When Real Madrid played Real Betis at the Bernabeu last Saturday, one of the best strikers in La Liga was looking to add four goals in his young season.
We don’t talk about it Karim BenzemaAlthough he still has three goals in the league – but Betis is a striker Borja Iglesiaswho stands directly behind Barcelona Robert Lewandowski Celta Vigo Iago Espace In the picchi The race (both with five goals).
Iglesias, 29, has been around for a while. He came through Celta Vigo’s academy, starred on loan at Real Zaragoza and achieved a feat with Espanyol, persuading Betis’ 17 league goals in 2018-19 to sign him for €30m.
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But he has never started the season like this: he scored in Betis’s opening 3-0 win over Elche, converted two penalties in a 2-1 win over Mallorca, and scored the only goal in their 1-0 win over Osasuna. He’s the kind of person who talks about a sudden call-up to Spain in the 2022 World Cup, for a player who hasn’t played for his country at any level.
Iglesias – His colleagues nicknamed him “Panda” because of his love for it Desiigner song you can’t get out of your head back in 2016 – He was never a traditional soccer player.
As a child, he was so obsessed with football that he had his parents take them to nearby Santiago de Compostela airport late at night in the hopes that it would coincide with LaLiga teams returning home after an evening game against Celta Vigo to ask for pictures. and signatures.
In 2020, he resorted to painting his nails black, saying it was a small gesture meant to remind himself of using his position to fight racism and homophobia. “I, too, must admit–I like it,” Tweeted.
While he couldn’t sign up for the first time, an ex-boyfriend Thibaut Courtois The couple share a love for video games and together invested in the DUX Gaming esports team – Iglesias and Co. Brilliant effort in the 2-1 loss that saw Betis fall only in their game this season (Stream replays on ESPN+ in the US.)
Before the match, Iglesias spoke to ESPN’s Martin Einstein on a new episode of Bike DiaryHe talks about his looks, mental health and admiration for Benzema.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
ESPN: How would you explain this improvement in goal-scoring?
Iglesias: It’s incredible. Sometimes, if you sit down and think about it a lot, it makes you feel a little dizzy.
ESPN: It’s hard to enjoy things in such a professional environment, with a lot of pressure and a lot of stress.
Iglesias: completely. Sometimes, I think it was hard for me to be at my best, because I didn’t enjoy it. The pressure I was putting on myself was so demanding of me that I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy it. I wasn’t getting in touch with my true self, what I love, which is playing football, right? So of course, you are not giving your best performance. I was tense. Sometimes I go to bed and say I didn’t enjoy my day. It just didn’t make sense, because I’ve been doing what I’ve dreamed of since I was little.
ESPN: You are one of the few footballers who have opened up about themselves, who humanize the profession, and that is essential. Since footballers are where they are, earn what they earn, and have a high-ranking position in society, they are expected to be robots, to be almost perfect in everything. This could be counterproductive.
Iglesias: Yes, the truth is that I think it is something we have to normalize, and not just within the sport. Mental health is very important but of course, sometimes it’s hard to say you’re not okay. Because sometimes it’s like “How can he not be okay if he’s a footballer, he makes money and the fans love him?” Well, sometimes, for whatever reason, you’re just not okay. Sometimes you feel financially well off, or you’re in the news, or you’re doing what you really enjoy, or whatever else, but you’re just not okay. Sometimes not all of these factors allow you to be okay. It seems like something you can’t say, but the truth is that it does happen sometimes.
ESPN: You said you were in therapy, that you saw a psychiatrist.
Iglesias: I’ve always felt supported [my teammates]The coaching staff, the professionals who help you with these things because they’ve trained in them and they have the tools to help you get back in touch with yourself and feel happy again, to enjoy yourself. Mine, [the psychologists] It gave me a way of looking at life that I didn’t allow myself to see because I was so demanding.
ESPN: It’s as if you should be strong, do everything well, because somehow if I had this, if I had…
Iglesias: Of course, how can you not be so good if you have everything? In fact, I sometimes felt that way. I’d say “I can’t be well.” And of course you could be sick. Of course you can wake up one day and not want to go to training, or another day you go to bed and say “what a day”, forgive the expression. It happens sometimes, and you also need those days to really appreciate the good stuff. If everything was good, it would be very easy, right? You won’t make much progress if things don’t get difficult. I struggled in the process, but I really appreciate it too.
I think it’s good to break away from the usual interview and just talk about football. I would like to see my teammates do something like this, because they have so much to offer. Sometimes you don’t like it, or the situation doesn’t allow it, or something else, but it bothers me a lot, the stereotype that footballers have nothing to offer. It is clear that there are people who are more qualified because of their circumstances in life. Everyone’s experience is different. There are experiences my teammates have had, they can talk about, and then I can talk about others. It is good to listen to others. You often put yourself in their shoes and, as we said, you see that they are people you may like or dislike for any reason, but who also have your problems.
ESPN: What is the defining moment for you?
[Betis captain] Andres Guardado He made a huge impact on me at a difficult time [last season]. We played at home against Sevilla, we played very well and I was really bad. I lost the ball a few times, when I practically tripped over the ball. That day, I came home really frustrated. He noticed and sent me a message. I remember him saying to me, “You’ve reached your peak as a footballer and we all believe in you. Go on, because you’re almost done.”
Two weeks later, I scored two goals (against Real Sociedad in the King’s Cup on January 26th). From that moment on, I’ve had two seasons, or a season and a half plus the start of this season, that’s been really good. I think this message helped me a lot because that day I needed someone to tell me exactly that. And of course, when Andres Guardado tells you, who has played or is going to play in his fifth World Cup (with Mexico), it’s amazing.
ESPN: The balance you have in the dressing room is achieved in part thanks to players with a lot of experience who know how to bring something to strengthen the group.
Iglesias: completely. What they give us on the field, which is a lot, is nothing compared to what they gave us off the field. They see things differently, and they are people who have the ability to express it and help you with three words, in a moment when you don’t even realize what’s going on. They have been an essential part of the group’s well-being, because in the good moments they know how to keep our feet on the ground, and in the difficult moments they know they are positive, and how to help us grow.
ESPN: What does it look like to face a striker like Karim Benzema?
Iglesias: The truth is that one [players] I enjoy watching more. I’ve enjoyed watching it for years. In a way, he was a role model for me, seeing as he was criticized, and that there was a lot of skepticism about him. I also think what’s impressive is his ability to adapt to what the team needs. More than he really wants – because I’m sure he would like to be the main guy, always score goals and all that – he adapted.
ESPN: Is that what you stand out for him – maturity, intelligence, and adaptability?
Iglesias: Yes, I think it is these three things that have helped Karim take this step forward in the past few years. In terms of the technique we are talking about, he is probably the most technical of the striker, with a tremendous ability to score goals. It’s such a pleasure to watch, because when you see him live, you realize that he doesn’t lose a single ball. Every touch is good, every touch has meaning. It doesn’t look fast, but it is fast. It’s really good, it’s really good.