la cuna de los campeones (VII)
Today’s trip takes us from Andalucía to La Rioja and then to the Canary Islands, as we visit the hometowns of Sergio Ramos, Fernando Llorente and Pedro Rodríguez.
Camas – Sergio Ramos.
The town: Camas is a small town right next to Sevilla. In fact, it’s practically a suburb or a neighborhood of the capital of Andalucía. Sergio Ramos grew up in the Atalaya neighborhood. Camas has 25,000 residents and is situated in the Aljarafe comarca.
The player: it’s practically impossible not to be surprised when you see his ID, because it seems like almost a lie that one of the captains of Real Madrid and of the Spanish national team is only 26 years old. It’s impressive. Football comes easy to Sergio Ramos, it’s in his genes and it’s something he has done since he was a kid.
He started at the age of seven, playing in his neighborhood. His inseparable brother René played for Camas as a forward and decided to take his little brother with him to the training sessions. Then the coach began asking about that little blond boy. Sergio joined the team, and he didn’t have any problems playing with the nine-year-olds. That’s because Sergio has always had self confidence and leadership capabilities. He doesn’t back away from anything or anyone. At first, he played as a forward and was outstanding in the games against Sevilla. The scouts of Sevilla took note of him and when the season finished, his father took him for a tryout at Sevilla’s training grounds. It took only three tests for him to convince everyone.
He started as a forward, but bit by bit, the coaches began moving him back, because they believed he played better with the field in front of him. First they tried him out on the wing, he also played as a midfielder and in the end, he ended up as a fullback, although his versatility allowed him to play other positions, such as centerback. The key year of his career came when he was on the Cadete team. René remembers, “that’s when he grew a lot.” Sergio grew to 1.80 m and his progression became meteoric. He was the captain, although the team had players older than him. The steps became strides. His stay in the Liga Nacional for juveniles was brief. He quickly became accustomed to the División de Honor and he caught the eye of Joaquín Caparrós. Sergio was only 16 and had already played with the first team for some friendlies. Caparrós decided he was prepared to make the leap to the B team, and so he played there for one year, ending the season on the first team. After one complete season there, he left for Madrid.
They will never forget… how Sacchi and Martínez hammered out the details of his signing in a palco. Arrigo Sacchi and Ramón Martínez liked Sergio Ramos immediately. They never had doubts about the qualities of the footballer, and despite his young age, they decided to sign him. The last time they came to see him, they did it from a palco in the Sánchez Pizjuán, to one side, in order not to draw attention to themselves. Ramón Martínez asked about the friends and family of the player, since that was important to Real Madrid. The references were excellent and Sacchi gave the green light. Florentino Pérez and José Mariá del Nido took care of the rest.
Pablo Blanco on Sergio Ramos: Pablo Blanco is the heart and soul of the Sevilla cantera, and it was he who opened the doors of the club to Sergio Ramos when the latter was just nine years old. It didn’t take him long to realize that the kid had excellent qualities: “he was pure self confidence and he had character. It was in his genes. I would say that along with Carlos Marchena, he is the player with the strongest personality that we’ve had. You only have to see where their careers have gone. There are things that you notice right away.”
Sergio Ramos has the image of being a serious and aggressive player when he’s on the field. Off the field, Blanco describes him as cheerful and very friendly: “when he comes out of the locker room, he’s a very nice, affable person, he likes flamenco… he’s always saying hi to everyone he knows. Each time he comes by here, he’s very affectionate with everyone. Antonio Puerta was the same, he was very serious on the field and tremendously nice off of it.” Blanco goes on to say, “I would say that Sergio is the only footballer that I’ve seen in my life who can play every single position on a team, from the fullback to the forward. And he does well in all of them.”
Blanco finishes by giving some advice to José Mourinho: “where Sergio would really be impressive is as a right centerback.”
Rincón de Soto – Fernando Llorente.
The town: Rincón de Soto is a town of 3,800 residents in La Rioja, only two kilometers from the border with Navarra. The town was most famous for its pears until one Fernando Llorente arrived on the scene. Rubén Pardo, champion of Europe with the U-19 team, is also from Rincón de Soto.
The player: Fernando Llorente was always the baby of the family. His arrival came as a bit of a surprise to his parents, since they already had two grown kids. The blond haired, blue-eyed Fernando began playing football in the field of his school, which was next to his house. There was nothing related to football in his house, although there were references to bullfighting, since his father, a butcher, traveled around to bullfights around La Rioja to handle the bulls after the fights. The only link to football was an uncle, who was a fan of Athletic.
Football appeared spontaneously in Fernando, since there were no antecedents in his family. His abilities with the ball were outstanding, especially considering how tall he was. He was so tall that he always appeared older than all his friends. The River Ebro team in Rincón did not have an alevín team, and so when he began to play football seriously, he played with Funes, in Navarra. He was 10 at that point and the best player on his team. His talent quickly caught the eye of a talent scout in Navarra, Kike Mayayo, who telephoned Miguel de Andrés, who was responsible for signing players in Navarra for Athletic. The two of them convinced Fernando’s parents and brother to allow Fernando to go play in Bilbao, although he was very young and had never been away from home. Later on, they had to be convinced to allow Fernando to move to Bilbao, so that he could play in Athletic and study there. José Mari Amorrortu achieved that because his friends offered to take care of Fernando. As a result, Fernando moved to Las Arenas. In the beginning, he had a hard time, and spent many nights spent crying. Two years later, he moved into a residence for Athletic players in Derio.
They will never forget… how he played one entire season without a contract and for free. Fernando’s worst season came when Javier Uria took over the presidency of the club and Andoni Zubizarreta the sporting issues. They believed Llorente should have a standard contract, an opinion that was not shared by the footballer’s agent, who didn’t accept the conditions the club offered. However, he continued playing with the club, without a contract and without charge for one season. Later on, his agent and the club’s new president reached an agreement and a new contract was signed… one that was better than the one the rest of his teammates had.
Kiko Mayayo on Fernando Llorente: one autumn afternoon, the alevín teams of Falces and Funes were playing a derby. In charge of Falces was Kiko Mayayo, a former Bilbao Athletic player who scouted for future “lions” in Navarra. Mayayo was impressed with Fernando Llorente. He didn’t believe the kid was only 10 years old: “it was impossible for him to be that age, so when the game ended, I went to ask his coach if he was the right age according to the rules, because I thought he was already 12 or 13, since he looked much older. He told me he was an alevín… and that this was his first year! We couldn’t believe it.”
On the way home, Kiko called Miguel de Andrés, who was in charge of Navarra. They both went to see Llorente play, and in each game, he left them amazed. Mayayo remembers, “he was already very big, taller than everyone else, but he was also more skillful than everyone else. It was amazing how he would get the ball and blow past the other team, not because he was stronger, but because he was more skillful. In fact, his weakness was his play in the air, he wasn’t as good with his head as he is now.” Then came the work of convincing the player’s family to allow him to play in Bilbao: “we convinced the family to allow him to go to Bilbao during Easter Week to play in a tournament in Muskiz with the alevín team of Athletic when he was 11. They won the first game 8-0 and he scored five or six goals. José Mari Amorrortu, who was the director of Lezama back then, couldn’t believe it. He said, ‘this kid is a jewel!'” Amorrortu then had to convince the Llorente family to allow their son to move to Bilbao, and they finally agreed once they found out that he would be living with a family there.
Abades – Pedro Rodríguez.
The town: Abades and its beaches are located just 12 minutes by car from the Tenerife South Airport via the TF1. It’s a favorite spot of scuba divers, it has 3,000 inhabitants and construction began in 1943 on a leprosy village, which was never finished.
The player: in towns all across Spain, there are residents who had to put up with young boys who spent the whole day playing with a ball and who chose their walls as goals. In Abades, Don Pedro, a university professor, often had to go paint his neighbors’ walls, to erase the marks left by the ball. No one knew that the child who made these marks, then called Pedrito, would one day become a world champion.
Pedro Rodríguez spent his summers next to the sea in Abades, where his parents had a home. His dream was always to become a footballer. Although he was impressed by his son’s passion for the ball, Don Pedro insisted that Pedrito study, because not many people triumph as footballers. The child did study, but he also played football with his siblings and friends.
During other times of the year, Pedrido played in the streets of his neighborhood, San Mateo, located in the town of Taco. However, it was practically impossible to play there because there were so many cars. Only at school was there a space for Pedrito to play. Then came the day that his parents announced that the family was moving to Abades. That news made him happy, because it meant he would have somewhere to play ball. He didn’t realize that in such a small town, there was no football team. But he didn’t give up, and got a tryout with Club Deportivo San Isidro, otherwise known in Tenerife as Raqui in honor of a cat that spent hours prowling around the installations. Pedro tried out for the alevín team, and introduced himself as, “I’m Pedrito, and I play as a forward.” He passed the test and joined the team, where he made lifelong friendships. He was quickly promoted and soon debuted in the third division. Then came the day, at the age of 16, when he boarded an airplane for Barcelona.
They will never forget… how Guardiola prevented his signing for Portuense in 2007. Just five years ago, Pedro didn’t see himself playing for Barça. The second team had descended to the third division and his team, the C team, was playing in the Catalan first division. He didn’t have a good season, and Alexanko, the man in charge of the cantera, thought it would be best if he were sold to Portuense. When he met with Guardiola, who had just been named as coach of Barça B, Pep asked the club to wait a few days, since he wanted to see and speak with Pedro. After three days, he met wtih Alexanko again and said, “the Canarian is staying.”
Iván Rodríguez on Pedro Rodríguez: “Marchena, you have to sign this kid now, you can’t let him escape!” That’s what Iván Rodríguez, who worked as assistant coach of the third division team of Raqui San Isidro and as the coach of the alevín tea,m said when he saw the kid from Abades. That’s why he asked Marchena, the delegate of the team, to sign that kid up. Several days before that, the delegate had to handle a strange situation, that of a kid not from San Isidro who wanted to try out for the team, because there weren’t any teams in Abades where he lived. He says, “I will always remember how focused Pedro was on becoming a footballer, on making a living off of football. He knew that already when he joined our team at the alevín category.”
That alevín brought Iván a lot of joy: “we were together until his first year as a juvenil player. Those six or seven years were incredible; the team dazzled wherever they played. On that team we had Pedrito; Samuel, who also went to Barcelona; Javi Marchena, who played in Getafe and Villarreal… it was an equipazo.” At the beginning though, there was a problem: “he lived with his family in Abades, which was 20 kilometers from San Isidro. His father couldn’t bring him to train on most days because he was working. So I had to go down to La Laguna and wait for him at the bus stop (FYI: “bus” is “guagua” in the Canary Islands) to take him to the training grounds, and when the session was over, I took him home.” Iván adds, “the kid you all see now is the same person who came here and grew up with us. He’s very had working. He was always the first one to start training, and his enthusiasm spread to the rest. He was and is a person that everyone loves.”
Although many years have passed, Pedro has not forgotten about his roots, his people. Iván says, “we’re always in contact through text messages. The day he presented his book in Barcelona, he sent me one to tell me he had a copy for me. Whenever he comes back now, he has to travel incognito. He’s an idol in all of Tenerife. We have to meet up secret in order to prevent riots, but he’s still Pedrito, the kid who made his dream come true.”