la cuna de los campeones (V)
Today’s stops are in Madrid, Cataluña and Valencia…
Love the signature!
Boadilla del Monte – Pepe Reina.
The town: Boadilla del Monte is a town of 47,000 inhabitants only 14 kilometers from Madrid that has become one of the best places to live in the Comunidad de Madrid [Iker lives there]. Many companies have their headquarters there, and Boadilla also has many protected forest areas.
The player: when one enters into the modest office of the Madrid Oeste football school in Boadilla del Monte, the first thing that catches the eye is a framed, blue goalkeeper shirt. If you walk up to it, you’ll see that it was donated by Pepe Reina, who dedicated it to all the persons in the school who helped him when he was starting out.
Pepe spent a large part of his childhood in Madrid, where his father played for Atlético after also guarding the goal for Córdoba and Barcelona. The family lived nearby in Pozuelo. Ignacio González Ayido, José Luis Jimeno and Luis Miguel Pérez were the founders of the Madrid Oeste football school, and they spoke with Miguel Reina to see if any of his sons wanted to join the school. Luis Miguel says they believed at least one of the sons would be a good footballer. So, that’s how they ended up convincing Miguel Reina one day at a Burger King to allow his son Pepe, who was 11, to join the school. This was in 1993.
It didn’t take long for Pepe to shine on the alevines team, and he was quickly promoted to the Infantil A team, although he was one year younger than the rest. Pepe was only at the school for those two years, as he would join Barcelona in 1995, but he often goes back when he can. Other “graduates” of the school are current U-21 players Pablo Sarabia and Juan Carlos Pérez.
They will never forget… how he had to choose between Atlético de Madrid and Barcelona when he was 13. At the age of 13, Pepe Reina had to decide if he wanted to become a professional footballer. His father had spoken with the persons responsible for the canteras of both Barcelona and Atlético, his former teams. At first, it was thought that the Reina family would go for Atlético, because that would mean they didn’t have to change their place of residence, but in the end, they chose Barça. Ignacio González Ayido says, “they saw the best possibilities for their boy in La Masía.”
Ignacio González Ayido on Pepe Reina: Ignacio González Ayido is the current president of Madrid Oeste. He remembers perfectly what Pepe was like when he first joined the club at the age of 11: “he was very extroverted, like he is now. And like all goalkeepers, he was moody… in groups, it’s important to have someone like him, someone who cheers others up. Everyone liked him, no one had anything bad to say about him.” Ignacio also says that Pepe never had any doubts about what position he wanted to play: “he always played as the goalkeeper, he wasn’t one of those boys who tried out other positions. I remember that he liked to take penalties and free kicks.” He adds, “he was big, not exceptionally tall, but very strong and, at the same time, agile. He was a good teammate and had an open character.”
Elche – Juanfran.
The town: although Juanfran was born in Crevillente (Alicante), he started his football career in nearby Elche, capital of the Bajo Vinalopó comarca, on the shores of the Vinalopó River. The total population of this town is 230,822, making it the third largest city in the Comunidad Valenciana. Elche is famous around the world for its palm trees and its Mystery Play. Many shoes are also manufactured there.
The player: Juanfran Torres took his first kicks at the ball at the Altabix sports complex, previously called El Kelme. His hometown, Crevillente, is seven kilometers away from Elche. Juanfran’s father, who attended all of his son’s training sessions, sent his son to Elche to play football. The beginning was tough. He had to take him every day along with two other boys from Crevillente, now good friends of Juanfran. It didn’t take Juanfran long to shine, as he had something different than the rest. He was quickly promoted through the various teams.
The president and founder of the club, Enrique Cervera, remembers what Juanfran was like: “the truth is he was very mischievous. He was a very active boy and he spent the entire afternoon here. It didn’t matter if his training session had ended two hours earlier, he would go watch the older boys train or other teams.” Juanfran had a favorite place: “today’s the day for the sauna,” he would always say. He could spend two hours in the water, and many times they had to go get him out of there.
These days, Juanfran organizes his summer campus in the installations where he himself started. This year, if Spain makes it to the final of the Eurocopa, he won’t be able to attend his campus. Nevertheless, he has promised to come back another day to meet everyone.
They will never forget… how five games with Madrid could have netted them eight million. Juanfran will never forget the day when Nito, a scout from Real Madrid and who had hair like no one else in Alicante, came to see him. Madrid decided to sign the star of Kelme, then 15. The contract included a clause: if Juanfran played five games or five halves with the first team, Kelme would receive eight million pesetas. However, that never happened. The relationship with Valdano was good, and in fact, Kelme became Madrid’s filial team in Alicante, but in the end Juanfran didn’t play in Madrid and this money never came. Years later, the club would receive money for its part in Juanfran’s formation.
Juan Ramón Chincilla Díaz (Juanra) on Juanfran: one of the persons who knew Juanfran the best during his time with Kelme was his cadetes coach. Juanra made him a better footballer and it was during their last season together that Madrid decided to sign him. They are still in touch today, and speak almost every week by telephone. During the Christmas holiday, they have dinner at Juanra’s house and talk about old times. Juanra says, “from the time he was small, he was already the flagship of the club. I had him during his last two years. We were proud when Madrid decided to sign him, because it showed that the work the club had done had borne fruit.”
Barcelona – Gerard Piqué.
The town: does Barcelona really need an introduction?
The player: Gerard Piqué has supported Barça since the day he was born. His grandfather, Amador Bernabéu, was a former director of the team, and Gerard was seven when his grandfather asked Albert Benaiges, director of Barça’s school, to give his grandson a trial. Benaiges remembers, “he came one Saturday, and he was as tall as a stork. He was ungainly and I thought that we wouldn’t get anything out of him, but he did his things and remained.” Back then, Barça didn’t have teams in the infantil category, so Piqué first played in a Torneo Social and later on in the Agrupación de Peñas. From there, he went directly to Barça’s Alevín B team when he was 10.
His first year was a failure and his team didn’t win anything. Many of the boys had to leave, but he stayed. For his height and his agility, he always stood out. From the first moment, he was put in to play as a centerback. The following year, he went on to Alevín A, where he met one Cesc Fàbregas, which Barça had signed from Mataró. The coach back then was Rodolf Borrell. He remembers, “he was an incredibly competitive boy. He came in with an electronic chess game, he was always playing with the machine and he asked me to play against him. I liked chess, and so we would play all the time because he was so competitive that he couldn’t stand it when he lost, and so we would have to play until he beat me.”
Everything changed from that season on. His team won the Liga and the Copa Catalunya, but Piqué couldn’t forget about the Brunete tournament, where Barça lost to Madrid, which was led by one Esteban Granero. It was one of the few occasions where he cried after losing a game. Benaiges and Tito Vilanova trained him on the Cadete B team, and Benaiges also spoke about his competitiveness: “he was very tall, but we had to show him how to use his head. We gave him a plan and he had to work at it until he improved.” One season later, everything changed, because Leo Messi joined Barcelona. It’s said that the team, with Piqué, Cesc and Messi, trained on Sundays and played during the week. They were so good that they had no rivals from the same age group and so they would play older teams. Gerard went to Manchester when he was 17, and he also spent one year loaned out to Zaragoza before returning to Barcelona.
Amador Bernabéu on Gerard Piqué: the first thing Amador Bernabéu did when his grandson Gerard Piqué was born on Feb. 2, 1987 was make him a socio of Barça: “we only registered him in the Civil Registry afterward. He was a socio first. This year is his 25th as a socio and he’s very proud.” Amador was a director of the club for 12 years under Núñez and Gaspart, and is now Barça’s ambassador at UEFA. He says, laughing, “from the time he was small, he loved football. If he saw something round, such as an orange, he would go towards it. We really had to watch over him when we went to the market.” This love for round things took a turn for the worse one day, when Gerard was three: “one day, he fell three meters off a wall when he was with his grandmother and me in Blanes, because he was running after a ball. He was in a coma for several hours and in the hospital for eight days. It was a terrible scare.”
Amador tells another anecdote: “I had a great friendship with Van Gaal, and one day I invited him to come eat with the family. Gerard, who was 11, was also there. My grandson went up to him to shake his hand, and Van Gaal, who knew that he played football since I had told him that, pushed him without saying a word and he fell onto the floor. Then he said, ‘you’re not strong enough to be a centerback.’ Gerard was gobsmacked and he didn’t understand what was going on. And then we all began laughing and then Gerard realized it was a joke, but the look in his face…” Bernabéu laughs remembering that incident.
He’s a proud grandfather and he doesn’t hide that. He says, “he’s a marvelous boy, very family oriented, he loves his friends and family, and he continues to be friends with his high school classmates. That says a lot about him.” Bernabéu also tells one last anecdote: “I would cheat when we played parchís, and if he caught me, he would fly into a rage. He could never accept losing.”