It’s Tuesday evening at La Rosaleda. Malaga are playing the first Champions League game in their history, and one of the main images of the night is the sight of a Spaniard tearing through the gears, frightening defenders with his directness and pace. The hips dodge form side to side, and he causes dangers every time he gets near the penalty area.
The name of the player isn’t Isco, no, this isn’t another burgeoning young Spanish talent – his name is Joaquin.
Seven years after making his Champions League debut with Real Betis against Liverpool, one of Spain’s greatest football icons was stepping out with his 3rd club in the competition, Malaga. He had of course spent time with Valencia too, and having played with the trio in the Champions League he became the first ever Spanish player to appear with a hat-trick of clubs.
It wasn’t his only recent landmark either as another at the weekend was quite significant. His goal against Levante meant that the winger had scored in 12 consecutive La Liga seasons. An outstanding statistic proving that although he’s featured for different clubs, his consistency makes him the Ryan Giggs of Spain’s Primera. There have of course been some disappointing years and some feel he never reached the level truly expected of him, but there have been memorable ones too and this, as he has just passed his 31st birthday, looks set to be one in the latter category. Amongst all the turmoil Malaga have encountered over the summer they needed those who remained to step up and show their solidarity to the club and its support – Joaquin is doing that more than anyone else.
He’s started the season in extraordinary fashion, playing with the verve of a cantera product getting his first taste of the limelight and nous of the veteran he now is. Maybe it’s being in the presence of Isco and Fabrice Olinga in regards to this fresh impetus, after all Sir Alex Ferguson always said the youngsters at Manchester United maintained his drive and passion for the game as he descends into the advanced years of his managerial career.
Joaquin harnesses those aspects too, and it shows as he sways and slaloms across the turf, still using that injection of pace and flash of skill to deceive a defender. Now with a vast amount of experience behind him he adds intelligence too, when most get sucked in to compromising situations and show naivety Joaquin is there to provide a composed presence. He’s seen the strife and success with both Betis and Valencia, even Malaga given recent events. Joaquin has been around for so long now you’d have thought defenders would anticipate his every move, but instead they continue to be bewildered.
There’s no doubting whether Joaquin is able to maintain this level of performance, he keeps himself fit and of course has the talent most would only dream of. Along with Juan Carlos Valeron he remains one of the players who have transcended across the eras in Spanish football, witnessing the sour with the national team before the new breed encountered success. Joaquin remains an icon, just ask those youngsters at Betis who still have his picture on their walls to next to Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
“We have a certain responsibility to make these people [the fans] happy” Joaquin acknowledges before insisting there are problems greater than those of a football club, but in real life. “In football we live in our own little bubble, but outside it, it’s raining a lot.”
For Joaquin right now, the sun is shining firmly on him again.