la cuna de los campeones (II)
And we continue with this series on where our footballers grew up. In this edition, we visit Arenys de Mar, Terrassa and Oviedo.
Arenys de Mar – Cesc Fàbregas.
The town: Arenys de Mar is a town situated 40 kilometers north of Barcelona. It’s next to the sea, as its name indicates, and it’s the main fishing port in the Maresme administrative division and the province of Barcelona. Many fishing vessels return to shore in the early hours of the morning and in the afternoon. Arenys has a population of 14,863, according to the 2011 census. The town was constructed alongside a river that comes down from the nearby mountains and which has flooded the town in the past. It’s an important commercial center, especially the weekend market which takes place in the center of the town.
The player: like many other footballers, Cesc became interested in the sport through his family. His father, Francesc, or Quico according to his friends, was a midfielder that played for Arenys de Mar. Cesc’ talent for the sport was apparent at an early age. He would go with his father to train, and practice long passes, and it’s said that wherever he looked, that’s where he sent the ball. In this way, he developed his right leg much more than his left, as his first coaches remember. They also say that when he was a benjamín, he was capable of sending the ball to the second post during corners, due to his developed muscles and excellent shooting form.
Before playing football, Cesc tried playing futsal with La Presentación. There, he outshone the rest. Then Joaquím García, who had coached his father on the first team of Arenys, brought him to this club. Although he was just a benjamín, he played alongside boys two years older than him in the alevín team. His team finished fourth from last, and was saved from relegation only in the last game. However, he made a good impression on the scouts from Mataró, and so after only one year with Arenys, he changed clubs. At Mataró, he caught the attention of scouts from Espanyol and Barcelona. Espanyol made the first attempt to sign him through Óscar Perernau, a coach who knew the football base of Maresme very well. Cesc almost went to Espanyol, but in the end Barcelona won the fight after Oriol Tort went to watch the kid play.
Cesc spent five years on the youth teams of Barcelona. During that time, he continued living in Arenys with his parents and spent one hour each way going to training sessions every day. He only lived in La Masía during his last year, after the separation of his parents. His progression in Barcelona was spectacular, and he formed part of one of the most legendary teams in Barcelona’s academy history, the Cadete A team. That team was coached by Tito Vilanova, and Piqué and Messi were his teammates. The team won all the titles and didn’t lose a game. At the end of this year, Cesc left Barcelona to go to London.
They will never forget… that he had to go to England to show that he was an elite player. In 2003, Barcelona was struggling. The first team had gone five years without a single title, the club was in serious debt and the cantera was not as much of a protagonist as it is now. Faced with this reality, Cesc decided to try his luck in England. Joseba Díaz, who was his agent back then, had great contacts in England. He spoke with Arsenal, who was ready to fight for Cesc. It was hard for the footballer to make this decision, but he was convinced that this was the right thing to do. Arsene Wenger joined the first meeting between the two sides. The French coach showed the club to his new student and confirmed that he had confidence in him. Cesc knew then that he had made the right choice.
Joaquím García on Cesc: Joaquím García was his first football coach in Arenys de Mar. He knew Cesc well. He was a family friend and had coached his father. “From the time he was small, you could tell that he was going to be great. And he had a characteristic which is rare in boys with so much talent, and that was that he was a team player. He wasn’t one of those who tried to dribble around the rival; he always looked to pass, although not all of his teammates understood what his intentions were.” One of Cesc’ qualities is his versatility. He has worked on that for a long time: “I made him play in five different positions, all of them attacking ones,” says Joaquím. He didn’t put Cesc in the defense because “he was very small.” He was a good kid, and didn’t joke around as much as he does now: “he was quite timid, a bit introverted. But a good friend to his friends. The proof is that two of the teammates he was closest to on this team continue to be his good friends.” Joaquím says Cesc has changed very little: “when things don’t go well for him, he puts on the same expression of disgust as he did when he was a kid.”
Terrassa – Xavi Hernández.
The town: Terrassa is a city situated 20 kilometers from Barcelona, with a population of a little over 200,000, which makes it the fourth largest city in Cataluña. It is located in the administrative division of Vallès Occidental, and is the co-capital along with Sabadell. In the 19th century, it was an important part of the industrial revolution, with many textile factories established there. Terrassa was founded by the Romans.
The player: Xavi has lived and breathed football from the time he was small. His parents remember that whenever they sent him out on a chore, he would always return late because he was kicking a ball around. His father Joaquim, who had played for Sabadell, brought him to Jabac de Terrassa, a club that has produced great footballers. He immediately made an impression and Asensi recruited him when he was an alevín to play for Barcelona’s cantera.
Carles Mota, president of Jabac, explains, “for our club, what Xavi has achieved has been very important because it has given relevance to our entity and also to the city. We’re proud of him.” He maintains good relations with Xavi and his family, and says the footballer is grateful to his first team, although he’s not often seen around the club: “imagine if a player like Xavi, who has achieved everything, came here to watch a game. What a mess that would be.” Mota describes the feeling he got when he saw Xavi lifting up the World Cup: “I thought about those boys we had here. Xavi is an example for them. I hope some of them will get as far as he has.”
They will never forget… that when Xavi was 19, he almost signed with Milan. Adriano Galliani had always loved Xavi and offered him a contract when the footballer was just 19 and it wasn’t clear that he would be able to triumph with Barça. The CEO of Milan met with Joaquim Hernández and offered his son the possibility to start, 250 million pesetas a year, all the airplane tickets he wanted so that he could see his family, and a stable job for Joaquim himself. When everything was agreed upon and Xavi’s signature was the only thing missing, Xavi said he was not leaving. He was a culé above all else and he preferred to take a risk. In addition, his mother María Mercé also played a big part in his decision.
Lauro San José on Xavi: Xavi fell into Lauro’s hands when he was a prebenjamín and the coach has always admired the transformation of the midfielder when he steps onto the field: “he was very humble and shy. In the locker room, he sat himself in a corner and it almost seemed like he wasn’t there, because he didn’t talk. But when he stepped onto the field, he became the center of everything.” It didn’t come as a surprise that he ended up playing in Barça: “he shone and there were scouts that were fixated on him. Asensi didn’t let him escape. As a kid, he was already fast with the ball, he had a great vision of the game and I loved how he handled the ball.” San José also says Xavi’s father played a big part in his success: “Joaquim has been an exemplary father because he never got involved, he always stayed on the sidelines and he let the club and the coaches make the decisions. He was very respectful.” San José also says, “I didn’t give Xavi much advice because he did almost everything well. It’s in his genes. In his family, there are several footballers. It was impossible to get the ball away from him, it seemed like it was stuck to him with gum.”
Oviedo – Juan Mata.
The town: the capital of Asturias is also the commercial, religious, administrative and university center of the region. It is the second largest city in terms of population in the principality, with 200,000. The novel La Regenta by Clarín takes place in La Vetusta, which is identifiable with Oviedo. It has an important patrimonial heritage and it one of the favorite places of American film director Woody Allen.
The player: the neighborhood of El Cristo never dreamed that it would produce a world champion, but fate had other ideas. Like many other children, Juan Mata began playing football in school. In his case, he also had football in his DNA, as his father had played for Real Oviedo, Burgos and Orihuela, among other teams. Sergio Burgos was the man in charge of football in the La Gesta school – where Princess Letizia also studied – and it happened that he also became Mata’s first coach with his first team, Juventud Estadio. He says, “the most noticeable things about him were his maturity and the humility he had, although he was the best player on the team.” Burgos adds, “he was already playing with the Asturian team when he was an alevín, and so his teammates would ask him about it and he didn’t like to talk about it. He also never talked about the goals he scored or how good he was.” His main objective was to “enjoy being with his friends. He was a great teammate and a fantastic student.” During his first year on the alevín team, when he was barely 11, he already shone, and he continued shining as he progressed through the categories. He then signed with Oviedo and stayed there until Madrid brought him into their youth system.
They will never forget… how his transfer to Chelsea was akin to winning the lottery for Juventud Estadio. Mata began making revenues for his former clubs from the moment that Valencia registered him as a professional. His multimillion transfer to Chelsea (28 million) was a blessing for Juventud Estadio, which received €50,000 for its part in forming him as a player. This helped the club to stabilize its economic situation for one season, as it had a budget of €78,000 for the eight teams that make up the club. Fernando Fernández, the secretary of the club, likened it to winning the lottery.
Sergio Burgos on Juan Mata: Sergio Burgos was Mata’s coach with Juventud Estadio. He saw a young player with a bright future: “his progression didn’t surprise me at all. In fact, when he joined Real Madrid, he always played on teams with players older than him and he was even better than those players.” The coach followed his progression with Real Madrid and with the national team. Now, Burgos views him with admiration: “I remember when him when he was small. In fact, he has the same face, he hasn’t changed much. It’s a great satisfaction for me that I was able to coach him, that I helped him when he was starting and that we shared many hours together.”