Alfonso Pedraza is a left-back at Villarreal FC and could soon have a bigger family problem. “My brother does not bet with me!” complains Pedraza with mocking disappointment – and immediately laughs at the cell phone camera. The brother has planned his wedding for May 28, “and in fact I have to drive him to church.” This is: a dilemma. Because it could happen that Pedraza does not participate on May 28 – and is competing in the Champions League final with FC Villarreal at the Stade de France near Paris.
On Wednesday evening, Villarreal faces Liverpool, namely: in the city of beatles, whose song “Yellow Submarine” joined the yellow jerseys under the nickname of Villarreal’s internationally renowned club: “Submarino amarillo”, the yellow submarine. It is the preliminary culmination of a fairytale story. The city of Villarreal, with a population of 50,000, has left behind clubs Bergamo, Bern and Manchester United this season, as well as Juventus Torin and FC Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, which means that no German community is represented in the first league of European football.
Some German representatives are still in the semi-finals: Joel Matip at Liverpool FC, Toni Kroos at Real Madrid, Ilkay Gündogan at Manchester City. And if you want, you can also count the Spanish U21 and U19 European champions, Pedraza. Because: He was born in San Sebastián de los Ballesteros, a municipality in the heart of the province of Cordoba, which is considered the German village of Andalusia. The inhabitants of San Sebastián are called “Los alemanes” by their neighbors, the “Germans” because they meet many tall people with bright eyes on the street and because San Sebastián has a curious history.
The village was built under King Carlos III in the 18th century. was founded “and then settled mainly by German immigrants. Many families have German names – like me!” – says Pedraza. His mother’s name is Sag. Pedraza does not speak German, as no one in the village speaks German anymore, as village historian Rafa Vázquez explained a few years ago on the Onda Cero radio station. Only one verb is still used “very often”: “Drink!”
Liverpool ‘will try to crush us from the first minute’
Pedraza says he always goes there when there is time, “here I feel good, there are my roots”. He grew up right in front of the municipal sports facility and played football there without much ambition. It was only at the age of eleven that he joined a club, FC Séneca: “I was anything but extraordinary. I was tall, but I was also very corpulent.” This changed with a rapid increase during puberty, he ended up at a height of 1.84 meters. At the age of 15 he was called up to the Cordoba provincial team, took part in the Andalusian championship – and caught the eye of a Villarreal scout, who immediately spoke to his father. The boy has what it takes to be a professional.
“It was very difficult for me. I grew up on the streets. At the academy I no longer had the freedom I knew, a lot of discipline was required of us,” he says. But it was worth it. “The youth work is extremely well maintained here, the facilities are probably even the best in Spain. Everything is perfectly organized – food, school and of course football training.”
Initially a winger, Villarreal’s coaches also proved him as a winger. He liked the change. To get time to play, he was constantly loaned out, his CV includes stations such as CD Lugo, Leeds United, CD Alavés and Betis Sevilla. “I had to learn defensive thinking and tactical things at first, but I learned a lot there. Especially under Unai,” he said, referring to current Villarreal coach Emery.
He has made eight appearances this season in the Champions League, as a replacement, mainly because the winners of the Europa League 2021 have one of the best teams in the Spanish league. Against Liverpool a similar appearance will be required against that against Bayern. “Liverpool always works full, they work hard. “They will try to oppress us from the first minute.”
The role of the underground does not bother him. But: “The reality is that we have made it this far”, to the courtyard of the Champions League final: “This would be a dream, but we are not thinking about it yet”. And if Villarreal were to advance to the final, the dates would have to be reorganized into family. “I do not know what my brother would do then,” says Pedraza. There are always solutions. “But maybe we’ll just pack the priest and take him to Paris with us.”