In his alternative La Liga team of the season Sid Lowe summed up how many football fans regard Joan Capdevila. When debating who to include at left-back he decided that ‘Capdevila is a bit too obvious — the kind of default choice at left back. So, it was time to look elsewhere.’ It is not just Sid that has had to start to look elsewhere. At 33 years of age, and, by his own admission, with his best years behind him, Joan has begun to fall out of favour at Villarreal while his international career too appears to be winding to a close.
The veteran left-back was dropped for Villarreal’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Porto with the Villarreal manager Juan Carlos Garrido choosing instead to play Jose Catala in what turned out to be a disastrous decision. The team lost 5-1 and Catala was run ragged by Hulk and was lucky not to be sent off after a couple of rash challenges on the Brazilian forward. Capdevila was reinstated for the return leg, a game that Villarreal performed admirably in, securing a 3-2 win with Capdevila justifying his return to the starting eleven by scoring a well taken volley at the back post and looking dangerous throughout. The 3-2 win failed to overturn the 5-1 deficit inflicted in the first leg and it was Porto that progressed and went on to beat Braga in the final, a game that could have been Capdevila’s last real shot at a (major) European trophy.
Despite accumulating more than 40 appearances in all competitions this season it has been a year in which Capdevila has been slowly phased out of the first team with Catala emerging as first-choice at left-back as the season reached a close. It is a sad finale to what has been a fruitful union between player and club. After signing for Villarreal in 2007, Capdevila was a key member of the team as the club finished runner-up in La Liga in 2008, a remarkable ten points clear of third-placed Barcelona. Reports in Spain have linked the player with a lucrative contract offer from Malaga that would see out the remainder of his career but to his credit Capdevila appears intent on playing in Europe, something that Malaga, despite all their recently acquired money, cannot offer him this season.
Capdevila is one of those players who divides opinion; at international level especially, some see him as a valuable member of the first team while others identify him as a weak link. On the surface he lacks the pace and speed of thought of those around him but there is no questioning his effectiveness. Key contributions in crucial games have helped Spain on their way to becoming champions of Europe and the World. Even as his advancing years catch up with him he is still a hugely reliable figure and he wouldn’t have played every minute of every game as Spain won the World Cup last year if he wasn’t bloody good at his job. In the most successful 4 years in the national team’s history Capdevila has been the ‘default choice at left-back’, and rightly so. If anything, his consistent high levels of performance make him a strong link, not a weak one.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais after winning the European Championship in 2008 Capdevila described himself as ‘tuercebotas’ which translates as someone clumsy and unimportant, a nobody who achieves success without quite knowing how. His playful self-depreciation of his own abilities is endearing and entertaining but at the same time wrong. In an era when world football has lacked outstanding left-backs, Capdevila established himself as first-choice in his position in the best international team of the past decade and arguably one of the best ever.
Now, I will be honest there are times when I have cursed Capdevila, but, and this is an important ‘but’, never in real life. Now that may at first sound crazy but it is true, and if those FIFA-playing readers who are unsure about him think about it I have a feeling they might just agree. Woeful performances on FIFA 09, 10 and 11 never mind costly mistakes on Football Manager have left me screaming at Capdevila over the years. Yet when I think of all the times I have watched Spain and Villarreal play I can’t actually think of a time when the real Capdevila has put in a bad performance. For example, if you enter the words ‘Capdevila’ and ‘mistake’ into Google, the top results are; a refereeing mistake, and an EA Sports forum criticising Capdevila’s ability on FIFA 11. He describes himself as a ‘tuercebotas’ because he is often surrounded by superstars both at national and club level and his own performances are therefore often overshadowed. Yet the gulf in class between Capdevila himself and his portrayal in football video games is harsh to say the least. He is far better than fans and video game designers may well think.
With 59 appearances for Spain since 2002, it is remarkable, and quite a shame (no disrespect to Villarreal) that Capdevila was not a part of a club that was challenging for honours both domestically and in Europe on a regular basis. However, as his career draws to a close he can look back and be proud of what he has achieved, particularly at international level. A runner-up at the 2000 Olympics, a champion of Europe in 2008, then a champion of the world in 2010.
Not bad for a self-confessed ‘tuercebotas’.
By Charlie Scott.
You can follow Charlie on Twitter @charlie_scott10.