With 562 appearances in LaLiga Santander and 38 in LaLiga SmartBank, the Real Betis icon made LaLiga history on Monday night.
On September 3rd 2000, Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez made his first ever LaLiga appearance, doing so in Real Betis’ goalless draw away at Compostela in LaLiga SmartBank, Spain’s second tier. At the time, few would have expected that match to be so significant 20 years later, but it launched one of the most thrilling careers in the history of Spanish football.
Fast forward twenty years to November 30th 2020, Joaquín made his 600th LaLiga appearance as Real Betis hosted SD Eibar in LaLiga Santander, a feat that only five other players have achieved before him. More than two decades on, the fresh-faced teenager has become a captain, shareholder and legend of Real Betis.
This tale started when he was 16 years old and moved from Cádiz’s academy to Real Betis in 1997. It was finishing school for the youngster and, just three years later, he was the creative spark of a young Real Betis team that won promotion back to LaLiga Santander level. Most memorably, he helped Real Betis to Copa del Rey glory in 2004/05, an achievement that meant so much that the club president brought the trophy to Joaquín’s wedding that summer.
The 39-year-old winger hasn’t spent his entire career in the green and white of Real Betis, with the middle decade of his career spent at Valencia, Málaga and Fiorentina. But since his return to the Benito Villamarín in 2015, he has been the leader of the club in almost every sense. He still has his famous “la finta y el sprint” – “the feint and the sprint” – on the pitch, while he is also now a true leader of Los Verdiblancos, wearing the captain’s armband and owning shares in the club worth over one million euros. “It’s a way of paying back the club and fans for what they’ve given me,” he said at the time of his investment in 2017.
Elche CF striker Nino’s 697 appearances between the first and second tiers of Spanish football mean that Joaquín doesn’t quite have the most league appearances out of this season’s players, but it needs to be kept in mind that he is far from done. His current contract runs until the summer of 2021, when he’ll turn 40, but he’d be keen to keep going. During a recent appearance on Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, the Real Betis captain explained: “It would make me really sad to retire without the fans in this atypical season. I feel I have the energy to carry on.”
Joaquín, then, could reach further milestones before he hangs up his boots. Already he is the Real Betis player with the most league appearances ever, but he is still chasing José Ramón Esnaola’s record for Real Betis appearances across all competitions. Esnaola retired with 459 and Joaquín is rapidly closing in with 441.
The winger can also climb further up the Real Betis all-time top scorers charts. With 59 goals for the club, he is currently 10th, but he is just a few behind sixth-placed Fernando Ansola’s tally of 67 goals and that could be achievable before the end of the current season.
It’s achievable because Joaquín is still playing so well. He has become so famous in Spain and around the world for his hilarity, from posing naked with the Copa del Rey that he won in 2007/08 with Valencia to his dad jokes during TV and radio appearances. But it’s his football that has allowed him to keep playing to the age of 39 and potentially beyond. As he remarked in an interview with El País: “It’s not because I’m funny that I’ve been able to play so many years at the top level.”