A few weeks ago, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were 2-0 down against fifth place Real Sociedad with 20 minutes left on the clock before they turned to legendary figure Joaquín for inspiration.

The club need not have worried.

Just five minutes before full-time the 39-year-old looped in a cross for attacking midfielder Sergio Canales to head home before latching onto a loose ball in the box and guiding it into the net with his weaker left-foot, albeit with a deflection, to salvage an incredible 93rd minute equaliser.

In their following two matches, Real Betis knocked out Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey (3-1) and ran out as 1-0 winners against Osasuna last weekend.

Striker Borja Iglesias scored three goals in these two matches.

On Thursday night, Joaquín could not stop his Betis side crash out of the Copa del Rey on penalties against Athletic Club.

But they cannot let this defeat demotivate them as, especially during this global pandemic, the fixtures are coming thick and fast.

Real Betis face Barcelona at home on Sunday before a crunch match against Villarreal.

Indeed, Los Verdiblancos are only, at the time of writing, five points behind Unai Emery’s men and it seems that Pellegrini’s careful stewardship is finally getting the best out of their squad.

And if Betis are to have a successful end to this covid-stricken campaign, and challenge for the European places, then captain Joaquín Sánchez will surely have a vital role to play.

Joaquín and Real Betis: steeped in history

Before his big-money move to Valencia in 2006, Joaquín was a regular in a Real Betis side which would finish in the top 10 in each of the campaigns between 2000/01 and 2003/04.

Yet it would be the 2004/05 season which was to be the club’s most successful as they would win the Copa del Rey and finish in that fourth and final Champions League spot, with Joaquín an ever-present in LaLiga during this campaign.

He would score against Athletic in a 4-4 draw at San Mamés as well as grabbing a brace in his side’s 3-3 draw with Barcelona at Camp Nou in two of the season’s classic matches.

This golden period was also the one in which the Cádiz born winger would win the majority of his 51 caps for the Spanish national side.

After representing Betis in the Champions League in 2005/06, he signed for Valencia.

Joaquín would spend five seasons with Los Che and two campaigns with Manuel Pellegrini’s Málaga before trying his luck in Italy with Fiorentina.

But where he had been happiest was at Real Betis and 10 years after he left, he came home.

The resigning of Joaquín

At 34 years of age, nobody was quite sure which Joaquín they were going to see.

After all, he had only featured in 26 league games or less in three of his four previous campaigns at Fiorentina and Málaga.

Yet his importance to the Sevilla-based club has become patently clear over the last few seasons.

Aside from the 2016/17 campaign, in which he featured in 28 games, he has played in at least 30 La Liga matches in each of the last five seasons for Real Betis.

Last season he even became the oldest LaLiga player, aged 38, to score a hat-trick in an encounter against Athletic Club.

Real Betis incarnate

Putting aside his clear technical abilities as a player, he is also a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of the Sevilla-based club.

He champions all of the qualities which Los Béticos want from the from their club. Hard work, sacrifice and never giving up.

In 2017, he even paid €1 million to the club for 2% shares meaning his connection with the fans and the club will continue even after he eventually retires.

It certainly helps that the winger plays the game with an unrivalled passion.

The Andalusian also represents the very best of Spanish football: superb technical ability, athletic prowess and a tremendous personality to boot.

Goals/assists tally

At 567, Joaquín is the outfield player with most appearances in LaLiga.

If the transfer rumours about Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi are true, then it will stay that way for time to come.

But whilst Joaquín’s importance to this Real Betis side is partly due to this experience and leadership ability, he also chips in with important contributions.

Indeed, the below infographic demonstrates his goals and assist tally since re-joining the club in 2015.

As you can see, last season was his most prolific since his return to Spanish football with 10 goals which, for a 38-year-old, is a tremendous return.

2020/21 season

Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment was, in part, motivated by Real Betis’s ambition in returning to European football.

Pellegrini masterminded Villarreal and Málaga to a Champions League semi-final and quarter-final respectively.

However, the Chilean was also appointed because of Real Betis’ defensive frailties and inconsistent form.

This season started out badly as the club registered seven defeats out of their opening 11 domestic fixtures.

Recently, however, their form has picked up, with, as noted at the start of this piece, Joaquín playing an important role in the salvaged draw against Real Sociedad.

He has demonstrated his importance to the club throughout his second spell.

And the Cadiz-born winger and club captain will need to keep delivering if Real Betis are to have a proper crack at the European places over the next few months.

Where does the future lie?

Whilst Joaquín is increasingly used as an impact sub, he has shown that he has the quality, longevity and passion to continue playing at the highest level.

For how long?

Nobody knows.

But given that he is still playing an important role in Real Betis’ push for European football, his playing days are far from over.

Let’s enjoy him while he lasts.

James Felton