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After eight years and almost 300 games with Espanyol, Víctor Sánchez embarks on his first trip outside of Europe.
Sánchez now calls Australia’s Western United his home following Espanyol’s relegation from LaLiga in 2019-20, having spent 14 years in Spain and a brief season with Neuchatel Xamax.
The versatile 33-year-old had not planned to pack up and relocate his family 10,816 kilometers away in Melbourne, but the coronavirus pandemic changed his plans when Western United called him.
“It is a league that was not in my plans and I had not thought about it because it is also a very distant country,” said Sánchez, who ranks fourth in most Espanyol games behind Raúl Tamudo, Mauricio Pochettino and Javi López. he told Stats Perform News.
“But when I had the opportunity, looking a little at everything and at the level of this league, because it is a very well organized league, a serious league and a serious country also regarding the coronavirus, I thought it was a great opportunity for me and the family too. “
Sánchez is among the growing number of Spaniards moving to Australia after former Espanyol teammate López also joined Adelaide United.
Former Athletic Bilbao partner Markel Susaeta and Benat have reunited at Macarthur FC for their inaugural season, while former Getafe striker Diego Castro continues to star in Perth Glory.
“I didn’t know much about the A-League,” Sánchez said. “When I had the opportunity to come here I started looking at it and I also talked to people who had played here: with Juande who was in Perth, with Markel Susaeta who was in Melbourne City last year, [former Western Sydney Wanderers striker] Oriol Riera and [former Melbourne Victory midfielder] Raúl Baena.
“Footballers who have played here and everyone told me the same thing, that it is a spectacular experience, a great, great experience and standard of living, family level, and then because it is a league that, although it does not have the level of the Spanish league, It is still a physically strong league and above all very well organized. A very serious league and I think that at my age, with my career, I don’t want surprises and I wanted to reach a league where things were done well ”.
Sánchez brings a wealth of experience to Mark Rudan’s Western United, who reached the semi-finals of the A-League in his first season in the competition.
The Catalan-born midfielder, also adaptable in all defensive positions, left Barcelona’s youth system in 2005 and finally made his first-team debut in 2008.
Under Pep Guardiola’s leadership, Sánchez was part of the star-studded Barça team that won the Champions League, LaLiga and the Copa del Rey in 2008-09, playing alongside players like Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya. Touré, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué and Samuel Eto’o.
“My relationship with him was very good,” Sánchez said while talking about working with Guardiola at the Camp Nou. “I was with him in the second team, Barça B, and I was promoted from third division to Second Division B, from fourth league to third league in Spain and it was a really beautiful year, the first of him as a coach.
“Then he went to the first team and Sergio Busquets and me were promoted to the first team as well, although we still belonged to the youth team, but to be within the dynamics of the first team. That year was really incredible, the 2008-09 season when we won the League, the Cup and the Champions League, a fantasy year. Afterwards I have maintained a relationship with him when I have played against him and we have talked a lot.
“I haven’t talked to him in a long time now, but he’s very innovative in everything he does. He is a genius, there are not many like him. I was lucky enough to share a dressing room with Guardiola ”.
Sánchez played seven games in LaLiga in 2008-09, and 12 in all competitions, before being loaned to Xerex and Getafe in 2009-10 and 2010-11. A six-month stint in Switzerland followed, but after 16 matches, the Barcelona native returned home.
However, this time, Sánchez, one of the few chosen to play for both clubs, crossed the dividing line to join neighboring Espanyol in 2012.
“Playing for Barcelona is different than playing for Espanyol. The rivalry of the derbies. I think that Barcelona lives differently than Espanyol, ”said Sánchez. “From Barcelona’s perspective, there is rivalry, but nothing compares from Espanyol’s perspective to Barça.
“At Espanyol, for you it is like a final or a title to be able to beat Barcelona. Today the economic differences are enormous, so it is very difficult to win a game against Barcelona playing for Espanyol. I was there for about nine years and I was lucky to win a derby, in the Copa del Rey, in the first leg. When that happens is when you realize how difficult it is. You also realize how they want to win even though they see the rivalry differently. “
Sánchez joined forces with Pochettino when the Argentine coach made a name for himself at Espanyol before moving on to Southampton and Tottenham.
“He’s a great coach,” added Sánchez, who backed the former Spurs boss to move to Real Madrid. “I was with him for a short time. I came to Espanyol when he was there and you can say that he bought me for the club. You could see that he had what it takes to be a great coach with his ideas, how he worked with the team, he was very demanding.
“I think it was clear that I would make it to the top. I had a very good relationship with him. I was like six or eight months with him and he was a great coach in my career ”.
While Pochettino eventually went to Southampton from the Premier League less than a year later, Sánchez continued to help fly the Espanyol flag.
Sánchez went into battle in the Derbi Barceloni, a Barça-dominated derby, renewing former Blaugrana teammates Messi and Piqué in heated clashes, the rivalry came to a head in a fierce 1-1 draw at the RCDE Stadium in February. 2018.
– Western United FC (@wufcofficial) December 21, 2020
Espanyol’s Sánchez faced Messi, a six-time Ballon d’Or winner, in rainy conditions, adding: “Messi is a very special player, different from the rest. I think he especially likes playing against Espanyol.
“It is true that we played a very hot derby that ended tied with Piqué’s goal in the 80th minute. It was raining, a tough, beautiful, sentimental game. Messi is the best player in the world, above the rest. Beating him, stealing the ball or making things difficult for him is a personal triumph. Because like I said, it is way above the rest ”.
Fast forward to December 2020 and Sánchez is determined to savor success with Western United after experiencing Espanyol’s painful relegation to the second division of Spanish soccer for the first time since 1993.
“I want to win, be on top and make the team as high as possible. The A-League is economically very equal between teams, a bit similar to MLS where the budget is tight, ”said Sanchez, who had 80.5 percent passing accuracy in 25 LaLiga games last season.
“If you have a good team, a good year and if you are confident, you can fight for anything. Hopefully we will be lucky enough to go back to the play-offs and this time to be able to be in the semifinals or the final and be champions ”.
Sánchez, who recorded 116 recoveries and 27 interceptions, while winning possession 116 times in 2019-20, added: “I have signed for two years but my plan is to stay longer and hopefully it is possible. After my experience in Spain having played quite a few games, a long career, I was looking for a change. It will also be positive for us to learn the language. My English is basic at the moment.
“After 13 or 14 years playing in LaLiga it was a bit exhausting.”