Spain’s most loved footballer retires


June 7
Anna, Valencia

I’m not referring to one of the big international names such as Messi, Benzema, or Cristiano Ronaldo. I’m not referring to one of the super galactic stars of Real Madrid or Barcelona.

No, I’m referring to a unique footballer who has played with distinction in the Spanish Football League for Valencia and Real Betis (one of the two football clubs based in Sevilla).

As any fan of Spanish football will immediately know, I’m referring to the player Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, known affectionately by all Spanish football fans by just his first name Joaquín.

He has retired at the age of 41, his last match being a friendly match this week between Real Betis and a selection of famous national stars. Many well-known players such as the two great ex-Real Madrid and Spanish national team players Sergio Ramos and José Maria Gutierrez ‘Guti’ turned up to play in this final game’, Ramos generously signalling Joaquín to be ‘El Numero Uno’.

The stars of ‘El Chiringuito’, the Spanish TV football programme which is the equivalent of Gary Lineker’s Match of the Day turned up to pay homage and express admiration for this player.

Likewise, Joaquín was described by other ex-footballers and media football commentators as a ‘leader’, a man who ‘humanised football’, an ‘unrepeatable player’.

So what is so special about this player who is virtually unknown outside of Spain but is so admired within Spain?

Well, although not being a famous and stellar international star, he did play for the Spanish national team 51 times, so he was a decent footballer. He was a fast and tricky winger/midfielder with good dribbling and crossing skills and scored a creditable number of goals in his career.

But that’s not it. The reason he is so much loved and admired throughout Spain is his character and the way he conducted himself on the pitch. Born in Cádiz province, he played football with typical Andalucían open-heartedness.

Yes, a fierce competitor on the football pitch but always with a smile on his face. If in a tackle he left an opposition player on the floor, he would be the first to offer a hand up for the opposition player and give a quick smile. If anyone was injured either in his own team or the opposition, he’d always be amongst the first to try and help.

He didn’t go in for the cynical ‘professional foul’, ‘falling over’ in the penalty area, or feigning grave injury as is so popular among many modern footballers. After the game he was always generous in his praise for other players, and always with humour.

For older CBN readers, the only two very good English league players I can think of who were so genuinely respected and admired as players but could put a smile on your face in the same way as Joaquín are Jimmy Greaves or Denis Law.

Also, like Greaves and Law, Joaquín’s personality and impish sense of humour has made him something of a television and media personality in Spain so his appeal goes way beyond just football. There is no player comparable to Joaquín in the current English league.

Of course, there were many tears after this week’s last game… from Joaquín himself, from the 60,000 full house at his final game, and I think I detected almost a tear in ‘hard man’ Sergio Ramos’ eyes.

Joaquin was a rarity in today’s football… yes a very good footballer, but a consistently fair player who put a smile on your face as soon as you saw him on the pitch. He wasn’t just liked, respected and admired by the fans of his own team. He was uniquely liked, admired and respected by all Spanish football fans.


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