la cuna de los campeones (I)
Marca is running an interesting feature where they visit the hometowns of the players of La Roja, to see how they grew up and how they developed as players. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Fuentealbilla, Badia de Vallès and L’Hospitalet.
Fuentealbilla – Andrés Iniesta.
The town: Fuentealbilla barely has 2,000 residents. It is located 50 kilometers from Albacete, and close to the provinces of Valencia and Alicante. The town still has Roman ruins and also has interesting nature routes, as well as important salt mines.
The player: Andrés Iniesta began taking his first kicks at the ball in his school and on the streets of Fuentealbilla. His father José Antonio was the one who discovered the talent of the child when he was barely seven years old, and who took him to try out in Albacete, since the town did not have any competitive teams for such a young child.
La Escuela de Fútbol Municipal was his first destination. Iniesta’s first coach, Juan Ángel López or Juanón, remembers that “we didn’t admit children under the age of eight, and Andrés was seven, so we told him to wait one year. But his father kept on insisting. He told us his son was very talented and we had to watch him play.” That’s how four years of countless trips and thousands of kilometers traveled began. Juanón says, “they came from Fuentealbilla with Andrés on Mondays and Wednesdays for 45-minute long classes, next to the Carlos Belmonte. Some days, his father took him, other days it was his mother or his grandfather, everyone collaborated to bring Andresín.”
His football talents were already evident: “he was very smart, we saw things in him that we didn’t see in others, even though he was much younger than the rest.” Then Andrés left this team and entered into Albacete Balompié, joining the benjamín team of Víctor Hernández. Víctor says, “he’s the most incredible player I’ve ever had. It was hard to believe that an eight-year-old kid could have a vision of the game like that. He knew what he was going to do with the ball before he even received it, he dominated the game like a veteran. But the area he shone the most in was his way of being. He was very focused on football, he lived it like a professional, he was that type of player that was an example for the rest.”
In his second year in Albacete, Iniesta began to write his legend. During the Brunete tournament, he began to achieve national fame, as his coach then, José Manuel Balo, explains: “the alevín B team of Iniesta won the local championship even though they were one year younger than the rest. This was the only time in the history of the cantera that this had occurred. Andrés was spectacular, he decided the outcomes of the games by himself. He brought us into the Brunete tournament even though we were the youngest team.” One year later, he signed for Barcelona.
They will never forget… the stands full of scouts to watch him play. The 1995 edition of the Brunete tournament brought Iniesta national fame. Balo remembers those days: “Andrés was a sensation. The stands were full of scouts who came to watch him play, because even though he was small and one year younger than the rest, he was capable of carrying the team with his exquisite football. I still remember how he handled the ball and his vision of the game. He’s the only kid of that age who was able to handle the ball without looking at it. We also had a group of fans who came to watch our games just to see him play. He was very quiet and shy, he never got in trouble and he was an extraordinary kid.”
Catali on Andrés Iniesta: Francisco Javier Mármol, Catali, was Iniesta’s coach during his last year with Albacete. “He was very confident of his qualities. I made him the captain because although he was very shy, his teammates considered him a leader because on the field he was superior and they had a lot of respect for him. And he began to be an idol for the rest.” Catali also highlights his character and education: “he’s a very humble kid who hasn’t forgotten his origins and who is still in contact with his teammates from his youth teams. After the Eurocopa, he’s getting married and he’s invited a large part of that team to his wedding, including the coaches he had in Albacete.”
Badia – Sergio Busquets.
The town: Badia del Vallès is a town about one square kilometer in the Vallès Occidental administrative division, about 20 kilometers from Barcelona, with a population of 14,000. It was founded on April 14, 1994 when Barbera del Vallès and Cerdanyola del Vallès were separated. Currently, it’s known as “Busquets’ hometown.”
The player: as soon as you get off the highway and enter into Badia del Vallès, you find yourself in front of the Sergio Busquets Burgos municipal field. A stroll through the streets shows that every child wearing a football jersey has Busquets’ name on the back. He’s the pride of the people of Badia. Sergio has been able to make a name for himself, despite being the son of Carlos Busquets. He hasn’t changed his habits and every weekend, he comes here to visit his grandmother, who lives next to the field. And if he’s here on a Sunday, he watches the youth players. He sits with his lifelong friends behind the bench, enjoys the games, and remembers his days wearing the shirt of the Club Deportivo Badia, which he first put on when he was seven.
Busi is reserved and family oriented, and he finds tranquility and anonymity in this neighborhood. Everyone knows him but no one bothers him. His family is very involved in the club as well. Juan Burgos is his uncle and coordinator of the youth system. He says, “he’s changed as a footballer, but not as a person. He was and is humble, he has the same friends and he’s as he’s always been. His last name has hurt him more than it has helped him, but if before Sergio was Carlos the goalkeeper of Barcelona’s son, now Carlos is the father of Sergio.” And he jokes, “if he had listened to my advice, he wouldn’t be where he is now.”
Antonio García, the president of Badia, is just as proud. He says the number of players and teams has grown thanks to Sergio and reveals that “when he was in the third division, he coached a group of kids and he did pretty well.” On March 20, 2011, the local government decided that municipal field should have his name: “it was a recognition of him and everything he has done for the club and the city. We get goosebumps each time he holds up the scarf of Badia when he wins a title.” In the local bar, there is one of the first shirts Busquets wore with Barça (with 28 on the back) and in the offices, there are various photos of his time as a prebenjamín.
They will never forget… when he donated his boots from the World Cup to help alleviate the losses from a robbery. When Antonio García explained to Busquets that thieves had broken into the club and stolen the money made from the Christmas raffle, Busquets went home, took out the boots with which he had won the World Cup (which had the initials of all his family members on them), signed them and gave them to the presi so that they could be auctioned off to raise funds for Badia. In the end, no one won the boots and García thought about putting them on display as Badia’s “patrimony.”
Javi Fernández on Sergio Busquets: Javi Fernández was Busquets’ first ever coach: “I started with him when he was seven and I saw that football was his life. I never imagined that he would become a world champion, but I knew that he would be a footballer and be able to make a living off of it.” He adds, “by the time he was eight or nine, he was already outshining the rest. He started off playing on the wing and his idol then was Figo. Afterward, once he started playing in the center of the field, it was Xavi.” As for the young Busquets, “he was very disciplined and he always paid attention to what you told him. Technically, he was very good. He scored many goals because he had a great shot. Now he doesn’t score as many because he doesn’t shoot. Sometimes I ask him why he doesn’t shoot more.” Fernández maintains a good relationship with Busquets and says the best thing about him is his “humanity. He hasn’t changed at all, he’s still the same.” He jokes, “when I’m with my family and we talk about football, I always brag that I created a world champion…”
L’Hospitalet – Jordi Alba.
The town: the city of L’Hospitalet is literally right beside Barcelona. There’s no border between the two, and L’H, as it’s known, is 12.49 square kilometers in size, with 12 neighborhoods and a population of about 266,000. It’s the second largest city in Cataluña by population and the city with the highest population density in all of Spain, and one of the most densely populated cities in all of the European Union, with 21,000 inhabitants per square kilometer.
The player: Jordi Alba knew from an early age that he was going to be a footballer. At the age of four, he got his first ball and at the age of six, those adults who understood football realized that he had great talent. Officials from Atlético Centro Hospitalense created a prebenjamín team just so that the youngest of the Alba siblings could play.
Jordi has football in his blood. His grandfathers Francisco and Miguel played with Huelva and Luenca, respectively. His brother David, older by two years, also loves football. David plays futsal with Bellsport, in the second division. José Pinar, president of Atlético Centro Hospitalense, says that when Jordi was six, he was already attracted to the football and that he had a real passion for the game. They saw so much talent in him that they decided to create a team for him, and so they also had to look for teammates for him to play with. Francisco Bueno, director of the cantera at the club, says, “at this club, he’s the player who has gone the furthest. We’re all very proud of him, and even more so because he and his family are very affectionate and humble. He comes back every summer to hand out awards from the trophy that bears his name.”
They will never forget… that Barcelona didn’t want him because he was too short. At the age of nine, Jordi Alba signed with Barcelona. He stayed with the club until 2005. Pinar says, “they didn’t want him because he was short and they said that he would never get to the first team since he was so short.” As a result, Jordi went to Cornellà, and later on, Valencia. Now, the international player is sought after by many teams, including Barcelona.
Enric Balaguer on Jordi Alba: Alba studied at the Centre Educatiu Balaguer from the time he was nine until the fourth year of the ESO. There, he’s an idol. Enric Balaguer Torres, director of the school, says, “many of the students wear Valencia’s jersey for him. They adore him. They know he studied here and he’s their reference. They have so much admiration for him that this past Christmas, one of the kids asked me if Jordi Alba really existed, or if he was like Santa Claus.” He goes on to say, “he’s a discrete boy, simple, hardworking and obsessed with football. He and his friend Paco played against everyone else, including the professors. From the time he was small, he knew he wanted to play professionally and for the national team.”