Back home in Venezuela, Deyna Castellanos is known as “Queen Deyna” but, minutes into our conversation, all nagging fears that Manchester City’s new No 10 might prove precious or high maintenance have evaporated.
In Spanish reina means queen and, as it rhymes with Deyna, it felt a natural fit for a woman who became captain of her country’s La Vinotinto at only 21.
Gareth Taylor’s marquee summer signing from Atlético Madrid is 23 now but Castellanos recognises that, without winning a college scholarship to study journalism and football in Florida, that national armband might never have been hers.
“Going to the US was life-changing,” says the refreshingly down-to-earth forward who grew up in the city of Maracay near the Caribbean coast, idolising Brazil’s Marta and fighting for the right to play football. “It was an amazing, very important, moment for my career.”
It explains why Castellanos has established a foundation which, among other things, helps provide football scholarships for young South American girls and why she talked so passionately about gender equality, education and “changing mindsets” at her introductory unveiling as a City player.
“I want to change the world a little bit and fight for equality,” says a versatile forward or attacking midfielder central to Gareth Taylor’s reconstruction plans after a summer of radical change in east Manchester.
With Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh decamping to Barcelona, Georgia Stanway joining Bayern Munich, Caroline Weir leaving for Real Madrid and Ellen White retiring, this season’s first XI is much altered.
“The players that left were very big, very important,” acknowledges Castellanos, who scored 23 goals in 59 appearances for Atlético. “But everyone here now is very happy and excited to be at City … even though it rains quite a bit in Manchester!”
Moreover, with England’s Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly still around, continuity is not a total stranger as Taylor strives to secure his side’s first WSL win of the season at home to Leicester on Sunday.
City’s manager did not always see eye to eye with Bronze but Castellanos is impressed with the former Wales striker. “He’s a really nice one,” she says. “He’s always trying to teach you and make you better; that’s not something every coach takes the time to do. I think I can grow as a player here.
“English football’s faster, more physical and more aerial than in Spain but its technical too, a nice mix of styles. Manchester City’s always been a passing team and that matters. It’s very important to control games by dominating with the ball.”
The seven-star infrastructure at City’s state-of-the-art Etihad Campus must seem light years removed from daily life in Venezuela. Castellanos’s mission statement is to ensure every young girl can be “a queen in their own way” but the legacy of her country’s economic collapse after its failed socialist revolution dictates sheer survival is the extent of many citizens’ ambitions.
In 2018 her compatriot Salomón Rondón, then with Newcastle and now at Everton, spoke passionately about his distress at the country’s economic meltdown, painting a grim picture of empty supermarket shelves, widespread water shortages, a dearth of essential medicines and mass cancellation of hospital operations; all set against a backdrop of violence, kidnappings and galloping inflation.
Four years on the emergency has eased slightly but the capital, Caracas, still registers one of the world’s highest murder rates. “I think, right now, the situation’s a little bit better than when Salomón told you that,” says Castellanos, whose family remain in Venezuela. “There are more food supplies and better access to medicines but the country’s still in a bad place. I hope that changes.”
Almost as sharp in front of a microphone as a goalmouth these days, she is tempted to become a journalist after retiring from football and enjoyed working as a television pundit, primarily for NBC and Telemundo, in Spain and at the 2019 women’s World Cup in France.
“I feel really comfortable in front of the camera,” she says. “I do analysis or commentating or interviews with the same passion I play my football.”
Despite learning her second language only after moving to Florida, Castellanos has trained herself to “think in English as well as Spanish” and is impressively bilingual on camera. With Venezuela having failed to qualify for next summer’s World Cup, she seems set to be courted by television companies before a tournament being staged in Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s going to be really spectacular,” she says. “Every team’s improved so much, technically and physically. The United States were always the ones to beat but now England have won the Euros and Spain also have a very bright future.”
Showpiece women’s tournaments can help drive social change and Castellanos applauded inwardly when the US team publicly demanded the sacking of all those North American club executives who turned blind eyes to the culture of systemic emotional and sexual abuse in their domestic league revealed by the recent Sally Yates report. “They’re brave to talk loud about important things,” she says. “I feel proud of them.”
Albeit in a very different context, she harbours similar sentiments about her collection of body art. “I’ve certainly got a lot of tattoos,” Castellanos reveals. “I’m not sure exactly how many, about 37. They’re a mix of words and pictures but I haven’t had a Manchester one done yet … it might include some rain!”