Legends surrender to the legend of Joaquín

Mondariz, Pontevedra, summer 2000. A Betis recently relegated to Second is a real powder keg. Rafael Gordillo, one of the myths in the club’s history, is the delegate of a team that, led by Fernando Vázquez, will try to return to the First Division. On the banks of the River Tea, Gordillo and Vázquez talk about a 19-year-old footballer, Joaquín, whom the Galician coach wants to make his debut as soon as possible. The winger has not attended the preseason, but his name was already among those chosen.

“Joaquín is a living legend of Real Betis Balompié, but not now that he has become the player who has worn our shirt the most times, but for a long time. He has earned it with his quality, his performance and his love for these colors ”, Rafael Gordillo himself clarified today. Just one day after Joaquín played his 461st match against Granada with the Betis jersey, beating another legend such as José Ramón Esnaola (460) and ahead of Julio Cardeñosa (413), Gordillo himself (411) and Javier López (394) to become the footballer with the most matches in the history of the Andalusian club.

“You could see that he was a different player since he arrived at Betis, but not everything is achieved with the quality and imbalance that he has always been able to generate. He is a professional like the crown of a pine tree, he trains like anyone else, he knows how to take care of himself and he has the same or even more enthusiasm than when I met him as a child ”, adds Gordillo, now Betis’s director of external relations. From that summer on, a very special relationship was forged between Gordillo (12 seasons at Betis and seven in Madrid, 75 times international) and Joaquín, who in his youth hallucinated with the stories Gordillo told him about his Betis, also from Madrid.

Joaquín, 39 years old, disputes his 12th season for Betis green and white and has approved the renewal to play for the club of his life at the age of 40 that he will be celebrating in July. On the day of his premiere that season against Compostela, Juan Merino, a veteran, hid his boots from him. “One day you will clean these boots for me,” Joaquín told the captain, with whom he shared a dressing room for several seasons and who later also had as a coach at Betis itself. Joaquín’s talent and personality made him play a World Cup (Japan-Korea 2002) when he was 20 years old. He has scored goals in four decades and is a valid thread that unites generations of footballers such as Luis Enrique, Hierro, Albelda, Puyol, Raúl and Morientes with Xabi Alonso, Iniesta, Jesús Navas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi, Villa (the champions of the world) to the current Pedri, Fabián and Dani Ceballos.

“Emerson’s father [compañero del Betis] He’s younger than me, ”Joaquín jokes. “There is a moment in life when your record is taken away and that’s it,” José Ramón Esnaola tells this newspaper. With about 48 years in Seville, he continues to maintain his Basque accent. “I played all the games of the 84-85 season and on the day I turned 39, on June 30, Betis confirmed that I was not renewing,” recalls Esnaola. “I trained at Betis Deportivo [filial bético] and some of the best youth players came to me, such as Varela, Maldonado, Dani and Joaquín. He had something special, without a doubt, a lot of class and great speed. I had to work a little more and we got to it. Look, he has surpassed me, he has become a Betis legend ”, adds Esnaola. “Joaquín has been one of the best players that Spanish football has produced in recent decades. Sometimes great players don’t play in big teams, ”says Esnaola, 1977 Cup champion in a legendary final against Athletic, where he saved his idol and friend Iribar a penalty.

That final also left in the memory of the Betis fan the two goals of Javier López, one of the best midfielders in the history of Betis and also a Verdiblanca legend. “The truth is that Joaquín’s longevity has surprised us all. We always saw that he was a great player, but that continuity was not expected by almost anyone. Joaquín is surrounded by a halo of jokes and jokes, but there is much more. A very good footballer, who takes care of himself, a lover of his profession and with the ability to symbolize Beticism. Of course he is a Betis legend ”, Javier López clarifies.

“He is 39 years old when in my time the one who reached 33 was a strange uncle. Many things have changed in football, but it is clear that Joaquín has something special, spectacular genetics ”, clarifies López, fourth player in the history of Betis with more games in the First Division (266), surpassed by Joaquín himself (362) , Cardeñosa (307) and Esnaola (303).

“I always tell him that as long as he feels good physically and sees that he is capable of contributing, do not leave because later he will miss him a lot … and we will miss him more. He will know better than anyone when it is time to quit, but I think that time has not yet come, “says Gordillo. “I would tell him to play one more year at least, but the moment he saw that he could not give any more, he would leave it, because a legend like him can never crawl,” proclaims Javier López. Betis will announce shortly the renewal of Joaquín.

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