Photo credit Jeffrey F Lin
Betis legend Joaquín Sánchez is still going strong at the age of 38 !!
At most clubs the “older” players often leave their younger colleagues to do most of the graft; but Joaquín is the exception...
At most clubs the “older” players often leave their younger colleagues to do most of the graft while they prefer to sit back and organise the proceedings instead; but at 38 years old, Joaquín Sánchez of Betis is the exception.
Coping with the physical side of the game gets harder the older you get; and advancing years tend to equate to reduced input in terms of speed and distance.
Yet it’s through doing most of the running himself that makes Joaquín such an outstanding professional. That’s no mean feat in today’s football where such a big emphasis is placed on fitness!
Together with the fact that as a natural leader whose enthusiasm for the game is infectious to everyone around him means that his contribution on the field cannot be underestimated even at this late stage in his career.
If Dani Ceballos was thought to be the star of the Betis side before he moved to Real Madrid in the summer of 2017, then it’s likely that the steadying influence of Joaquín will have had a lot to do with Dani’s success.
Despite missing a whole chunk of the previous season with a knee injury sustained in training, the Betis legend was a constant inspiration throughout a difficult time at the club. Joaquín has now seen no fewer than six changes of coaches at Betis since returning from Fiorentina in August 2015.
At that time uncertainty behind the scenes and a constant stream of players coming and going have made it a difficult period for anyone in the green half of Sevilla.
When the club decided to dispense with the services of Betis stalwart Pepe Mel in January 2016, Juan Merino stepped up from the B side until the end of the season.
Uruguayan coach Gus Poyet, who replaced Juan Merino in time for the start of the new season 2016 - 2017, didn’t last until Christmas; leaving the club himself in November 2016.
Victor Sánchez who came in next didn’t have much luck either in turning things around and he too was dismissed; moving on in May 2017 with only two games of that season left.
Alexis Trujillo stepped in to fill the gap until the end of the season; when Betis appointed the experienced Quique Setién from Las Palmas.
Setién lasted two years at Betis; which is good by comparison to many of his predecessors; but now, with Rubi from Espanyol in charge, Joaquín's will have yet another coach to work with in the coming season.
No doubt Joaquín will assume even more responsibility in the months to come. As a complete 'Betico', Joaquín has made it clear that he is looking to run for the presidency of the club at some stage in the future.
It would take a brave person to oppose such a popular figure among the fan-base!
Yet on his return from Fiorentina the detractors, albeit few and far between, queried the wisdom of Betis signing an attacking player approaching his middle-thirties; far less one who would be expected to get up and down the flanks the way he did in his previous spell at the club.
When Betis ‘B’ coach Juan Merino was appointed after the club sacked Pepe Mel, Joaquín’s fitness was called into question along with several other players.
He soon found himself short of game time along with Betis' other high-profile signing of that time, Rafael van der Vaart.
Undeterred by Merino’s criticism at the time, Joaquín simply got his head down and trained harder; being recalled to the team as Betis fought clear of relegation and ultimately finished in tenth place in La Liga.
Joaquín’s success in playing at such a high level lies in his own – and the Betis fitness people’s – recognition that older players need to train in different ways to their younger counterparts.
Physiological adaptations take longer to manifest and the components of fitness required for the game at that level have to be addressed in specific ways applicable to the over-thirties.
The modern game requires players to be competent in several areas of fitness including speed, strength, agility and power; all underpinned by a strong capacity for aerobic endurance (Coutts and Grant, 2005; Bordon, 2006).
This sound anaerobic fitness is essential; since many decisive phases during a match require players to be capable of performing a succession of repeated sprints interspersed with short recovery periods (Bangsbo et al, 2006).
The adverse effects of excessive wear and tear on the joints as a result of impact-related exercises need to be borne in mind when devising training plans for the older player.
Sessions should be designed to avoid placing an over-emphasis on distances, sets and reps.
Instead these should be game-specific and focus on areas likely to require significant input such as the cardiovascular system; while taking into account the importance of recovery strategies.
In particular, running activities need to be modified. But there's no getting away from the fact that training should concentrate on developing and maintaining a player’s repeated sprint ability; even for the older players.
Various authors have stressed how essential it is for high-level footballers to be physically capable of performing repeated sprints when required (Bangsbo et al, 2006; Bishop, 2007).
Others have discussed how this relates to important measures of physical performance such as the distance covered during a game by high-intensity running (Rampinini et al, 2007).
To emphasise the relevance of this to top level football, studies have shown that players at the higher levels of the game have been found to be physically more able to perform numerous bouts of repeated sprints than others playing at lower levels (Impellizzeri et al, 2008).
It’s a fact that higher level players have been shown to demonstrate better ability to deal with the high intensity intermittent exercise required in training to develop this skill (Bangsbo et al, 2008; Mohr et al, 2003).
The evidence, therefore, says that the ability to cope with such higher-intensity running appears to be an important discriminating factor between footballers of different levels (Gabbett, 2010; Rampinini et al, 2009).
Like all players of his age group, Joaquín will be more than aware of the necessity to meet and maintain the fitness levels required to continue performing in La Liga at such a high level.
On that basis, perhaps it’s no real surprise from a purely physiological aspect that Joaquín still remains able at 38 to meet these standards.
As a seasoned professional he knows what the game is all about.
Sure, he’ll likely miss some of the heavier physical sessions in the training calendar but will compensate in other ways by specifically prioritising cardio-vascular fitness and improving / maintaining his repeated sprint ability.
The initial doubts over his fitness have long since faded into distant memory. Today, Betis without Joaquín are a different side.
Through playing in a more forward position of late, he's had to pace himself in order to give maximal performance over the ninety minutes. Clearly he’s looking after his fitness; even if it’s evident sometimes that it can be harder work than it used to be.
The breaths are deeper at times, and that characteristic look of total concentration can be a bit more intense these days; but you can’t question the experience and enthusiasm he provides on the field nor the total commitment he gives to the club he loves.
As a captain, Joaquín certainly leads by example; and nobody in green and white could possibly ask for anything more. You can't argue with over 700 games though - and counting!!
For sure he'll add to that number in the season to come!
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