El Centrocampista

Joaquin! – The Trials and Tribulations of Spain’s greatest under-achiever

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images Europe

Once regarded as one of the finest prospects in Spanish football, it’s fair to say that the career of Joaquin Sanchez has not quite panned out as it should have. However, the former Betis and Valencia winger seems to be finding his best form again with Malaga this season. Sadly for him, an era in which he might have fit perfectly into Spain’s national side has almost certainly passed him by.

It’s strange to think now, with tiki-taka becoming the blueprint to the national side’s immense success and the envy of everyone in world football, but in the early noughties Spain were known for being one of the few big teams to use a traditional – some would say ‘English’ – 4-4-2 system; two out-and-out centre forwards in Raul and Morientes spearheading the attack, being fed by the right-footed Joaquin on the right, and left-footed Vicente on the left, something that is fast becoming unheard of in the modern game.

While Spain have always produced talented footballers and have been universally admired for their style, this very different approach wasn’t one that brought success. Joaquin might have been an important part of that period (winning over 50 caps before 2007, but none since) and although initially a falling out with national team boss Luis Aragones seemed to be the main barrier to his inclusion in the side, it quickly became apparent with the emergence of more rounded and versatile young players like Andres Iniesta and David Silva, that that might not be the only problem.

When tiki-taka won Euro 2008, following a qualifying campaign in which Spain were beaten by Northern Ireland and dubbed ‘a mess’ by Joaquin, the writing was very much on the wall. The sad fact for Joaquin is that, no matter how good his form might become, he has suffered as much from this change in philosophy as from his own performances. He was one of the game’s hot prospects, but in a time when the game was very different – even if it does seem like a relatively short time ago.

Despite his impressive displays this season, the stats still paint a picture of a player who has failed to adapt. He comfortably beats the likes of Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas, Mata and Cazorla on accurate crosses, with an average of 2.6 per game (his closest competitor is Cazorla with 1.6; Mata 1, Silva 0.9, Iniesta 0.3 and Fabregas 0). But we live in a world of ball retention now, where he predictably falls short of his rivals.

His pass success rate of 81.5% is hardly poor, but it’s fair to say that with Iniesta (91.9%), Fabregas (90%) and Silva (88.4%) he doesn’t quite match the philosophy of the team. Even Cazorla (87.3%) and Mata (86%) are going to have a hard enough time competing for places in one of the most densely talented midfields of all time.

And while Joaquin used to aim at the likes of Raul and Morientes in the box, he could now find himself in the very alien situation of playing in a Spain team that often won’t field a recognised striker at all, with a 4-6-0 often used to good effect in Euro 2012. Accurate crosses will be hard to come by if there’s no one trying to get on the end of them.

Still, the 31-year-old should be pleased to be lighting up La Liga again as part of a promising looking Malaga side. He can take some comfort in the fact that his career hasn’t fallen by the wayside as much as one who used to be on his opposite flank for both Spain and Valencia – Vicente Rodriguez, an equally exciting prospect once upon a time, now of Brighton & Hove Albion.

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