When I was just two years old, a virus I’d caught over Christmas meant I ended up in the Ramon y Cajal hospital, located a few miles from real Madrid‘s training ground. It took the doctors several days to detect the cause while my family suffered. The chubby baby everyone had been pinching affectionately lost a lot of weight during that long week.
Contrary to what you might think, however, I have never remembered the illness as a sad episode.
One of those cold winter mornings, Real players Raul, Guti, Aitor Karanka and Ruben Gonzalez turned up at the hospital. They were visiting sick children and they must have liked me because they filled my room with cuddly toys. I still have a Real Madrid polo shirt signed by the four of them, which I treasure to this day.
“How Guti used to hold you in his arms, he was the most affectionate,” my aunt Margarita always remembers. She fell under the midfielder’s spell, as she loved as he was misunderstood by Real’s fans. So the visit from the players overshadowed other memories from the hospital.
From then on, it was clear to me that Real always appear when you least expect it.
The years went by without fate separating us completely, although La Decima – Real’s 10th European Cup, which they won in 2014 – almost ruined my first kiss. I had it all planned: I was going to go with the girl of my dreams to the Santiago Bernabeu to watch the final on big screens in the stadium. I had the tickets, I had arranged the date and when they scored I was going to kiss her. But one day, when I got home, my parents were waiting with a piece of paper from the police.
“That’s it, they’ve caught you doing something,” I thought when I saw it. Actually, it was great news, but it would force me to postpone my appointment.
“Guillermo Raimundo Garcia Sanchez, a minor, will be able to travel with the Diario AS team to watch the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid,” read the text. It was a document that gave me permission to cross the Spanish border and travel to Lisbon without my parents. I was to travel with the editors of the sports newspaper that I had started contributing to when I was still at school.
I was 11 years old when I started producing “Mini AS”, a version of the Spanish sports daily for my classmates, which caught the attention of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Alfredo Relano and helped me take my first steps as a sports journalist . I did my university internship there, working on the Real Madrid section. It was there that I met Mario Cortegana, an older brother of sorts, who surprised me with his friendliness and impressed me with his commitment to his work.
As an intern, one of my first assignments involved going to terminal four at Barajas airport in the summer of 2019. Los Blancos had come through a tough season – their first without Cristiano Ronaldo since 2009. The best news at the time was the emergence of a smiling youngster called Vinicius Jr. Having come of age, he was already one of the side’s most exciting players and I was to catch him by surprise when he returned from his holiday in Brazil.
“Would you be happy to go on loan to Real Valladolid with Ronaldo (Nazario)?” I remember asking him. With a smile, not quite understanding my question, Vinicius replied: “Yes, yes”.
But Vinicius stayed in Madrid and went from strength to strength. A few years later, when I went to London to work as a correspondent for AS, it was my turn to recount his exploits against him Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool in the Champions League. I was many miles from home, but again Real appeared in my life as they went on to win another Champions League title.
Between comebacks, I discovered The Athletic and its storytelling.
By then I was reporting the news that was worth telling, I wasn’t just doing interviews in airports. The subscription-based site had become a key part of my morning routine.
The Athletic was the first thing I read when I woke up, so when the opportunity arose to work here it was clear what I needed to do. I had to be punctual and make my appointment this time, because Real Madrid always turn up.
(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)