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The 40-year-old footballer

The 40-year-old footballer

Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez was once hailed the “golden child” of Spanish football. But he never really lived up to his reputation. Then again, he’s lasted longer than most. So what really defines success in football?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker. 

One story every day to make sense of the beautiful game. 

Today… the story of a player pushing the boundaries of age.

Let me tell you about Spanish footballer Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez. You might know him better as just… Joaquín.

He’s preparing for another season with Real Betis, the club where his career began. 

“Joaquín Sánchez, a genuine idol in the Benito Villamarín, was going to pull on the green and white shirt again, nine years after leaving the club…”

Commentary from an interview with Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez

And the important thing to know about Joaquín is he recently turned 40, and he’s made 847 career appearances. His mantra, if you can call it that, is something of a reminder that “sometimes we forget that the most important thing is to play”.

So the question, if we’re marking this important milestone in Joaquín’s career is: what defines success in sport? Is it longevity? Glory? Or the number of trophies in the cabinet?

Joaquín was hailed as the “golden child” of Spanish football when he first burst onto the scene at 16, and by 19 the winger had made his professional debut for Betis, his hometown club.  

He was La Liga’s Breakthrough player of the year in 2002, and he almost became a “Galactico” at Real Madrid with Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo. But never really lived up to his early reputation.

By 2007 – at the age of 25 – he had played his last match for his country and Spain won the 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros without him. 

“The Spanish are desperate to hear the final whistle… there it is! Spain are world champions 2010. Desolation for the Dutch, and absolute ecstasy for the Spanish. The final score was Netherlands 0, Spain 1…”

Commentary from the 2010 World Cup final

His only tangible achievements are two Copa del Rey winners’ medals, so – considering his early promise – Joaquín’s story is a tale of what could, and probably should, have been. 

But you can’t get away from the fact that Betis fans adore him.

And of course… footballing history is littered with great players who won little. Francesco Totti at Roma, Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier, and Newcastle striker Alan Shearer are just a few examples. 

And Shearer remains all the time Premier League record scorer… so was he a failure?

Alex Ferguson definitely wanted him, so Shearer could’ve won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and one Champions League trophy at United over that same period. 

“And I just thought: I’m going home… I’m going home. It’s my dream move, I stood on the terraces as a kid, watching Newcastle growing up, it was my dream to play for Newcastle. I stood on the Gallowgate End, watching my heroes play, and I thought: I’ve got the chance to do that, I’m gonna go home, and if you ask any other guy or any other kid who has stood at Man United at the Stretford End, or at Arsenal or at the Kop as a 12, 13 or 14-year-old kid, and they’ve now got the opportunity to do that, I’m pretty much sure that the rest… all of them would do that. I did it, I achieved my dream. And if you ask me: have I any regrets? I haven’t got any regrets whatsoever, I know I would’ve… there’s no guarantee I would’ve won more trophies – I probably would have, but I’ve had the time of my life. I’ve achieved my dream…”

Alan Shearer on choosing to move to Newcastle instead of Manchester United

There’s only one team wins the title every year and everyone else goes home empty-handed. So surely there must be another way that we can say that a particular player – or even a team – has achieved something that matters?

For Joaquín, a heroes’ welcome awaited him on his return to Betis in 2015 following spells at other clubs.

And he invested one million Euros of his own money to become a shareholder of the club he so adores, and at 38 years old he even scored the first hat-trick of his career. 

It took him just 19 minutes and five touches of the ball. And as he slotted home for the third time, he ran over to embrace his coach, and the explosion of emotion couldn’t fail to give you a lump in your throat. 

He deserved the outpouring of love that followed. After all, Joaquín had waited 19 years for that moment. 

The relaxing of Covid rules means fans will be back in stadiums this season, and Joaquín says the one-year contract extension he signed this summer is so he can say a proper goodbye. 

On that day, Joaquin will retire knowing Betis fans will love him forever. 

There won’t be a dry eye in the house either, and – even if they won’t be handing out medals – you can’t tell me that’s not success. 

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Tom Kinsella.