It could have come straight off the side of Del Boy Trotter's yellow Robin Reliant. Barcelona … Turin … Cardiff?! "It was a bit surreal," Malky Mackay grinned, but there it was: a source of pride for the Cardiff City manager, more proof that Gary Medel could prove to be the perfect signing, and a man of whom England will have to beware. Chile's dog of war, an idol the equal of men performing on more glamorous stages.
"When you look at the press cutting after he scored the winner for Chile in the final game to be put through to the World Cup – which I have looked at and it put a smile on my face – there is a photo of the three top players," Mackay explains. "Alexis Sánchez of Barcelona, Arturo Vidal of Juventus and Gary Medel of Cardiff City. The photo has those three names and those three teams underneath, which is a bit surreal."
Cardiff signed Medel at half-time during Sevilla's pre-season match at Old Trafford in the summer; instead of travelling back to Spain after the game, the Chilean headed straight to Wales with his new team. For Mackay, it represented a significant victory.
"There were certain points when we didn't think we could get him," he admits. "It was just the stubbornness on my part, where I thought: 'I'm going to keep trying here until I see him signing for someone else.'"
The impact has been immediate; on one level at least, it has also been unexpected. The Cardiff manager speaks highly of a player who is always on the ball, a man whose pass completion was over 96% against Swansea and 99% against Fulham.
"I don't know I've ever seen that before," Mackay says. He also notes proudly: "And when you've got Xavi coming out in the Barcelona press last season saying that he thinks they should sign him, that's not a bad marker to have. Players that keep the ball for the team are gold."
That description may come as a surprise to supporters in Spain. Xavi's alleged remarks are of doubtful credibility and the image they have of Medel in Spain is not so much him spraying the ball around the pitch as spraying bits of plastic chair around the touchline. When he was sent off against Atlético Madrid last season, he was furious. His then team-mate Alvaro Negredo had to pull him away from the referee. As he stomped along the touchline, manager Unai Emery spoke to him but on he marched. When he reached a chair on the touchline, he booted it into submission, two policemen sitting alongside flinching and turning away from the impact, hands up in self defence as the plastic splintered. The red card had been harsh, but it was no isolated moment.
Medel was sent off seven times for Sevilla. During the 2010 World Cup, the then Chile manager Marcelo Bielsa said: "Gary has so much desire to get the ball off his opponent that every time he goes into a challenge, he puts his whole life into it." His nickname, the Pitbull, was one he embraced and it said it all. Short but thick-necked, powerful, his eyes narrowed, brow heavy, he was aggressive, flying into challenges, confronting everyone and everything. For him to be redefined as a ball player may say something about the difference between the English and Spanish games. It is certainly striking. Or is it? "I am the Pitbull". Talk about giving a dog a bad name. One Sevilla team-mate blows out his cheeks. "Pfff ..." he says. As far as he is concerned, Medel was the best player in the Sevilla side and by a "very long way".
"I'm not so surprised he's playing well there," Emery insists. "He was a very good player, an idol in Chile. The truth is that his impact at Sevilla was uneven but people saw the conflict, the red cards, the rebelliousness. Sometimes people would get on his back and he would leap at them. People saw someone always at the very limit.
"But I didn't see him like that. He gave us real personality but he also had a bigger footballing part to play. He had energy and was important in the transitions. He was the 'pivot' who joined the team up; moves started with him and last season he had a lot of contact with the ball. He scored seven times. I thought he was an important player to lose. But the player and the person run in parallel. His behaviour sometimes got in the way of the way he played. His conduct is a product of the way he lived. He grew up like that."
Raised in the poor area of Cerro San Cristóbal in the district of Conchalí, Medel's story is not so much a report as a novel. There have been conflicts, crashes and confrontations. While playing at Boca, Medel once told how "in my neighbourhood, you'd see it all. There's more pressure [there] than at the Bombonera. One time while playing, I found three guns pointed at my head."
Another time he admitted: "If I hadn't been a footballer, I would have been a narcotraficante", a drug dealer. Those who knew him at Sevilla insists that Medel has a "good heart" and that when he made mistakes he was "full of remorse ... he always felt like the sorriest man on earth."
But there were mistakes and at times there were those at Sevilla who wondered if he was worth it; €13m from Cardiff was a good offer. The tough guy image mattered to him. When he was called up to the Chile squad, he admitted: "There's no hard man who can't be softened at times." But he remained determined not to cry during the national anthem, so that no one called him "the gay pitbull".
At Sevilla, players couldn't help smiling when they saw that the "embrace" between Medel and members of his family would involve punching each other. Properly. "He saw the nickname as a good thing, he internalised it: 'I am the Pitbull'. He played the role," Emery says. That was not always a good thing; it conditioned the way he played and the way others reacted to him. The club worked closely with Medel; they looked after him, talking to him constantly, players and staff. The work was pastoral and psychological as well as tactical.
"We tried to get him to correct those episodes and he was improving," Emery admits. "He was a rebel who needed teaching, channelling. He didn't need to leave all the aggression behind as a player but as a person. It was getting better and better and I think English football is perfect for him: the contact that was frowned up here will be welcomed. It will suit him and he won't feel that sense of injustice against him. The values of English football – hard but noble, that idea of virility but with respect – will suit him.
"I'm really pleased and not surprised that he has started so well. I insist, he is a very good footballer. But he really got into the role: 'I am the Pitbull'. And a Pitbull has to bite. Fine, but don't bite your owner. Sometimes the Pitbull did."