Joaquín remains fervent even in his conclusive years

Málaga C.F. will play hosts to Belgian Pro League side R.S.C. Anderlecht next Tuesday in a crucial UEFA Champions League clash. A victory for Málagueños will settle their progression to the next round of the competition atop of their group ahead of A.C. Milan for the first time in their history – victory for Anderlecht, depending on the Zenit St. Petersburg result at San Siro, will decide whether Jordan van den Brom’s men progress into the UEFA Europa League in third place, or are eliminated from European football altogether this season. A point shared between the two, however, provides some complications, though Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit would ensure that their group rivals, Milan, would be unable to obtain first place.

But that doesn’t come before their trip to the capital for an important league fixture against Getafe C.F. in Liga BBVA. Retaining similar nervousness and importance, both sides are attempting to lay siege on the remaining European places available whilst Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid devise their own title challenges. Málaga are advantageous to four other teams due to a stronger goal difference (+10), but nevertheless need something from their away game at Coliseum Alfonso Pérez if they are to abstain pursuing clubs Real Betis, Levante, Getafe and Rayo Vallecano. All of them head into the weekend’s match day fixtures with minus goal differences.

And Getafe is a side Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez is all too familiar with. It’s a side that he, when up against, has garnered more points from than any other team apart from C.A. Osasuna in 14 appearances. 9 victories, 2 draws and 3 defeats. But the last (and only) time that he has scored against them was not for his current club, but for the struggling Valencia C.F. Leading by a goal to nil at half time through Manuel Fernandes – only to be booked four minutes later – Valencia would benefit from the dismissal of Roberto Soldado as he was sent off with a straight red for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’. Four more yellow cards later and ten man el Geta were subject to a second goal scored by Joaquín. Vicente Rodríguez would net the final goal of the night to seal a 3-0 victory and help steer the club into its eventual finish of sixth place. Joaquín featured three weeks later against his former side Real Betis, with which they would also win 3-2, but not score. That was reserved for David Villa, Juan Mata and Rubén Baraja.

With that in mind he is likely to feature again against them for the 15th time in his career, adding it to a collection of 296 other Primera División outings to his already respectable collection. He has spent his entire career in his native homeland. Beginning at Real Betis in 1994, the Cádiz-born winger became a regular starter in the team’s B side even after it’s relegation from Segunda División B to the Tercera División – the fourth tier in Spanish professional football. He would make his first senior appearance as a professional player at the turn of the millennium for Spain’s under-21s in a 2-0 victory over Austria and, the following season, become recognised and adored by the Béticos faithful. Ironically his first senior club appearance for the club he grew up with was against the same team he currently plies his trade at.

It rapidly became apparent that a player with a lot of promise was emerging into the Spanish game. At 20 years old the five-foot-nine wide man was earmarked for greater things, in and outside of La Liga. So much so that a personal accolade picked up in 2002 as the La Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year remained him in high regard amongst media critics and fans across the country. Valencia would eventually come calling for his signature in the summer of 2006 as they went through their own summer sale under relatively new manager Quique Sánchez Flores with a squad still reminiscent of the Rafa Benítez era, including signings of Hugo Viana, Asier Del Horno and Fernando Morientes, whilst waving goodbye to the indistinguishable Pablo Aimar and Fábio Aurelio. Joaquín’s €22 million (£19.5 million) transfer was the largest of all 11 ingoing and outgoing transfers, making his debút for his new team against Getafe three games into the 2006/07 Liga BBVA season in mid-September.

But gradually over the subsequent seasons as time wore on a winger approaching the peak of his powers at a club with mixed fortunes began to tire. It did not help either that, in the aftermath of Spain’s surprise defeat to Northern Ireland in November 2007, halting their quest to qualify for UEFA Euro 2008, that he would come out to the media and lambast Luis Aragonés. His comments on a Spanish radio station signalled that the national side is “a mess, chaos and Luis doesn’t know how to handle difficult moments.” before adding “I know that what I am saying is not going to help me back into the national team, but it’s what I feel.” Indeed it did not help, since that match would prove to be his last for the senior side. Spain would qualify and become eventual winners.

Towards the end of the 2000’s Juan Mata and David Villa’s own rises up the ranks of Mestalla ushered in a new generation. As Joaquín was 28 years old, Isco was 17, Juan Mata 21, Éver Banega 21, David Silva 23, Pablo Hernández 24 and a rapid-firing David Villa the same age as his eldest compatriot. He would start multiple games, operating on the right flank in a tantalising 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system, but rarely play the full 90. Oftentimes he came on past the hour mark or when the game was entering the final fifteen minutes.

Now after being purchased by surging force that is Málaga in July 2011, a week after turning 30, he resides comfortably once again on Spain’s southern coast. Having now been married to his wife Susana for seven years and the father of two children, Daniela and Salma, family life is an ever-present feature in his present and future. He speaks fondly of them too. When interviewed about his personal life, rarely does the 31 year old not mention his loving partner and two daughters, and seems to be extremely grateful for. It is in fact with great appreciation that when Real Betis defeated Osasuna in extra time in June 2005 to win the Copa Del Rey for the second-ever time in their history, that it was featured at his wedding in the summer of the same year, with his family, friends and even colleagues all in attendance.

Moreover, he continuously pays respect to a man who had the most faith in him to be where he is today, his uncle. With the nickname “El Chino” they would regularly travel together in-between trials and training sessions from Cádiz to Seville in hour-long road trips. His unfortunate passing in 2002 – the same year in which he would be awarded the then-annual Don Bálon award – prompted Joaquín to forever pay his respects to his idol. A decade on, it remains an unwavering succession of gratitude of gracias.

It is believed that when he was young, “El Pisha” longed to become a bullfighter. His playing style as a tricky winger resembles that of one who engages within the profession: cunning, brave, determined and full of guile and, should he start for his club side on Saturday, undoubtedly he will re-enter the proverbial ring with the same character and demeanour that set La Liga alight back in 2002.

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