la cuna de los campeones (VI)
Today, we take a look at the origins of Fernando Torres (Fuenlabrada, Madrid), Jesús Navas (Los Palacios y Villafranca, Sevilla) and Raúl Albiol (Ribarroja, Valencia).
Fuenlabrada – Fernando Torres.
The town: Fernando Torres was born on March 20, 1984 in Fuenlabrada, one of the biggest cities in Madrid. It’s fourth in the community in terms of population, after the capital, Móstoles and Alcalá. Fuenlabrada is located to the south, about 20 kilometers from the center of the community.
The player: when the face of Fernando Torres began appearing on the front pages of newspapers and on television, the residents of Alemania Street in Fuenlabrada quickly recognized that boy they remembered as a freckled blond kid, almost a redhead, whom they had seen so many times returning from school with a ball or his schoolbag under his arm. The boys who were his age recognized him as their rival or teammate on the football field.
Rayo 13, a football school founded in 1992, was the team where Torres took his first kicks at the ball. Rayo 13 is one of the big teams in the competition, always at the top of the table along with Arroyo, Lugo and Rayo Alua. Torres’ relationship with Atlético de Madrid began when he was only 10. A cold winter afternoon (Jan. 15, 1995), after having had lunch in the home of his grandparents, someone decided it would be a good idea to go the Calderón to see Atleti play Compostela de Caneda. Since his family comes from Santiago de Compostela and he supported Atleti, Torres didn’t enjoy the game (1-1) that much. Months later, he signed up for a tryout. His took place in the Parque de las Cruces, in the Aluche neighborhood. One of the coaches, Manuel Briñas, noticed him. Out of all the boys who tried out, only six were chosen. Torres found out he was one of them in Galicia, where he was on vacation. His father called the club and they told him his son had passed and that there would be another tryout in September in the Colegio Amorós. He passed that test too, and soon he would start feeling the values of club, with its escudo featuring the oso y el madroño, the ones his grandfather Eulalio had explained so many times to him when he asked him why almost everyone in his school supported Real Madrid.
They will never forget… how he did the impossible to play in the World Cup. On April 17, 2010, Fernando Torres left Liverpool in a truck along with his wife, his daughter, Iván Ortega (Liverpool’s fisio) and two drivers that the club had put at his disposal so that he could go back to Barcelona (the volcanic cloud that had settled over Europe prevented him from traveling by plane). After stopping in Paris for the night, they arrived in Barcelona. He took a shower, and then minutes later, he was on the operating table so that Drs. Cugat and Cota could solve his knee problem. Only those who were with him during those days really know how much work Fernando Torres put in to make it to the World Cup. During the last play of the World Cup, when he injured himself, Dr. Cota told him, “go out there and enjoy it. The World Cup is as much yours as it is everyone else’s.”
Manuel Briñas on Fernando Torres: at the age of 75, Manuel Briñas is a walking encyclopaedia on the youth system. He’s worked for Atleti since the 1970s, and was one of the decisive persons in the career of Fernando Torres. He says, “I went to watch some tests and when the club asked me what note I would give him, I said, ‘I’d give the freckled one not a 10, but a 10 plus two.’ Fernando was already outstanding when he was 10 years old. We had no doubts that we had found a natural talent.” He goes on to say, “now I see him speed past defenders, leaving them behind, and I remember he scored the same type of goals when he was 14. Some of the things he does now are just like what he did when he was a kid. In addition, off the field, he’s extremely courteous.” Briñas and Torres still have a wonderful relationship: “Fernando sent me the shirt with which he scored his first hat trick with Liverpool. He even dedicated it to me. It said, ‘for my friend Manolo. Thank you for everything you have given me.’ Those words touched me deeply. Fernando hasn’t changed at all.”
Los Palacios y Villafranca – Jesús Navas.
The town: if there’s anything Los Palacios y Villafranca is famous for, it’s its tomatoes and watermelons. In the province of Sevilla, it ranks sixth in terms of population. It’s in the southern part, on the way to Cádiz, in the Bajo Guadalquivir comarca. The patron of the town is the Virgen de las Nieves, who presides over the locker room of Los Palacios.
The player: Jesús Navas was born to play football and to live in Los Palacios. Those are his two big passions – the ball and his town. He doesn’t need much more. He began kicking the ball at the age of nine. It’s impossible for him to not join in when he sees a group of kids kicking the ball around. He’ll go up to them and play five or 10 minutes with them.
He spends many Saturday mornings at El Muro, the field of Los Palacios, where he used to play games and now watches the games from the stands. He doesn’t do that to get attention. He’s like his football: real, direct, to the point, rapid, electric… He’s the first one to leave the locker room, the first one to finish a press conference, the first one to get on the bus… From the time he was small, he passed all physical education tests with flying colors. According to one of his teachers, he was also good at math. The town is his habitat, because he feels happy here. That’s why he decided to purchase some land and build a house, close to his family, and to the La Liebre tavern where he can have a lobster sandwich, his favorite.
He has football in his blood. His brother Marco was also a professional footballer, and also a right winger. When he was 10, Jesús would walk down the street, listening to football games on the radio. Back then, he didn’t even dream that one day he would be the one playing these games. His career has been meteoric. Pablo Blanco, director of Sevilla’s youth system, found him by accident. He had gone to Los Palacios to check out their goalkeeper, Wilfred. He did his work, but during the game, he couldn’t stop looking at that small player wearing the number seven on his back, whose shirt was tucked into his shorts because it was too big for him. The game ended and Pablo told the coach of Los Palacios, “take good care of them for me, when the season ends I’ll take Wilfred and Jesús.”
They’ll never forget… the “Champiñones League.” A few years back, Sevilla wasn’t having much success. Europe could only be seen on maps and the main goal was to survive in the first division. The best player was Reyes, and once Arsenal became fixated on him, the club saw him as their economic salvation. Meanwhile, there was a boy who was doing very well in the “Champiñones League,” which is what the team called those games on Wednesday that Caparrós organized to give minutes to those who didn’t get much playing time and the young players. Jesús debuted in the first division at the age of 18, two months before Reyes left.
Pedro Murube on Jesús Navas: Pedro Murube still believes Jesús Navas’ best position is as a midfielder. He has believed this since he saw him for the first time 15 years ago. Navas’ first coach in Los Palacios remembers, “he couldn’t be still. He made his teammates crazy, he was always joking around…” Murube also went crazy trying to find a way for Navas to play for the alevín team, even though he was too young. He says, “it was impressive how he played. I first put him on the left because the right was already covered, but he can play anywhere, including as a midfielder, which is where I like him to play.”
Navas’ debut was against the team from Dos Hermanas. He played spectacularly from the beginning, and his rivals were scared of him. Murube says, “I remember that the first thing the rival coach would ask me if el pequeño had come. I would say yes and they would respond, ‘well, there’s nothing for us to do then…'” Navas made his rivals crazy… and his teammates as well. One day, after too many jokes, he ended up stuffed in an equipment bag, with only his head sticking out. Nevertheless, he’s remembered as a splendid piece of the locker room.
Murube still gets goosebumps when he sees Navas wear the shirt of La Roja. He says, “I remember that I watched the World Cup final on my sofa. I couldn’t stop crying when they received the Cup.”
Ribarroja – Raúl Albiol.
The town: Ribarroja is situated 20 kilometers from Valencia, and has almost 20,000 residents. The ceramic industry is very big, just like it is in other nearby towns, but its economic base is agriculture. Every five years, the town makes an offering to the Turia River to thank it for its blessings.
The player: Raúl Albiol’s grandfather, father and brother all played football, so it wasn’t long before he began kicking a ball around his house in Villamarchante (there is still a goal on the patio). However, since his hometown didn’t have a football school, his father decided to sign him up for Ribarroja. There, Miguel Albiol had played as a semi-professional in the third and preferente divisions. The school opened in 1987.
Raúl soon began standing out. In fact, he usually did not play with kids his own age. He was always promoted to higher teams so that he could develop faster. His father and grandfather would always attend his games, as well as those of his brother Miguel. José Ballester, president of the club when Raúl Albiol was there, says Raúl and Miguel’s grandfather is a special person, because the statistics he kept on his grandsons are even more complete than those of UEFA. He wrote down all their goals, passes, assists, shots in a notebook, which subsequently became famous. Other fathers would consult it and other players would go up to him and ask about their own statistics for the season.
Back then, Raúl played every position except defender. From Ribarroja, he went on to Valencia. His uncle, Luis Albiol, a former player and a technical secretary of Valencia, brought the brothers to the training grounds of the club. Miguel and Raúl joined Valencia, where Raúl eventually made it to the first team, though he spent one year on loan in Getafe.
They will never forget… how he used to tie his boots to his ankles. When Raúl Albiol entered the locker room of Ribarroja for the first time, he had just turned 11. When it came time to change, he surprised everyone, because he tied his boots to his ankles. He had that custom from the time he was small. His teammates told him, “one day you’re going to get tangled up and break your ankle.” He didn’t pay attention to them. With time, he changed this habit, though the people in the club still laugh when they remember how he used to do that.
Alejandro, Manu and Javier on Raúl Albiol: Alejandro, Manu and Javier are footballers. They’ve never played in the first division or in a World Cup, but in the mid-1990s, they shared a team with Raúl Albiol. They are one year older than El Chori, but he was always advanced for his age. They say, “he was like an asparagus, but he had a lot of talent. His brother was better technically, but Raúl had something special.”
When Raúl was 11, he wasn’t a centerback. He was the one scoring and creating goals. His teammates remember one game where a boy two years older made a brutal tackle on him. Raúl didn’t even protest. He just did a one-two and scored. His teammates threw him in the air to celebrate. They also remember how his father and grandfather were always with him: “they never missed a single game.” Albiol is still in touch with these teammates.