at least let me try.” The treatment continued and so did the training in Barranco Seco, where a boy from Tenerife who joined them as a teenager had been going daily for a decade. His hair slowly returned, his strength too. “The day I heal will be the day the fourth official holds up the board with my number,” he said.

In November 2022 he completed his chemotherapy cycle; In January 2023, she was given the all-clear; and then, in April, the fourth official did it. One Sunday night in Zaragoza, 271 days later, Las Palmas’ number 20 stepped onto a football field again. Kirian Rodríguez Concepción, the best signing they could have ever made.

This Saturday afternoon, 258 days later, Kirian’s number went up again. This time, he returned in the other direction. There were four minutes left and his job here was done as he handed over the captain’s armband and walked to a standing ovation. It’s not just that he’s back playing; is that he is playing like this, in a higher league and better than ever. He had just given a performance, such a good afternoon, practically perfect in practically every way, that it was difficult to know which moment to choose, which snapshot best expressed everything he is and what he has become.

Perhaps it was the first goal, a one-minute play that unfolded at his feet: from Kirian to Mika Mármol to Kirian to Sergi Cardona to Kirian to Alberto Moleiro to Kirian to finish, not so much a shot but another pass, this time into the goal. . net. Or the way he celebrated, pointing to the 20-year-old young man, born in the same town, whom he guides and who had seen him off. Maybe it was the way he celebrated the second, hugging Juanma Herzog, the 19-year-old from the Canary Islands, who had just scored in his debut and was crying. Or how he swept the ball in the third in the 3-0 win, focus once again given to the player who made the pass, all of it on Javi Muñoz.

Maybe it was his 65 passes; the moment of complicity with Dani Parejo, the little smile and the word when his opponent hits the crossbar; the calm authority with which he ran this game and all games, the total control he seemed to have over everything. His is a strength that is used lightly, almost gently, not imposed, the group above all, and it was also there in the moment that stood out the most, in the way in which the fans defended him and the way in which he faced them, defending his companions.

Six days earlier, Las Palmas had been defeated in the Canarian derby, eliminating second division Tenerife from the Copa del Rey 2-0. Kirian had played just 20 minutes. It had been their worst performance of the season and, upon returning to the ship late at night, the fans were furious. Now, after a week and with the league victory assured, Kirian approached them, the voice of the fan leader on the microphone declared “calm down, the captain wants to say something” as he approached the stands. There was a silence and he started.

“We have a bloody brilliant bond; “All together we form a brilliant group,” Kirian told them. “And we all suffer. We also go home angry. Many of the insults these boys received were undeserved. It hurts them, it hurts them, just like it hurts all of you. They cry too. We have to stay together. When someone passes us four, they pass us four. We will fall, we will cry, we will do what we have to do. But when we suffer, we will need you more than ever. “Today was a day to get back up.” There was applause from the stands, the reconciliation was total, and then they began to sing: How could we not love you?

Well, quite a bit. When Kirian played against Zaragoza in April, playing his first game of the season 38 weeks later, Las Palmas were losing 1-0. When he shot again, they had already tied. He started the next four games of the season, which were also the last four games of the season, and did not lose any, achieving automatic promotion on goal difference, returning to the first division six years later. “We went up and made a lot of people happy, but the biggest triumph was that Kirian became a soccer player again,” said the club’s coach, García Pimienta.

Sevilla 2-3 Alavés, Las Palmas 3-0 Villarreal, Mallorca 1-1 Celta, Bilbao 2-1 Sociedad, Betis 1-0 Granada, Almería 0-0 Girona, Cádiz 1-4 Valencia super cup final Real Madrid 4-1 Barcelona

And what a footballer. Kirian had never been there, and it took Las Palmas six weeks to achieve a victory in the first division. When they finally did, against Granada, it was he who scored the winning goal, with a brilliant shot in the 90th minute. In that run at the end of last season they had faced Eibar, Cartagena, Alavés and Villarreal B; This Saturday he scored two goals against Villarreal’s first team, which places Las Palmas three points behind the European place.

“It’s been a tough week: the cup game hurt me. But this group trains like the best; It’s an incredible group, a pleasure. It is very difficult to find a locker room like ours, with the unity we have. When the weekend comes you have to enjoy it. Let’s hope we haven’t found our ceiling yet,” Kirian said. “Football has put us where it puts us: on the crest of a wave,” came the voice from the stands at the end of that exchange in regulation time.

With five goals, Kirian is Las Palmas’ top scorer, but that’s not it; it is everything, including the experiences that shape him and those around him. Kirian has studied psychology and there is a moment of mindfulness before each game. He is the embodiment of everything they want to be, a small team with the second smallest salary cap in first who have more ball than anyone except Madrid and Barcelona, ​​especially because, he says, if they just kicked it they would probably be down in January. Furthermore, he insists: in the Canary Islands you grow up with a ball at your feet; Why would you want to change that?

“What can I say about him? He is a player for whom there is a special feeling,” says García Pimienta. “That’s been there from the beginning. [But] This season he has taken a step forward in terms of leadership, he plays very well, he wants every ball; “He never hides.”

He has participated in more than three times as many plays as the rest of the Las Palmas midfielders, has made three times as many passes and has created twice as many chances. In all of La Liga, only one player has completed more passes or had more touches (Girona’s Aleix García), only two players have completed more passes in the opposite half and only six have recovered more possession. “He had the problem last year and now he looks at how he is playing: it is a sweet moment and he deserves it,” said García Pimienta.

There really may not be anyone better this season; There’s certainly no one you’d rather see play. As he left on Saturday, the coach whose team he had dismantled was among those applauding him; More than any other, perhaps that was the moment. “I just wanted to express how happy I am to see him leave all that behind,” Villarreal coach Marcelino García Toral said. Is this the best moment of your career? Kirian was asked. “Yes, without a doubt,” he said. “For everything: for my family, my people, the group, the island. Everything has fallen into place again after what I experienced last year. “I am enjoying it to the fullest because in the end life is a roller coaster.”









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