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Laughter and tears after 23 years: Real Betis legend Joaquin bids emotional farewell to football

Joaquin Sanchez has spent most of his life crying with laughter. Now he just cried.

Actually, no, that’s not entirely true. How could it be? This is Joaquin, we’re talking about: Cheeky Scamp with a smile on his face, a twinkle in his eye and magic in his boots, with Winga. Feint and Sprint, used to be the PA announcer at Real Betis’ Benito Villamarin Stadium: Feint and Sprint. Endless jokes, too. The footballer who aspired to art and wanted to crack you. “The man who made the fans happy,” as its president, Angel Haro said. “Loved by all not just for his qualities as a player, but as a human being.”

And so when he announced his retirement from football on Thursday, joined by teammates, family and friends, an event that might have felt like a funeral turned into a wedding. Of course there were many laughs, but there were also many tears. “I don’t want it to be a sad farewell; I don’t know how to be sorry,” said Joaquin; Only seconds later he was crying again, and so were they. It wasn’t the last time. Loosen your tie, he was told. Yes, good idea, I replied.

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It came as a surprise to them, too: They thought the 41-year-old was going to walk on. But he made up his mind. No, he insisted, because his body couldn’t take it anymore, nor could his mind.

“The time is right,” he said. And so he has nine games left until this end the twenty-fourth Season, and then what? He will stay at Bettis but it won’t be the same. “I’m ready,” he said, but no one really was. “The thing I worry about is missing more than I realize: the smell of wet grass, the smell of the dressing room, of boots.”

“It’s going to be weird,” said her daughter Salma, not really knowing what else to say.

When Joaquin entered the room, immaculate in a blue suit, he was given a guard of honor by his teammates, who applauded him. There was the warmth of a wedding, one had the feeling, at the end of the photos with different groups: Joaquin with wife and daughters, Joaquin with mother and father, Joaquin with teammates, Joaquin with the president, Joaquin with the president, captain, Joaquin with the whole squad, even Joaquin with journalists. .

There were speeches: from the president, the captain, his coach. “What can I say about this guy?” Betis midfielder Andres Guardado said. So he said what everyone actually did: Top man, this man. There were speeches from his agent, coaches who watched him as a kid, team representative Alexis Trujillo and Betis legend Rafael Gordillo. Sitting up front together, mic in hand, telling stories and smiling away, these two were like a comedy double act.

Joachim’s wife Susanna and children came up. He went and helped his old father, Aurelio, to his feet, led him gently, carefully, affectionately, to the stage, sitting with his arms around him, looking at him and weeping again. Brother Ricardo joined them. Ricardo was previously in the Betis youth system. He was better than Joaquin, at least that’s what Joaquin wanted to tell his father, finishing him off; This time, he didn’t. Here’s what Aurelio said: “Joaquin has always been crazy about football. He has a big heart and he’s a good person and he’s a Mental horn“A funny bastard, a bit crazy.

Through the window: the training pitch, perfect in the sun. Behind it is the stadium. Asked what he saw when he looked there, Joaquin said: “My life.” And then cried again.

It’s also many other people’s lives, and that’s what makes it all the more important. For many people it really is an entire lifetime. Remember when he used to play? Probably not. Allow a little complacency here: he is the only footballer who, in this columnist’s entire career spanning the last man, leaves, something ends here in this room in Seville. “It’s tough,” said teammate Sergio Canales. “You made us all emotional. We will greatly miss your absence.”

Couldn’t you reconsider, he was asked, and more than once. Juanito, the centre-back and captain who was at the beginning and here, the day he announced the end, will never stop. Even his wife did, though she said so that she could take the girls to school every morning.

Manuel Pellegrini, his coach, repeatedly tried to convince him to reconsider. Joaquin was reminded that he had said there was no way he would leave if Betis got into the Champions League next season — and that now looks a real possibility as they finish fifth in La Liga. He was reminded that NBA legend Michael Jordan is back and coming back. “Well, there’s time,” he replied.

He was smiling then. He was also laughing when he said: “I’m 41: you have to stop sometime.” But it hurts. An athlete dies twice, they say. And the shadow of grief has fallen for his loss.

It’s been some journey, one hell of a career, the way he said goodbye, reflected his love and impact everywhere, how everyone thanked, appreciated. Joaquin made his debut in the second division in 2000. His first goal came then. “A fluke,” he called it. Has over 100 followers.

He has played more games than any outfield player in Spanish history. If he plays every game left this season — and surely he will now, even if it’s just a few minutes each time — he’ll have played more first-division games than any before. By one. Maybe it’s time; Perfectly timely

He played just over 1,000 senior games and won two Copa del Reys with Betis — they were here, on either side of him on the podium, as the first one was on his wedding day. He won another with Valencia. He won those two — get it — 17 years apart; If the first was there when he got married, he had a teenage daughter when the second arrived. They won two of the three Betis, half of the club’s trophies.

What was the best moment, he was asked. He was taken back to El Puerto de Santa Maria, a child taking the train to Seville every day, to an uncle, “chinese“Who had led him and who had died,” Joaquin said, bringing more tears to his eyes.

“I have been lucky to live some wonderful moments but if there is one, it is when I said to my father: ‘Dad, we have done it: I am going to play for the best team in the world, Real Betis Balompi,'” he said. “He gave us everything. There were eight of us, four boys, and we all played. I was the furthest away. He was so proud that one of his sons played football, it was a dream he followed. I was able to make him happy and as long as I could. I will carry it with me as long as I live.”

No one ever played more for them; No player has ever represented them. “Joaquin es Bettis,” the president said.

Joaquin has always attributed his longevity and his strength to the fact that he was breastfed until the age of six. The fact that he said it, that he laughed about it, said something about another reason he lasted so long. “He enjoyed life,” one of his coaches said, the affection shining from every word, “and he was an icon that he never did, never acted like. He helped everybody, made the dressing room a better place, looked after everybody. did. , and he was serious when he needed to be.”

Smiling doesn’t mean not working; It means doing better. you don’t play the first Almost your 42nd birthday is the only reason you are funny. It doesn’t mean don’t try. He was counter-cultural: he broke barriers, the absurd assumption that an athlete had to be very serious, a smile a problem, a symbol of frivolity. football hall guess have fun

With Joaquin it was; He made football better for everyone. If not always for him: sometimes, he is sure, it counts against him; Silliness, jokes, shuffling, dancing and flexibility, portray an image of him that doesn’t always help. Doubts from directors which according to those who worked with him were unfounded, especially later.

Pellegrini said, “It was an honor to coach him twice. His Spain career, of course, was shorter than it could have been, and it was a thorn in his side. His moment was a painful one: the penalty miss at the 2002 World Cup.

But that was just him, and those who worked with him welcomed the fun; It’s what got him this far and what gets any of them this far. Look at that last paragraph again. His big Spain moment was 2002! He returned to Betis in 2015, after most thought he would play out the last few years of his career. It is now 2023, a little less feinta little less Sprint A lot less minutes, but still playing. And still somehow good, different from the rest.

“Joaquin is a mixture of two things: first, he enjoys it a lot. Second, physically he is unique,” Pellegrini said. “He trains every day, he doesn’t get fat, he has a technical quality that is superior to other players.”

Teammate Borja Iglesias said a few weeks ago: “He shows you don’t have to take it seriously, but you also have to take it seriously. It’s true there’s a genetic factor. But he’s got to be looked after. He’s always understood when to have fun. Time and when he needs to be serious, when he needs more or less training. He shows that having fun and being professional can be compatible. I see Joaquin at his age, and see him train, and he does things that make you think. He is 20 years old again.

“Joaquin is great because he jokes but he doesn’t mind you playing jokes on him,” added Iglesias, indicating how long his captain has been carrying on. “I remember when I was at the training ground Paterno residence in Valencia [a youth player there] And he was in the first team. I saw him play jokes and finish off the chef. Now I get to enjoy him as a teammate every day and that’s great.”

No more. Remarkable enough that this was long.

“I can’t think of football without happiness,” Joaquin said. “Well, football and life. Sometimes I’ve paid for it, but I’ve always been true to myself and that’s the most important thing. I am who I am. I have no regrets. I didn’t take this decision lightly and it’s not a physical question. : I felt like I could carry on. It wasn’t an emotional thing, a lack of joy or desire. I just thought it was the right time. I wanted to leave my path.”

And so he smiled. Crying a little. Across the room, they stood and applauded. “Okay,” he said, when it was finally over, with everyone taking pictures, “where’s that beer?”



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