Kirian Rodríguez described life as a rollercoaster. When he returned to Las Palmas for pre-season last summer, the midfielder expressed concern about his health: he was fatigued, had no appetite, and struggled to sleep. Medical exams showed inflammation of his spleen, kidney pain, and high calcium levels. After a cyst was removed, a biopsy revealed that he had Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer. At 26 years old in August 2022, he underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, marking them off on a calendar. He took pills and received injections, experiencing weakness and hair loss. However, the greatest fear he faced during this time was the possibility that he may never be able to play football again, which is what truly brings him joy.
This also brings joy to many others. Kirian, in an interview with ESPN, shared that cancer is often associated with death and he had to be the strong one. Despite this, he announced his illness with a smile during a press conference with his teammates. In a calm and steady voice, he reassured them that he did not want pity and that he would still be there for them. He also promised to continue playing, setting a date to mentally motivate himself and fulfill a public promise. This positive mindset was a conscious choice and contributed to their successful winter season.
Two days after, while waiting for his first chemotherapy session at the hospital, Kirian overheard a conversation about a football player with the same illness. Unbeknownst to them, he was sitting across from them. He held his tongue until he heard the woman say that the player would likely never play again. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he interjected, “let me at least try.” Despite the ongoing treatment, Kirian continued to attend training sessions at Barranco Seco, a routine he had maintained for ten years since he was a young boy from Tenerife. Slowly but surely, his hair grew back and his strength returned. He confidently declared that the day he is declared cured will be the day the fourth official holds up the board with his jersey number.
In November of 2022, he finished his chemotherapy treatment. In January of 2023, he received a clean bill of health. Then, in April, the fourth official also did. 271 days later, on a Sunday night in Zaragoza, Las Palmas’ number 20 returned to the football field. Kirian Rodríguez Concepción was the perfect addition to their team.
On this Saturday afternoon, 258 days later, Kirian’s number increased once more. This time, he returned in the opposite direction. With only four minutes remaining, he completed his work and passed the captain’s armband, receiving a standing ovation. It is not only that he played again; it is the quality of his play, in a higher league and better than ever before. He had just given a remarkable performance, an afternoon so exceptional that it was difficult to select a single moment that captured his essence and all that he has achieved.
It could have been the initial goal, a minute-long sequence developing at his feet: from Kirian to Mika Mármol to Kirian to Sergi Cardona to Kirian to Alberto Moleiro to Kirian to ultimately score, not so much a shot but another pass, this time into the goal. Or the way he celebrated, pointing at the 20-year-old, who was born in the same town as him and whom he is mentoring, and who had assisted in the play. Perhaps it was the celebration of the second goal, where he embraced Juanma Herzog, a 19-year-old from the Canary Islands, like himself, who had just scored on his debut and was in tears. And then there was the third goal, where he effortlessly scored in a 3-0 win, once again shifting the spotlight to the player who had made the crucial pass – all of it revolving around Javi Muñoz.
Perhaps it was his 65 passes on his own, the shared understanding with Dani Parejo, the subtle smile and exchange of words when his opponent hit the crossbar, the composed confidence with which he controlled this game and every game, displaying an apparent mastery over everything. His strength is carried with ease, almost delicately, not forced upon others, with the team always at the forefront – evident even in the standout moment when the fans rose for him and he stood up for his teammates.
Last week, Las Palmas lost to Tenerife 2-0 in the Canary Island derby, with Kirian only playing for 20 minutes. This was their worst game of the season and upon returning late at night, the fans were angry. However, a week later, they secured a victory in the league and Kirian approached them. The leader of the fans spoke through a microphone, asking for quiet as Kirian made his way to the stands. He then addressed the fans, starting with “quiet, the captain wants to say something.” The crowd fell silent as he began speaking.
Kirian spoke to them, expressing their strong bond as a group and acknowledging that they all face struggles and frustrations. He emphasized the importance of sticking together, even when facing defeat or criticism. The crowd responded with applause and unity, culminating in a heartfelt song of love and support.
In April, Kirian made his first appearance of the season for Las Palmas against Zaragoza. At that point, the team was losing 1-0. However, when Kirian was substituted, the team had managed to equalize. He then went on to start the next four games of the season, which were also the final four games, and the team did not lose any of them. This led to them securing automatic promotion based on goal difference, returning to the first division after six years. The manager of the club, García Pimienta, stated that while their promotion brought joy to many, the biggest triumph was Kirian’s return as a footballer.
Kirian proved to be an exceptional football player. It took Las Palmas six weeks to achieve their first division win, and Kirian was the one who sealed the victory with a magnificent goal in the 90th minute against Granada. During their winning streak at the end of the previous season, they faced teams such as Eibar, Cartagena, Alavés, and Villarreal B. This past Saturday, Kirian scored two goals against Villarreal’s main team, propelling Las Palmas to within three points of a European spot.
“It has been a challenging week with the disappointment of losing in the cup game. However, this team trains with the highest level of dedication and camaraderie. It is a remarkable group and a joy to be a part of. Our dressing room is truly special, filled with a strong sense of unity. When the weekend arrives, it is important to savor and appreciate it. We hope that there is still room for improvement,” said Kirian. “Football has placed us in a position of success, as evident by the cheering from the stands at the end of the game.”
Kirian, with five goals, is the leading scorer for Las Palmas. But it’s not just about his goals; it’s also about the experiences that have shaped him and those around him. Kirian has a background in psychology and practices mindfulness before every game. He embodies everything that the team strives to be, despite being a small team with one of the lowest salary caps in the primera division. They have a high possession rate, second only to Real Madrid and Barcelona, but Kirian believes that they would probably struggle if they relied solely on long kicks. He also emphasizes the importance of growing up playing with a ball in the Canary Islands, and sees no reason to change that.
García Pimienta describes him as a player who evokes a unique emotion. This sentiment has been present since the beginning. However, this season, he has shown growth in his leadership skills and consistently performs at a high level. He is always eager to receive the ball and never shies away from the game.
García Pimienta stated that the player has been participating in a significantly higher number of plays compared to the other midfielders in the Las Palmas team. He has also completed three times more passes and created twice as many chances. In La Liga, only one player has completed more passes and touches – Aleix García from Girona. Additionally, only two players have completed more passes in the opponent’s half and six players have recovered possession more. García Pimienta also mentioned that the player had previous struggles, but is now excelling and deserving of recognition.
Possibly no one has performed better this season; definitely no one is more enjoyable to watch. As he exited the field on Saturday, even the opposing coach applauded him; that may have been the defining moment. “I am extremely happy to see him leave all of that behind,” Villarreal manager, Marcelino García Toral, expressed. When asked if this is the pinnacle of his career, Kirian replied, “Without a doubt. For everything: my family, my community, my team, my island. Everything has come together after my experiences last year. I am thoroughly enjoying this moment, because life is full of ups and downs.”