There is a much-loved footballer from Andalusia who transcends his own profession in terms of the sheer admiration and popularity which is showered upon him. A unique personality in so many ways, he represents a fascinating blend of elegance and charm married to a fierce will to win. This individual is called Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, better known simplyas Joaquín.
From his upbringing in his native El Puerto de Santa María, Joaquín lived, breathed and slept football - possessing a dream to reach the top. Born into a family of four brothers and sisters, his life was centred around his two fs: family and football.
Being very family-orientated, he missed his home comforts when staying at the Betis lodgings and, tiring of the constant journeys, he almost quit football. Crucially, he was persuaded by his family and club to pursue a dream he craved. From that moment on, he never looked back.
His debut arrived in August 2000 and what the club already knew became clear to the wider world - a superstar was in the making. That season, he made 38 second tier appearances, scoring three goals. With that, promotion was secured to the Primera. With Betis in the elite and progressing, so too progressed the footballer, who matured and improved in harmony with his team season-after-season. The rough diamond became the crown jewel, which propelled him to becoming a regular in the Spanish national team.
His elegance, dribbling ability and pace as a tricky right-winger drove Betis to a memorable 2004-05 season with a Copa Del Rey trophy and qualification for the Champions League - the first Andalusian club to achieve the feat. With his performances drawing acclaim from Betis supporters and La Liga alike, so too did interest begin from overseas.
The following season, Joaquín showcased his talents to a wider audience in the Champions League, playing all six group matches, featuring against both Liverpool and Chelsea. It was precisely against the West London club that alerted owner Roman Abramovich of his ability and subsequently sounded out his club to secure his services at all costs.
With a deal almost complete however, Joaquín declined to sign of the dotted line. The reason? His pure love and feeling for Betis allied to his disinterest in the fortunes that awaited him. He tellingly realised too the climate in London wouldn’t suit his outgoing, extrovert nature.
It wasn’t all rosy on his footballing path. He was sent to Second Division club Albacete on loan as punishment for wanting to join Valencia. To people’s amazement, Joaquín personally drove the 500km journey to greet officials. On his arrival, he found no representative at the club’s offices so he took a photo of himself with construction workers at the stadium. It was a comical time but soon after, the deal was declared null and void as common sense prevailed and Joaquín secured his Valencia move.
Nonetheless, in 2015, he made a hero’s return to Betis. His signing was on transfer deadline day – and it was controversial. With talks between Fiorentina and Betis becoming fraught to the point the deal was nearly off, Joaquín punched a coffee table in dismay - and broke two fingers. To his relief, the transfer was agreed with minutes to spare. At his unveiling - which was greeted by 20,000 supporters - he posed with a white cast on his arm, showing the emotional time he endured to push through a return to his boyhood team.
In this second coming, he has made 123 appearances in four seasons, scoring fourteen goals to date. He also helped Betis return to the European scene in last seasons Europa League. An unbeaten group stage campaign included a famous victory against AC Milan in the San Siro.
The Spanish footballing icon appears in the top-10 standings of La Liga games played with over 500 appearances, appearing over 800 times for club and country. That respect endures in every away stadium, he receives a thunderous applause from both sets of supporters to pay homage to this magnificent footballer and entertainer.
To explain why an entertainer is because he is pure entertainment. Football has not only been the sole love of Joaquín; he grew up dreaming to be a bullfighter but realized his talent with the ball would serve him better. He possesses a passion for comedy and references Richard Gere and Leonardo Di Caprio as stars of the big screen he admired.
The footballer’s charm, character and charisma married to his ability to tell an exhaustive amount of jokes endears him not just in the football world, but in entertainment circles too. As the absolute joker-of-the-pack, he thrives on entertaining and actively comments his tales on social media. His infamous broad smile and enthusiasm ensure regular media appearances. Appearances including successfully hypnotizing a chicken live on television to driving the Betis team bus through an assault course - welcome to the weird, but wonderful world of Joaquín.
He is also famous for an interview with the Brazilian footballer Julio Baptista during their Málaga days. When Joaquín answers: “Tennis,” to what hobbies interest him, Baptista replies: “You’ve never played tennis in your life and you say tennis!” To which Joaquín infamously says: “I don’t even know how to pick up a racket, Julio!” To this day, that joke rumbles on to the extent Joaquín has created a clothing line entitled ‘Hulio’ in reference to ‘that’ interview.
Joaquín has stated on many occasions his love to go into the showbiz industry when he retires. As football would lose a star; showbiz would gain a superstar. His likeable and personable nature mixed with core family values and high work ethic have ensured he is held in the highest of regard. Yet the humility of the man ensures he remains a cheerfully modest star both on the football field and in front of the camera.
This perfectly sums up the man behind the smile.