Torre en Conill is a tranquil neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city of Valencia. It's a popular spot for rich people and the football stars who play for local clubs such as Valencia and Villarreal to make their home. The houses and apartments there have neatly manicured lawns, palm trees and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on to swimming pools.
High walls, electric gates and private security firms keep its residents sheltered from the outside world, so it came as a shock when a battalion of police officers raided the apartment of their neighbour, Ruben Semedo—the Villarreal footballer who is now on loan at La Liga rivals, SD Huesca—on a February morning earlier in the year.
A week before the police raid, Semedo, his cousin and another friend were accused of kidnapping a man and bringing him back to the footballer's apartment in Torre en Conill—which is kitted out with a disco room in its basement—shortly before dawn. There, they allegedly beat him with baseball bats and threatened to cut his finger off.
After the alleged beating, the victim told police he was tied up in ropes and locked in a room while they went to his apartment, which is near the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, and stole €24,000 in cash, watches, a computer and other items. Sources have told B/R that Semedo and his associates were trying to reclaim money that had been loaned to the man.
According to the alleged victim, who said he escaped while being moved to a different location, Semedo shot twice at him on Blasco Ibanez—a long, tree-lined avenue that cuts across the city of Valencia—but missed. The following day, the man—who was badly bruised and had to walk with a crutch to support his broken ankle—reported the allegations at a police station.
Semedo, 24, was charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery. His two accomplices fled, avoiding capture. He was jailed but released on bail of €30,000 in July.
A week after his release, Huesca signed the troubled footballer on loan. He made his debut for the club as a second-half substitute in a 2-1 victory over Eibar on the opening weekend of the league's fixtures. On Sunday, he travels to the Camp Nou to take on Leo Messi's Barcelona. His road to rehabilitation has begun.
Semedo's transfer from Sporting CP to Villarreal in the summer of 2017 raised a few eyebrows.
Villarreal, which is renowned for being a small, conservative club whose recent success has been based on its enviable youth academy, paid €14 million for him. It was a large sum for a 23-year-old central defender. Barcelona, for example, paid €11.8 million in January 2018 for Colombia's World Cup sensation Yerry Mina, a central defender who was born in the same year as Semedo.
"It was a lot of money to pay for a small club like Villarreal, which is based in a small city [of approximately 50,000 people]. He was actually one of the most expensive players in the history of the club," says Toni Calero, a journalist with Las Provincias, a Valencia-based newspaper.
"For the general public around Villarreal, Semedo was relatively unknown because he was very young. Because Villarreal—which has very good sporting directors—usually gets transfers right, everybody was OK with it. [But] it was a gamble. They already knew he had some behavioural problems outside football in Portugal."
Semedo's start in life wasn't easy. He grew up in Casal de Mira, a tough neighbourhood in Amadora, one of Lisbon's suburbs. His parents were immigrants from Cape Verde. His father was jailed when Semedo was five years old. He didn't see him again for the guts of a decade. Semedo's mother had to leave home at 4 a.m. in the morning to go to work, which meant Semedo and his sister were largely left to grow up on the streets.
Sergio Pereira, the editor of football website Maisfutbol, has interviewed Semedo twice as well as having had several casual exchanges with him over the years. He describes a genial, quiet young man from his interactions with him.
"Ruben Semedo has not had a simple life," says Pereira. "He came from a difficult neighbourhood. His father was in prison. He had a lot of bad influences in the neighbourhood. When I spoke to people who know him they all said to me that 'he is a good boy,' but when he's with friends from the neighbourhood he transforms himself into another person.
"When he was with Sporting's academy, he was caught driving without a licence. Shortly after that, during a game, he got a red card and threw his Sporting jersey on to the ground. The supporters from the club did not like that. He always had these kinds of small problems. I believe he's a good boy, but he's very influenced by the guys around him from his neighbourhood who don't have responsibilities like him."
Semedo's progression has always been stop-start. He joined Sporting's academy as a 16-year-old, which was relatively late. The club's youth-team coaches converted him from midfield into defence. Despite his talent, his first international appearances only came with the Portugal under-20 team in 2014. It seemed he came from nowhere.
"He grew up surrounded by other good centre-backs at Sporting such as Eric Dier, who is at Tottenham Hotspur now; Tobias Figueiredo, who is at Nottingham Forest; and Tiago llori, who is also in England with Reading," says Pereira. "A coach who I know at Sporting's academy, who coached them all, said that Ruben Semedo was the best of the four in terms of potential."
Jorge Jesus, who gave Semedo his competitive debut at Sporting (in August 2015 against Benfica in a Super Cup final), once described him as "the future of the national team's central defence."
Pereira likens Semedo's style of play to former Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand, as he's fast, strong and excellent in the air. Tom Kundert, author and editor of football website PortuGOAL, says Semedo reminds him of Pepe, who played at the heart of Real Madrid's defence for a decade. Both are ultra competitive; they like to play on the edge. They're exuberant on the pitch, often reckless or—as Kundert puts it—"overenthusiastic."
Kundert, who is a Sporting fan and has been living in Lisbon since 1994, watched Semedo's rise closely.
He was appalled by the race debate that engulfed Portuguese football at the time Semedo was imprisoned last February. The catalyst happened when Gelson Martins—who was signed by Atletico Madrid during the summer—dedicated a last-minute winner to Semedo.
After scoring for Sporting in a league match against Moreirense, Martins revealed a message of support for Semedo on a white T-shirt underneath his jersey, which was written in creole: "With you until the end of the world". Martins got booked for the gesture of solidarity; as it was his second yellow card, it meant a dismissal. His subsequent suspension enraged some of his own fans.
"Gelson Martins was one of his best friends here at Sporting," says Kundert. "He came through the ranks with him. [The sending off] came in the game before Sporting played Porto in the league, and he missed it. It was a very big game. It was very interesting hearing the reactions.
"A lot of fans and a lot of the media were really critical of Gelson Martins, saying: 'This is stupid; this is disgraceful—you're one of Sporting's best players and now Sporting are going to be weaker when they go and play Porto.' Then there was the other side of the matter. People were saying how strong this friendship is. What a bond these young players have—that it showed a great solidarity, that the player didn't even think about the consequences.
"There was a very controversial article written in one of Portugal's main newspapers by Octavio Ribeiro the day after that game. The journalist was accused of racism, basically because he was saying 'these players who come from the Portuguese favelas, we can teach them how to be great footballers but we can't educate them' in terms of being good human beings. He got pounded, and rightly so."
Huesca, who are playing in La Liga for the first time in their history, have given Semedo a fresh start. His parent club, Villarreal, will watch his progress with interest. They stopped paying his salary while he was in prison.
For a spell with Sporting, Semedo had structure. He bought an apartment close to their training ground where he lived with his girlfriend and their daughter. That relationship broke up, however, and Semedo moved to Spain with his cousin and a friend, the two alleged accomplices who fled following the kidnapping case.
It seems Villarreal were careless in leaving Semedo so isolated when he first arrived in Spain, given his troubled track record. Failing to nail down a starting place—he played his last game for the club against Barcelona in December 2017—and getting injured didn't help.
"He wasn't part of the trainer's dynamic at Villarreal," says Calero. "He wasn't part of the dressing room. He didn't have a good relationship with the rest of the players in the squad, and he spent most of the time injured. He played only four matches in La Liga, not even full matches. So he didn't play enough, and he brought all his bad company with him to Spain, and the same problems he had before in Portugal."
In October 2017, within a few months only of moving to Valencia, Semedo was accused of hitting a man over the head with a bottle outside a nightclub. In November 2017, he allegedly threatened a nightclub staff worker—who had just finished work—with a gun.
Then came the kidnapping allegations, and now—after several months stewing in prison having been denied bail—a shot at redemption.
"It's obvious he couldn't continue at Villarreal," says Calero. "At Huesca, they will try to see if finally he can rehabilitate himself and show how good a player he is. He was an amazing player before, so it's a second chance for him to show how good he can be."
Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz