From Barcelona to Espanyol: the way of the converts

Sergi Gómez is the last pilgrim on a very busy path, from Kubala to Sergio García, from Justo Tejada or Cayetano Ré to De la Peña or Jordi Cruyff.


Argues Enric González, who knows as much from reflecting and writing as from living far from home, that being from Espanyol is "a matter of faith." And it would give to explain not only that the parakeet club has exceeded 120 years of life in the shadow of a giant like Barcelona, but also that footballers closely linked to the Barça religion have ended up not only wearing blue and white but also becoming the Espanyol creed . Even reaching the captaincy and idolatry. Sergi Gómez, trained at La Masia and who declared culé has gone on to talk about "the wonderful blue and white shirt", is the last to take the path of the converts.

Recent and significant was the case of Sergio García, able to go from top scorer of the Barcelona quarry (969 goals!) To top scorer at RCDE Stadium. From promise at the Camp Nou to the symbol of a Espanyol who chanted his name and who still admires him. "As a child I was from Barça, but now I am not changing Espanyol for anything in the world", was one of his numerous declarations of love to the Parakeet club, in which he proudly wore the bracelet. So did his inseparable Joan Verdú, with whom he had shared years of training in Barça youth football. Or Víctor Sánchez, whose children are staunch parrots and who is part of the 'top ten' of players who have played the most games in the First Division with Espanyol.

At the football level of Sergio García, the tremendously talented Iván de la Peña, a fundamental member of one of the best Espanyol of the history, which conquered the 2006 Copa del Rey and reached the final of the UEFA Cup the following year, with another striking name as the undisputed starter: the current sports director, Francisco Joaquín Pérez Rufete. And he is not the only one in the squad right now, who in addition to Sergi Gómez has Oier Olazábal, a teammate of the central Barcelona B of Luis Enrique and Eusebio Sacristán, as well as Fran Mérida.

Another Cup, that of 2000, was won by Toni Velamazán –three months later, Olympic silver–, Nando Muñoz, Cristóbal Parralo and Roger García, whose brother Óscar would end up accompanying him. Not surprisingly, so far this century –or just before, like Sebastián Herrera– the players from the Barça past who ended up at Espanyol were very numerous: Dani García Lara, Jofre Mateu, Simao Sabrosa, Abraham González –who also wore the armband perico–, Jordi Cruyff…

But not only did the son of a Barça legend wear blue and white, but another of the legends in Barça history did it personally: Ladislao Kubala. The Hungarian, who signed out of spite to a Barça that had fired him as coach and did not allow him to take off his boots, left a season (1963-64) of enormous class in Sarrià and a crucial goal to avoid relegation, against Sporting of Gijón. Likewise, by changing the grass for the bench, he would be a key piece in the hiring of another football colossus, Alfredo di Stéfano.

A compatriot from Kubala, Zoltan Czibor, had traced the same path shortly before, in 1961, after Barça lost in Bern the final of the European Cup, that of the square posts, to Benfica of the equally Magyar Bela Guttman. Another victim of the Barça purge after that debacle, Justo Tejada, would end up at Espanyol with Kubala, after passing through Madrid, and playing in two different clubs alongside Di Stéfano. Just after hanging up his boots, the Argentine, who landed in Sarrià was Cayetano Ré, ultimately one of the famous Five Dolphins.

And, between the 60s and 2000s, there was also a charismatic culé in another of the most memorable passages in Blue and White history: the 1987-88 UEFA Cup. This is Ángel 'Pichi' Alonso, who had already participated with a goal in the legendary triumph against Milan by Arrigo Sacchi, in Lecce (0-2), but who entered the parakeet club's books forever thanks to his so much Brugge in the 119th minute of extra time, in the semi-final second leg. The target that qualified Espanyol for a final that they should never have lost.

The return path

The Leverkusen drama brought about the other side of the coin, Espanyol players who have ended up at Barcelona. Then it was Ernesto Valverde and Miquel Soler. Before it had happened with Marcial Pina or Javier Urruticoechea 'Urruti'. And later, with Xavi Escaich, Igor Korneiev or Philippe Coutinho. Even in the first decades of the 21st century, Santiago Massana, Martí Vantolrà or José Padrón did it.

But the path of the converts in the direction of Barça - forgetting here the countless homegrown players who change colors every summer - has never been so solid. This is demonstrated by those who traced the path back and forth, from Urbano Ortega to authentic myths of Espanyolismo, such as Ricardo Zamora and José Cano 'Canito' themselves, the latter able to demonstrate even when he was a member of Barcelona - and he wore a T-shirt of the Espanyol– that, indeed, the faith of being a parakeet moves mountains.

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