Santomera. It is considered to be a part of Murcia but not quite, even though it’s just 20 minutes away. But it wants to stand out, because in 1978, it was created for the sole purpose of being different from Murcia. Distinct.
It wants to rise above the shadow of Murcia.
In 2007 he won the Segunda title with Valladolid. In 2008 he won the Segunda title with Numancia. In 2010 he was this close to seeing Cartagena promoted and was in the top 3 for the Pichichi trophy. In 2014 he helped Deportivo secure promotion to La Liga.
José Verdú Nicolás, or Toché, is 33 years old and is a specialist at getting promoted. At jumping up a level. At rising above the defence and scoring.
At rising above the shadows.
A former Atlético graduate, he has Champions League and Europa League experience with Panathinaikos. And now, he is at Real Oviedo. The club that just got promoted and wants to get promoted again.
A powerful header, a knack of rising above a defence and an uncanny ability to score goals, Toché has scored nine times in eighteen games and will surely try to find the back of the net again.
But what goes under the radar when it comes to Toché is his technical ability. In Oviedo’s attacking, one-touch system, he scores one-touch goals like these. He distracts defenders and drags them out of position. He is always at the right place at the right time.
And, of course, the Santomera native rises above the defense in the blink of an eye.
Guess the capital of the Basque Autonomous Community? No, it’s not Bilbao. Neither is it San Sebastián. Or Barakaldo. Not even Getxo or Irun. No, it’s Vitoria-Gasteiz, the biggest city by area, except it’s not just a city - it includes the surrounding 63 villages. Agricultural lands mainly.
In 2012, it was voted Europe’s Green Capital. The achievement was well-deserved, but it was the accumulation of the hard work over the years. A value that is inseparable from the city, and from the Basque Country at large - hard work and sacrifice. And, most of all, ambition.
"¡Ari, ari, ari, Toquero lehendakari!"
It was the 2008-09 Copa del Rey semi-final against Sevilla. At the San Mamés, the old San Mamés, Bilbao were leading 2-0. But they were not safe - Sevilla had won the first leg 2-1, and a goal at Bilbao would keep them alive.
Step forward, Gaizka Toquero.
Fernando Llorente presses David Prieto and gets the ball off him, but the defender has blocked the only possible angle Llorente can exploit to score. Meanwhile, the other center back, Federico Fazio, is quickly moving towards him. He passes the ball into empty space.
Halfway through the pass, Bilbao fans are already celebrating.
Toquero made the lung bursting run from the halfway line and positioned himself perfectly for the pass. Fazio turns around and runs back to where he was - where he should have been - but it’s too late. Controlled with the left boot and finished with the right, Toquero takes Athletic Bilbao to their first Copa del Rey final in 24 years.
The 24-year-old bald striker, in a single year, went from being a third-division player at Sestao River to being signed for a first division club, to being loaned to second-division Eibar because he didn’t fit Joaquín Caparrós’ plans, being recalled midway because impressive performances meant he now did fit the coach’s plans, scoring against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semifinal and Barcelona in the final, and becoming a Bilbao legend. Ambitious indeed.
And why? He was never the most technically gifted, nor the most talented. But it was his dedication, boundless energy and sacrifice for the team that made him so valuable - and that energy would rub off on the fans. Values that have existed since childhood.
Values that represent where he comes from.
In many ways he is unlucky - his hard work has resulted in five medals, but they are all silver and not gold. Three Copa del Reys, a Europa League and a Supercopa in seven years.
He is now back home at Alavés, where he started his football career but never played for the first team. At 31 years of age, with six goals and two assists to his credit, and with the same dedication, sacrifice, humility and ambition from the start of a game to the end of a game, from the start of his career to the end of his career, and from the start of his childhood to his last breath, Toquero is truly El Lehendakari.
On the 30th of January, Oviedo host Alavés at the Estadio Carlos Tartiere, and it promises to be an exciting contest.
For this is not just two clubs against each other, or two cities against each other, or even two communities against each other. This may not even be a match between two former La Primera teams who have fallen and are making a comeback, even though it is. For some, this is Asturian values against Basque values. Technique against hard work.
Toché against Toquero.