Most people fall in love with football thanks to a certain team or player. My story is far more embarrassing — it all began with stickers.
Born in London to a Spanish mother and an English father, I was not a fan of the game at first. You were far more likely to find me reading a book or drawing cartoons during our yearly holidays to southern Spain, but that changed when my cousin and I picked up a La Liga sticker album one summer.
Something about the combination of exotic player names, team badges and the shirts worn by each side appealed to me. There was no one star who stood out above the rest given my football agnosticism at the time — a sticker of then-Getafe midfielder Dani Parejo was just as valuable as one of Real Madrid icon Iker Casillas.
My cousin and I never completed an album, but collecting the stickers became a tradition. At the same time, I began to ask my Spanish grandfather, a keen Madridista, questions about the game. I soon found he could spend hours talking about the great Alfredo Di Stefano, his trips to the Bernabeu as a youngster and the teams who had helped forge the legend of Real Madrid.
I was hooked, and I couldn’t have picked a better moment to get into Spanish football. Spain were conquering all before them on the international stage, winning the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 either side of the World Cup in 2010. In La Liga, Barcelona were revolutionising the game under Pep Guardiola, while the arrival of a certain Portuguese manager in Madrid was about to inject added venom into El Clasico. There was also the small matter of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo competing for their legacies on a weekly basis.
I started a blog on European football with a friend and wrote about La Liga for a number of sites. I realised there was more to the Spanish top flight than just the big two — there was Malaga’s improbable run to the Champions League quarter-finals, Atletico Madrid stepping out of their more illustrious neighbours’ shadow to win the Copa del Rey and La Liga, along with Sevilla’s unprecedented run of Europa League success. It felt like a golden age for Spanish football.
A lot has changed since then. Spain have not made it past the World Cup round of 16 since their 2010 win, while Messi and Ronaldo are both long gone. Real’s five Champions League titles in nine years mean this team can be considered alongside the five-time winners of the 1950s, but Barca have been plunged into financial crisis since they last won the competition in 2015. Most surprisingly, the two Clasico rivals have joined forces as part of the breakaway European Super League project — something that would have seemed unthinkable when Jose Mourinho was poking Tito Vilanova in the eye 11 years ago.
Still, Barca and Real remain two of the biggest — and often the most baffling — clubs in world football. Where else in the world would you find two sets of daily newspapers dedicated to covering a pair of rival clubs in such minute detail? You cannot understand the scale of either team until you have read through the pages and pages of coverage afforded to Madrid and Barca in sports dailies Marca and AS on the Madrid side and Sport and El Mundo Deportivo in Catalonia.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to join The Athletic as part of their new and improved Spanish football section. After studying languages at university and finishing a sports journalism course in 2021, I joined The Times as a writer before leaving for a similar role at ESPN last year. In both cases, I kept up my interest in La Liga while writing on subjects as diverse as the Church of Maradona, the rise of fantasy football in the UK and Karim Benzema’s complicated relationship with France.
With its emphasis on long-form writing and original ideas, The Athletic felt like a great fit. As junior editor, I will endeavour to keep those ideas flowing while helping our brilliant team of reporters deliver the quality journalism The Athletic is known for. I’m confident you won’t find a better-connected team of journalists when it comes to the inner workings of Real Madrid and Barcelona. That will allow us to give Madridistas and Cules what they want when it comes to in-depth coverage — and it will also allow us to hold both clubs to account.
At a time when Real and Barca are still pushing for a Super League, that last point is more important than ever before. Two heavyweight clubs require similarly impressive coverage — The Athletic will provide just that.
(Top photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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