When the Real Madrid futbol team practices each summer at UCLA, Abel Rodriguez takes time off from his job cleaning floors at the MTA to wrangle balls for the team for free. The story, by Grant Wahl at Sports Illustrated, gets interesting when Rodriguez's family in Fontana encourages him to fly to Spain for a match between Madrid and Barcelona. He goes — without a ticket or a hotel — and of course is turned away at the team's training complex. Rodriguez plopped down in the snow to figure out his options, and got lucky after more than five hours: Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho drove by and spotted Rodriguez.
"It was a miracle that I saw him," Mourinho said. "I saw Abel seated on the road outside the training ground. I was leaving in my assistant Rui Faria's car, and there are always a lot of people outside. But I told Rui, 'Stop! It's the guy from Los Angeles.'"
"Amigo! What are you doing here?" Mourinho asked.
"I came to visit you guys," Rodríguez replied. "It's my first time in Europe, and my dream has been to come and see games. I was hoping to see El Clásico."
Mourinho called an assistant and arranged for Rodríguez to have his own room at the fancy hotel where Real Madrid was staying before the Barcelona game. Mourinho instructed him to get some rest at the hotel and meet him at the training site the next morning. That evening, the night before El Clásico, the two men caught up for 90 minutes together before sharing dinner with the Real Madrid coaching staff.
As Rodríguez explained the story of his family wanting him to visit Europe, Mourinho stopped him. Real Madrid was leaving for England and its Champions League Round of 16 decider against Manchester United the day after the Barça game. Rodríguez was planning to return to L.A., but Mourinho would have none of it.
"I told him, 'No way, you come to Manchester with us and work as a kit man,'" Mourinho said. "'You help us and you live a bigger dream, a Champions League match from the inside!'"
Rodríguez said he'd love to, but he would pay for everything.
Mourinho shook his head and smiled. "When you're with me in Europe, you don't pay for s---."
And it gets even better.
Photo of Rodriguez, left and Coach Mourinho via Sports Illustrated