la cuna de los campeones (VIII)
Saving the best for last? Our last two stops on this “tour” are Ayegui and Móstoles.
The town: Ayegui has 2,000 inhabitants and is almost the same distance from Pamplona as it is from Logroño. The history of the town is linked to that of the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago), and the Irache monastery is a must for all those interested in art and history. Ayegui is located just a few kilometers from Estella, which has a rich patrimonial history and many monuments.
The player: Javi Martínez’ history as a footballer began in Logroño, although he’s from Navarra (interestingly enough, Fernando Llorente is from La Rioja and spent his first years as a footballer in Navarra). This was due to the work of his father, who loved football and supported his sons’ endeavors in the sport. Javi’s father had a metalwork workshop, and he spent a lot of time in Logroño, his hometown. He had a business partner who trained in Berceo, a historical club in the Riojan capital.
Álvaro, Javi’s older brother, who was born in 1979, had played for Berceo. Javi joined the club when he was five and a year and half later, he had already been recruited by Club Deportivo Logroñés. Back then, in the mid-’90s, Logroñés was a bit like a Riojan community team, since it attracted all of the talents of the community. Javi stood out because he was very strong, because he loved football and because he had impressive skills for such a young player. He played as a forward for two years in Berceo and two more in Logroñés.
However, La Rioja ended up losing that football talent, because to bring the boy to train each day, his family members had to drive 90 kilometers each way from Ayegui to Logroñés and vice versa, and the road wasn’t in a good condition. That’s how Javi came to play for Arenas, the team in his town, where he continued evolving and shining, and he evetually signed for Club Deportivo Izarra. From there, he went on to Osasuna. At the same time, his position on the field kept moving back, and at the age of 17, he played with Osasuna’s second team in the Segunda B division. Athletic paid six million euros for him in the summer of 2006.
They will never forget… how he played with former Real Sociedad player Borja Viguera. Javi Martínez joined Berceo in the 1994-95 season, right before he was about to turn six. He was in the prebenjamín category and stayed at the club until the middle of the 1995-96 season, when he went to Logroñés. In Berceo, he was on the same team as Borja Viguera (who played for Real Sociedad and is a current Albacete player) and with Julen Zubillaga, son of former footballer Javier Zubillaga, the actual sporting director of Alavés. Javi’s brother Álvaro played at Berceo with Iván Agustín, who now plays for Mirandés.
Javier Valgañón on Javi Martínez: Javier Valgañón coached Javi when he was a prebenjamín at Berceo. He says, “he began to play at the age of five with us. He stayed with us for about a year and a half before going to Logroñés. He already had many qualities at that young age, and he was very strong. He played as a forward and he stood out because he kicked the ball very hard for someone his age. He was very happy with us. He was a smart kid on the field.” As for Javi’s character, Valgañón says, “he was full of jokes, talkative, he smiled a lot and was very pleasant. He wasn’t shy at all. I also have to say that he has a lot of affection for La Rioja and our club, because he stopped by our campus a while ago, and took the honorary kick at the tournament. It was a very pleasant visit.”
Móstoles – Iker Casillas.
The town: Móstoles, the second most populous city in the Comunidad de Madrid, with a little more than 200,000 residents, is located 17 kilometers from the capital via the A-5. Its most historically significant event took place on May 2, 1808, when the mayors of the town signed a declaration of war calling Spaniards to defend their country against France.
The player: “I’m not a galactic, I’m from Móstoles.” This phrase, which can still be seen in the Iker Casillas football fields in Móstoles, has become a motto and an identifying mark for the captain of the Spanish national team. Iker Casillas grew up in the Biarritz area of Móstoles. He took his first kicks at the ball in the field of the Pablo Picasso school, although his first training sessions took place at another nearby school, the Joan Miró. He would go there with his father during afternoons and practice football. Jaime Mira, who was a physical education professor at the Pablo Picasso, remembers, “one time, after he had already debuted with the first team of Real Madrid, he came back to the school to speak with the students. One of them asked him why he decided to become a goalkeeper, and Iker replied that it was because his father didn’t want to be in the goal and so someone else had to do it.”
He entered the cantera of Real Madrid at the age of nine after playing in the Torneo Social. He quickly progressed through the ranks, and caught the attention of the coaches of the La Rojita teams. Teodoro Nieto was the one who debuted him at the age of 14, in a friendly in Wembley with the U-15 team. Nieto says, “Iker loves football and he enjoyed the game. I took note of him. He spent the game shouting and ordering others around. That was what I wanted.” Iker would go on to stop a decisive penalty that won the U-16 Eurocopa for Spain in May of 1997. A half year later, in November, he was taken out of class at the Instituto Cañaveral to travel with Real Madrid to a Champions League game against Rosenborg. At that time, he still used the metro as his primary means of transportation, or his father would take him to train in an old Renault 19. On Sept. 12, 1999, he debuted for Real Madrid in San Mamés at the age of 18. Now, he is captain of both Real Madrid and the Spanish national team.
They will never forget… how Iker didn’t play for his hometown team, but his brother did. Since Iker Casillas joined Real Madrid at such an early age, he never ended up wearing the shirt of his local club, Club Deportivo Móstoles. However, one Casillas did play for that team, Iker’s younger brother Unai, a midfielder.
Jaime Mira and José Troyano on Iker Casillas: Jaime Mira was Iker’s physical education professor at the Pablo Picasso school. Mira remembers Iker as a good student who loved football: “he was a great kid who came from a wonderful family. There’s no doubt that has helped him a lot, although we never imagined that he would get this far.” After Iker left to study at the Vicente Aleixandre school, Mira lost track of him, until the day that he heard the name of the goalkeeper of Spain in a U-16 Euro game. He goes on to say, “I know that whatever I need, I can count on him. I remember one event where he came to speak with the students and they asked him if it was more important to be the goalkeeper of Real Madrid or of the national team, and he said the national team was the maximum.”
José Troyano was the director of the Instituto Cañaveral back when Iker was studying there. He remembers the day Iker was taken out of class to travel to Norway with Real Madrid: “a Real Madrid director called me after speaking with his family, and so it was no problem for us. He had already played in the lower categories, but we were surprised that the first team had called him up.” He remembers Iker as a good student: “even though he had training sessions and played with the youth national teams, he never asked for special treatment. He never prioritized his training sessions ahead of his studies and that has merit. He was just one more kid among the rest, he played on the field like the rest of them, he wasn’t distant or aloof. He’s always had team spirit and that is something that has helped him and that he should be proud of.”
Sadly, my dreams of running into Iker on the Madrid metro never came true…