When Atletico Madrid take the following step of their La Liga title defence at Cadiz on Sunday, they are going to be confronted by one of the vibrant and distinctive characters in Spanish soccer.
Cadiz’s no-nonsense centre-back or defensive midfielder Rafael Jimenez Jarque, ubiquitously recognized by his nickname Fali, comes from a gypsy group, took a meandering path to the highest, and now stays steadfastly unaffected by fame.
Born in Valencia, Fali was on the books of close by Villarreal as a teenager, earlier than returning to his house metropolis to affix Levante and make his debut with their reserve staff as an adolescent within the semi-professional, regionalised fourth tier in 2010/11.
A breakthrough remained elusive as he left Levante and spent a few years with Huracan within the third division (Segunda B) earlier than, in 2015, he was snapped up by Gimnastic Tarragona after their promotion to the second tier.
All through these early days Fali remained near his gypsy roots, at all times comfortable to champion the tight-knit group that developed his robust however down-to-earth persona and gave him an impartial worldview.
Recalling these origins, he as soon as defined to sports activities newspaper AS: “Our life is troublesome. I bought married once I was 16 and have become a father once I was 17. Within the morning I labored within the scrapyard and within the afternoon I went coaching. I used to be 16 however I already had the mentality of a 30-year-old. Folks at all times say that I look very previous. After the whole lot I’ve suffered, after all I do.”
Fali’s power of character at all times confirmed up in abundance on the soccer area, the place he performs with an unwavering sense of dedication. He’s, nonetheless, technically restricted, and it might not have been stunning if his profession had adopted a journeyman path within the decrease tiers.
However his life unexpectedly modified in January 2016, as his time within the relative anonymity of the decrease leagues got here to an abrupt finish with a shock mortgage transfer to Barcelona’s B staff.
In speedy footballing phrases it was a step down as his new staff have been within the Segunda B, a degree under Tarragona, however the standing and expectations inherent in representing Barca – even their reserves – was completely totally different from something he had beforehand skilled.
Andrea Orlandi, the previous Barca, Brighton and Swansea participant who’s now a pundit for La Liga TV, recounts a narrative from Fali’s arrival on the Camp Nou which completely illustrates his large persona.
“Barca B signed him to carry management,” Orlandi defined to BBC Sport.
“He instantly felt there was an absence of dedication inside the staff, so after two coaching classes he stood up in entrance of the gamers and stated: ‘Pay attention, I am a gypsy and I have to feed my household. It is a once-in-a-lifetime alternative for me. You guys have qualities I haven’t got, but when we do not win video games I will not earn one other contract. So for those who do not run, I will be operating after you.’
“No one does that sort of factor at Barcelona, however he modified the mentality of the staff and so they began profitable.”
He ended up staying with Barca B for 2 years and was repeatedly invited to coach with the primary staff – then-manager Ernesto Valverde instructed him to coach together with his common bodily depth however Fali joked he could not get shut sufficient to Lionel Messi to kick him.
Fali performed a key half in Barca B’s promotion to the Segunda Division in 2017 and though he then returned to Tarragona, his profile had considerably elevated.
The next yr he was on the transfer once more, becoming a member of formidable second tier Cadiz, and on the finish of his first full season with the Andalusian membership he celebrated one other promotion. Lastly, on the age of 27, he had made it into the highest flight.
That new standing, although, has not modified him. Whereas some gamers preach the values of ‘humility’ whereas concurrently having fun with rockstar life, Fali lives together with his spouse and three youngsters in a modest house within the centre of Cadiz, a stone’s throw from their Nuevo Mirandilla stadium. He hardly ever goes out and would not even personal a cell phone, borrowing his spouse’s if he wants to make use of one.
On the sphere he’s at all times laborious however by no means soiled, the epitome of an ‘trustworthy professional’, and possesses exceptional bodily sturdiness – when he was stretchered off with a knee damage towards Barcelona in September it was feared that he confronted months on the sidelines; 10 days later, he was again within the beginning line-up.
Fali’s attributes, each on and off the pitch, make him an ideal match for Cadiz, whose long-serving supervisor Alvaro Cervera employs unpretentious enjoying strategies which prioritise substance forward of fashion.
Cadiz are actively disinterested in having the ball, averaging simply 35.8% possession thus far this season – the bottom out of 98 groups in Europe’s large 5 leagues.
Fali describes their method as focusing upon “being efficient within the two penalty areas”, one thing they’ve struggled to attain throughout a current run of 1 win in 9 video games, leaving them only one level outdoors the relegation zone.
Their makes an attempt to rediscover type start this weekend towards the champions, and impressed by Fali’s pressure of persona you would not wish to guess towards them.