surinenglish

A LOOK AT LA LIGA

A force of nature

Joaquín receives the adulation of the Betis fans.
Joaquín receives the adulation of the Betis fans. / EFE
  • Joaquín is far from a conventional footballer. At 38, he scored his first hattrick and has recently extended his contract past his 40th birthday

Some footballers invest millions in experts to cultivate their brand and personality, Joaquín Sánchez needs none of that.

You could make this fellow up. He's the most loveable player, at one of the most likeable clubs - Real Betis. Last weekend he went into the record books as the oldest player to ever to score a La Liga hattrick - aged 38. He beat the great Alfredo Di Stéfano's record.

Quite deservedly he claimed the Marca front-page and headline 'Joatrick' (I hope our sub-editor doesn't steal it!).

This is a man who has been entertaining us on and off the pitch since his debut in the year 2000. I remember the Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier comparing him to Luis Figo as one of the best wingers in the world.

Many major clubs were interested in signing him but the Betis owner Manuel Ruiz de Lopera stubbornly stood in the way of any move and threatened to loan him out to lowly Albacete as a punishment for showing ambition. Joaquín called his bluff and drove for five hours across Spain to pose for a picture at his proposed new club. The deal was halted.

He did thrill fans of Valencia, Fiorentina and Malaga where he was a star of the team that was so close to a Champions League semi-final. But he will always be associated with Real Betis and has just signed a new contract beyond his 40th birthday. In fact, he now also owns two per cent of the club who signed him as a promising teenager from an underprivileged background.

One of nine children, he dreamed of being a bullfighter. His upbringing wasn't conventional. It's folklore that he was breastfed until the age of seven. Maybe when he finally retires, he could launch his own energy drink?

There must be some secret to his longevity? It took him just 18 minutes to score three goals against Athletic Bilbao. "It's the first hattrick of my life and I don't think I will get another one," he said humbly, before adding: "I will never forget this day, but I'll stay at home. I'm tired. But no one believes that, I'm going to have a drink." You don't doubt that he did and it wasn't milk!

These days, leading footballers employ professionals to run their social media accounts and invent things to make them sound interesting. Joaquín is just a natural. A bit like Gazza but not as daft. When he signed for Malaga he was requested to perform the obligatory keepie-uppies. He opted to grab the microphone and perform an improvised stand-up routine.

This is the man who once accepted the challenge to hypnotise a hen on Spanish television and is still hypnotising defenders at the age of thirty-eight.