PROMISING young Australian-born defender Rafa Jimenez has explained his decision to leave Atletico Madrid for recently relegated Villarreal.
Last season in the Primera División Autonómica Cadete, Jimenez and his Atletico Madrid team-mates finished the season undefeated after 30 games including two wins over fierce rivals Real Madrid.
However over this summer, the young Madrid captain and his family have had to make one of the biggest career decisions so far in relation to where he will be next season. Faced with offers to stay put, switch to another Spanish team, or even go abroad, Jimenez has joined Villarreal.
"Villarreal has one of the best youth academies in Spain," Jimenez told OSAussies.com. "The youth teams are very successful and tend to have quite a number of players in the national youth teams.
"I hope to develop into a pro player at Villarreal because I believe that their teaching and development methods are amongst the best in Spain at youth level.
"I also know quite a few members of the technical and coaching staff at Villlarreal from my earlier days at Atletico. In fact my very first coach at Atletico is training the reserve grade team at Villarreal. This also helped me to make the decision to move over to Villarreal."
Without a moment's hesitation, Jimenez reflects on his time at Atletico as a positive one while embracing the new challenge ahead.
"These past four years have been an excellent experience for me. I have learnt a lot from many different coaches, each having different forms and styles of coaching unique in their own ways but all have proven to be helpful to my style of play," he said.
"Like in all clubs I think without exception you have your good moments and your bad ones but at Atletico the balance has been very positive.
"Sooner or later you get an opportunity that you have to consider seriously like what has happened to me now with Villarreal and you realise that you have to take it. This way you´ll never regret not making it in the future.
"This of course does not mean that you close the doors behind on the club you have left because football is so unpredictable that you never know where you might end up in the future.
"I now have a full three-year football scholarship contract with a good club that values me as a player and is willing to heavily invest into my development as a player. So I´m grateful and happy to be part of this club."
Rafa will officially be a member of the U18s but due to an injury to a central defender, he will start preseason with the U19s, which is the highest level of youth football in Spain.
"Although it will be tough to be in the starting lineup, being up to two years younger than the majority of my colleagues, I still feel confident that I will accumulate sufficient minutes in order to get some good experience," Jimenez said when asked about his expectations.
"My goal for this year is to settle in as much as possible and learn from the coaching staff and players who have more experience than I at this level. Hopefully I will learn fast enough to give a few of my colleagues a run for their money.
"Although the competition for positions is very strong at this level, I'm not too worried because I'm still much younger, so I have time. I'm still at school too so at the Villarreal academy I expect to finish my high school and at the same time be the best football player I can."
It is still too early to know whether this will be the right move or not for Rafa but having a young Aussie continue his development in the home of the current world and European champions cannot be a bad thing.
Who knows, maybe it won't be long until we see him donning the Green and Gold on for the Young Socceroos?