From ‘simpleton’ to Real Madrid star, Sergio Reguilon’s journey has taken even his friends by surprise.
The left-back began the season as an obscure addition from the B team but has ousted the legendary Marcelo and is poised to start against Barcelona in the Clasico Copa semi-final on Wednesday.
“When he arrived we laughed at him because he seemed like a bit of a simpleton,” one of Reguilon’s former team-mates at UD Logrones told Marca.
“Now he sends us boots and tickets, after displacing the best left-back of the last decade.”
Reguilon, 22, establishing himself as an important figure seemed unthinkable at the start of the summer, but a lot has happened since then.
This astonishing rise feels like a fantasy for a boy who grew up supporting Real Madrid.
Regui, as his friends call him, played through every level at La Fabrica - Los Blancos’ youth system - always with his sights set on the first team.
However, failing to break into the Madrid Castilla line-up in 2015, he was loaned to third division side Logrones for a few months, returning there for the 2016-17 campaign where he found his footing.
Upon returning to Madrid he became a key pick for then B-team coach Santiago Solari, playing 30 times and captaining the side on 11 occasions.
That form saw him rewarded with a professional contract in May 2018.
“It’s been a privilege to defend this badge since I was eight years old,” wrote Reguilon on Instagram. “And now I’m proud to belong to the best club in the world for the next few years.”
As with many younger players, that social networking site is a source of gold.
“One of the happiest days of my life,” wrote a young Reguilon under a picture of himself posing for a snap with Gareth Bale back in March 2014.
Swiping down a few years, his profile looks more like one of a young fan who, hanging around Valdebebas, had managed to snap a few pictures with some first team stars.
But that is basically what he was. When they won the Champions League in 2014 he posted a photo of himself wearing a replica shirt, holding a scarf, cheering the team on from the stands.
Over the years his haircuts have improved, and now he is in the pictures playing alongside his idols instead of just dreaming about it.
After left-backs like Roberto Carlos and Marcelo, Reguilon doesn’t seem to fit the profile, but relentlessly attacking players are not what Madrid need at the back right now.
He’s never been one to fit the mould anyway.
“Instead of giving us coffee, yoghurts and biscuits like everyone else, Sergio gave us good ham, prawns and a bit of wine. A gourmet - maybe that’s why he’s now at Madrid and the rest of us are in Segunda B,” joked another former Logrones team-mate.
Reguilon offers Madrid stability, grit and energy, helping balance a side that too frequently looks vulnerable with Marcelo in the back-line.
By no means an outstanding natural talent, it is desire and determination that have taken Reguilon to where he is, as well as a ceaseless desire to learn.
Impressing in pre-season on the club’s tour Reguilon earned a spot in coach Julen Lopetegui’s squad, although he earned no game time until his debut in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow on October 2, a disappointing 1-0 defeat in the Russian capital.
He still hadn’t really pricked the general consciousness of the public in Spain, and even less so worldwide.
The first many heard of him was as the victim in a training ground kerfuffle with captain Sergio Ramos later that month, who angrily kicked a ball at him, making headlines.
A couple of weeks later events boiled over at the Bernabeu, with Lopetegui sacked and Solari installed.
That’s where everything changed for Reguilon because while nobody else knew him, the one man that mattered did.
With Theo Hernandez out on loan and Marcelo injured, Solari had no qualms about picking Reguilon, while Lopetegui usually turned to versatile centre-back Nacho Fernandez instead.
Reguilon snatched the opportunity, helping Madrid to four wins and three clean sheets in his next four appearances.
And crucially, in the 2-1 Champions League last 16 first leg win at Ajax on February 13, when Marcelo missed a European game he was available for, for the first time since March 2015.
Given Real Madrid have won the Champions League in each of the last three seasons with Marcelo an integral component of the side, it was quite the statement.
In nine of his 10 La Liga appearances this season, Madrid have triumphed, the latest being Sunday's 2-1 win at Levante.
With Marcelo, it’s four wins from 12 appearances in the top flight this season. A stark difference which the fans and Madrid media have noticed.
Reguilon’s presence also helps Madrid thrive in attack, with Vinicius Junior shining in front of him, safe to play at his creative best in the knowledge that his team-mate will put in the hard yards to get back should anything go wrong.
He will not become an attacking force in the same vein as Marcelo or Barcelona’s Jordi Alba, but he does get up and down the pitch, as is essential for a top quality full-back in the modern game.
“[Reguilon] is an example to all the players in the youth academy. He shows that if you fight for it, and have quality, then there is a possibility of getting a place in the Real Madrid squad,” said proud coach Solari.
Only once this season has the defender been caught napping, in Abu Dhabi at the Club World Cup.
It wasn’t on the pitch, though, but on the team bus after all the other players had disembarked.
Reguilon awoke with a jolt and, seeing everyone had left the bus, which was ready to depart, ran to the front to get off, and was greeted by the laughter of his team-mates, led by Ramos.
Maybe the defender still thinks he’s sleeping. "It is clear that this is a dream, and I am going to hang on to it for as long as I can,” said Reguilon earlier in February.
As easily as the tide turned for him with Solari’s arrival, it could roll out again. A new signing or a change of coach could see Reguilon shuffled to the bottom of the deck.
His job is to make that an extremely hard decision for whoever has to take it.