el mundo en nuestras manos – Chapter 2
Here comes the second chapter of Pepe Reina’s book! This chapter revolves around my beloved Javi Martínez.
Chapter 2: The new ones
“With the 20, from the Altos Hornos de Bilbao, the man who steals more balls than anyone else on the planet, the strength, the spirit, the muscle, the dedication of Spain… Javi Martínez!”
He came in without making too much noise and with no one betting he would make it. And in his first ever call-up, he became a world champion. He’s a player with a very promising future and a great commitment.
All of the media attention was focused on them, the new players. This attention was normal, and the veterans were a bit grateful for that on that first day of welcome and reunion. The training camp for the World Cup had just started, and since we would be together for more than month, each one would have his turn to speak with each and every one of the media outlets that accompanied us on this adventure.
It’s not usual for there to be more than one new player on a list. And on this list, there were three. That meant that we could enter into the residence of the Football City with all the peace in the world. We knew that where the TV cameras, the photographers and the microphones were congregated, there we could find Víctor Valdés, Pedrito – as the days and games went by, he would become Pedro – and Javi Martínez.
While observing Javi Martínez on the bus, I thought that if I looked into his head – or that of Mata, or Busquets – I would see thoughts on something that has never been achieved in Spanish football. No player has been a world and Olympic champion. They were probably already thinking about Olympic gold as soon as we won the World Cup. This shows the continuous commitment that they have towards those who have been and are their teammates on the U-21 team. They could have thought that they had already achieved everything and considered it a loss of prestige to return to a “lower” level with players their own age, but they were the ones who were thinking about winning a World Cup and helping the national team qualify for the U-21 European championship and for London 2012. They can win the World Cup again. But the Olympics… it is all or nothing for these games in England, the place I love for how well they welcomed me and all they have taught me in these last five years. [Pepe, please stop going off on tangents!!!]
On the first day of long-term training camps, we are always given a plan for what each day will consist of. The plan for this camp ended on July 11 in Johannesburg. That’s what the paper said and that’s what we had in our minds. In order for this to become a reality, we had to do a lot of things, and do them well. Failures, in case there were any, would have to be very few. Well, there could only be one and on a certain day. If the error came about in another moment, we would have to say goodbye to all the aspirations and hopes expressed on the faces of not only the players, but also the coaching staff and the Federation personnel, as well as all the journalists that accompanied us.
During these first few days, we had to fulfill some obligations that had practically become rituals. One of them was in the locker room, and is of a private nature. Others, also private, were with the coaching staff. And of course, some that had to do with the image of the national team. It was during one of these that what I consider the first anecdote of the World Cup occurred.
A lot of people think that we players know beforehand who the coach will call up. They think that the footballers know, and that the people who work for the Federation know as well. A lot of people believe that it’s all staged when Vicente del Bosque reads the list in front of the press and those who are called up react with surprise. But it’s not like that. The proof is in the pudding (in Spanish: Y a las pruebas me remito). Well, in the lack of pruebas (it means both proof, and fitting, as in for clothes) actually… or measurements.
Those of us who have played several times with the national team didn’t have a small problem that the new players had. We had to take our official photo with our official suits, and since there were three newbies, nobody had been able to take their measurements beforehand to make their suits by the second day. And of course, not all of us have the same cuerpecito serrano (great body). Some of us do, while others… not so much. We’re all athletes, but we range from the 1.40 of the Poni David Silva to the almost two meters of the truck of La Roja, Fernando Llorente. So, no matter how hard you look, you couldn’t find made-to-order suits for Víctor Valdés, Javi Martínez or Pedrito. Thank goodness the photo was only of the players. Between a physiotherapist, an equipment manager and another charitable soul, we could all pose for the picture, with those three wearing “rented” suits as if it were a wedding.
[Included is a photo of the entire delegation, and indeed, fisio Juan Carlos Herranz and utillero Antonio Guerra are missing.]
The truth is you could say that we were experiencing the first few days of a marriage that should last for eternity. When we arrived, we all signed that contract that lasted until July 12. No one wanted to start their vacation before that. If we managed to stick it out until that day, we knew that no person could break up our marriage with glory. No one prevent us from entering into Spanish sports immortality. That was the start of a road to the very top.
And while the rookies attended to the media and looked for the perfect suit for the photograph, the rest of us were in tune with each other. We were more or less those who had participated in the classification for the World Cup. The majority of us had also been part of the Eurocopa team two years ago, during which we showed the entire world that Spain’s senior national team could win trophies.
It didn’t take long for us to change our mentalities from the long and hard seasons we had had with our clubs. Those who didn’t fight for the Champions League had played in the Europa League or in domestic competitions. We had been rivals in Spain and in England. But now, we all had the same objective.
In this moment, after trying to create the most friendly atmosphere possible, I have to confess that during a few days I was afraid. I didn’t like the fact that everyone considered us the favorites. They talked as if we had won the World Cup many times over, that it would be extremely easy, that we had to win the group stage but everything would be a cakewalk after that. No. In a World Cup, everything has to be perfect and it’s hard for it to turn out like that.
We knew that the entire country was optimistic. We understood, but we had to be careful. We had to respect all our rivals equally. The first and worst enemy we had was ourselves. If we played well, we knew that we could become one of the favorites to win the World Cup.
The fear that invaded me was not due to my teammates. Nor was it caused by the people that surrounded us. I feared the Spanish character. If anything characterizes Spaniards, it’s how the strongest optimism can pass to the deepest pessimism in only one second. Just look at what happened during the World Cup. The final was great and that’s what will be remembered. But if we had been eliminated in a previous round, all of Spain would have been disappointed. People had high hopes and we felt the weight of those expectations.
In a World Cup or any event that lasts a month, success belongs to the entire group. To all those who are called up. Everyone has a role. In a group, there has to be a bit of everything. Players have to know when they come in to a game how to immediately get into the flow of the game. There’s no time to wait for anyone. And you shouldn’t be able to notice a change of players.
That’s what happened with Javi Martínez. In the World Cup, he got his moment when Xabi Alonso was injured. He played some minutes. It happened with Mata, and it happened here too – I felt envious of the minutes he got to play. Any coach would have a hard time with the possibility of Xabi not being able to play, but the man who came from the Altos Hornos de Bilbao calmed us all with his performance. Javi was more about relaxing in his room and staying low-key, until he stepped onto the field and expended all his energy.
When you play with him, you realize immediately that he intercepts a lot of balls and that he’s very graceful. Javi is a very hardworking player whose labor in the midfield is fundamental. People think that he’s a tricky player, but he has very good technical qualities. He’s another one that will be a great player and will dispute the World Cup in Brazil, because Javi will definitely make it to a second World Cup.