Randy Nteka was about to hit the big time when the phone rang.
Nteka: 'It still sounds strange when I say it - I am a professional footballer'
Nteka (left) helped Rayo enjoy an excellent first half of the season in La Liga
"Don't forget where you came from," his dad said, with Nteka about to play his first game as a professional. "You worked hard to get here. This is the culmination of all that work."
As if Nteka could forget, the French striker who left Paris for Spain to pursue his dream of being a footballer, only to be left cleaning the changing rooms of an amateur club in the fifth tier.
The son of an Angolan father and Congolese mother, who wanted to give up and now plays with Radamel Falcao in La Liga, for Rayo Vallecano, who have this season beaten Barcelona.
"I still find it hard to believe," Nteka says. "I see it in my daily life but it sounds strange when I say it: 'I am a professional footballer'."
Nteka was playing for Linas-Montlhery in the fifth tier of French football when an agent called in 2016, proposing a move to Madrid and promising trials with bigger clubs.
"I wasn't very keen," Nteka says. "To be honest I wasn't thinking much about football, I was already looking for little jobs to get into working life. I didn't speak Spanish and moving country... I just didn’t feel ready.
"But my dad said 'It's now or never'. He told me about Griezmann and Kante and Pogba, who succeeded abroad after not being noticed in France. There was a tiny chance. I had to try."
Nteka got on the plane but nothing landed, opportunities fizzling out as soon as he arrived."“My agent didn't really have any contacts," Nteka said. "He just knocked on doors, said he had a good player."
Rayo Vallecano pointed Nteka towards Betis San Isidro, while insisting they would keep tabs on his progress. The club played in Preferente, Spain's fifth tier.
"I found myself in a foreign country at another amateur club, which was at the same level as the one I left in France," said Nteka. "I thought I had come to launch my career but it wasn't like that, not at all."
Betis San Isidro were not paying players and Nteka, without the support of friends or family, was struggling. He spoke to his dad every day and cried on the phone.
"The coach sat me down before training and asked how things were going at home. I was honest, I said 'I have nothing here'."
The club started paying Nteka 300 euros a month but they had to justify the expense, so Nteka was hired to take care of the ground.
"To survive I had to clean the changing rooms," Nteka said.
"They could have just said, 'We don't need you' but they didn't. For me, I'd come to play football and to get there this was something I had to go through. I didn't ask questions, I did it."
By the end of the season, Rayo were interested again but Fuenlabrada, in Segunda B, made him a firmer offer. "Either I continued to push at Rayo or I went to Fuenlabrada, where I would play. I didn't want to wait anymore," Nteka says.
He spent four seasons at Fuenlabrada, helping them get promoted from Spain's third tier to second. Diario AS called Nteka "the Blue Pogba", as Fuenla play in blue, and then last summer, Rayo called again.
"I had been there before and it didn't go well but that's football," says Nteka. "If you play well, nobody closes the doors on you."
Rayo were meant to be fighting relegation but signed Falcao on a free transfer and at Christmas they were fourth. A dip has seen them drop to eighth since but safety is almost secure, with Nteka, now playing behind the striker, at the heart of it.
He made his debut in the first game of the season against Sevilla. Two weeks later, Rayo thrashed Granada 4-0 at Vallecas and Nteka scored. This time his dad was not on the phone, but in the stands.
"That match was the first time my parents came since I'd joined Rayo," Nteka says. "When I scored, I couldn't believe it. I had scored my first goal in La Liga, in front of our own supporters, in front of my parents in the stands. Even today I watch the video of that goal, it was incredible. I felt like the world stopped."