The last time Real Betis won a major title, Joaquín Sánchez was there to help it lift the Copa del Rey.
Seventeen years later, the charismatic forward has the chance to put the perfect finish to his long career when his Betis plays Valencia in the final of Spain’s cup competition on Saturday.
The 40-year-old Joaquín has said that this, his 22nd season, will be his last. But before he hangs up his boots, he has the chance to not only celebrate a title, but help his club end its long wait for another trophy.
Joaquin is finishing his second successful stint with his boyhood club. The highlight of his first years with Betis was the 2005 Copa del Rey final, where it beat Osasuna 2-1 for its second cup to go with a sole Spanish league title from 1935.
Joaquin later joined Valencia, his rival in Sunday’s final, and helped it also to win the Copa del Rey in 2008. After stints with Malaga and Italian club Fiorentina, he was greeted by 20,000 fans on his return to Betis in 2015. He also became an investor in the club and became Betis' record-holder for most appearances.
Until last season, Joaquin still played significant minutes and scored goals. This season, with stiff competition led by midfielders Sergio Canales and Nabil Fekir, his playing time has dropped.
But coach Manuel Pellegrini still turned to the veteran in the final minutes of the semifinal last month against Rayo Vallecano, sending Joaquín on with the series about to enter extra time. A stoppage-time goal by Borja Iglesias sent Betis through to the final.
“This is so beautiful, my god. We are going to enjoy this,” Joaquín said after eliminating Rayo. He added one of those jokes about enjoying the good life that his fans love: “I won a Copa with Betis and another one with Valencia (...) I am all about the cups ... in a cocktail glass.”
Betis will have to only cross the city to play the final at Seville’s Estadio La Cartuja, a publicly owned stadium not to be confused with the venue of Betis' fierce rival, Sevilla.
Valencia have won the Copa del Rey eight times. They beat Betis in the 2019 semifinals en route to winning No. 8.
The final should offer a contrast of styles, pitting Pellegrini's flowing, possession-based attack against the defense-and-counterattack of Valencia coach José Bordalás.
Bordalás is counting on having winger Goncalo Guedes and center back Gabriel Paulista back from injury concerns. Guedes leads Valencia with 13 goals across all competitions, followed by midfielder Carlos Soler's 12.
While fifth-placed Betis are eyeing the Europa League or even a coveted Champions League spot, Valencia enter the weekend in 10th place in the league and with scant hopes of playing in Europe next season unless it can win the cup and earn the resulting Europa League berth.
“Being realistic, the league has gotten away from us. We have to focus all our efforts on the (cup) final,” Soler said. “Hopefully we can get the victory and a ninth Copa del Rey. This squad wants to make history.”