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The eternal youth of Diego López, whom ‘Kubala’ consolidated under sticks

Diego López will blow out the candles this Wednesday for his 40th birthday as the goalkeeper who accumulates the most stops in this league (44). The passing of the years does not seem to affect the Galician, who despite ending his contract with Espanyol next summer is reluctant to set a date for his retirement. “Would you like to keep playing? It is clearer than water. He remains one of the best goalkeepers in the league. I don’t know how many years he will stay, but physically he feels very well and is happy at Espanyol “, sources from his environment told ARA. He is clear that he wants to retire at Espanyol, but has not yet decided when to do so. He and the club have so far not dealt with a possible renewal beyond 2022.

Providential in many games since his arrival in Cornellà-El Prat, his stops continue to give points. Diego López remains undisputed. He has played 78% of the minutes (16,740 out of a total of 21,420) that Espanyol has played since his arrival. Goalkeepers such as Pau López, Roberto Jiménez, Andrés Prieto and Oier Olazabal have not been able to overshadow him. His natural successor could be Joan Garcia, an international with the lower categories in Spain who at the age of 20 combines the first team with the subsidiary. He and the other young people have a great example of professionalism in Galician to look forward to.

Central with goalkeeper attributes

Diego López did not try the experience of goalkeeper until the age of eleven. “Don’t worry, I’ll get on with it,” he told Leandro Rodríguez, who was the coach of the 7-a-side football team where he played, the Euromoble. The starting goalkeeper, Marino, was going on holiday and offered himself as a substitute to compete for the Malecón Supporters Club trophy in Sarria, the village next to his native Paradela. López stopped three penalties in the final of that championship that took the Euromoble.

The Galician joined that year in a children’s futsal team, La Sarriana, where he played as a starter and substitute goalkeeper. There he learned to master the game with his feet. In fact, Lugo signed him as a center-back. The first coach who led him, known in the area as Kubala (his real name is Juan Carlos Plaza Gómez), decided that that spiky boy (1.80 meters tall) had the physical condition to be a goalkeeper. He didn’t see his future clearly and was close to leaving football to focus on his studies, but he finally moved on. On January 5, 2005 he made his Second B debut with Lugo and conceded four goals against Pájaras Playa. A faded debut that, despite everything, did not prevent him from signing for Real Madrid C that same year, which was ahead of Deportivo and Celta.

Diego López’s path to the elite was not easy at all, because after reaching the age of majority he had to wait seven seasons to end up being a starter in a first team. And it was not the white team, but Villarreal, the club that catapulted his career. His performances in the yellow team allowed him to play with the national team, but remained at the gates of the World Cup in South Africa because Del Bosque ended up convening Victor Valdes in the last list. Under the orders of Manuel Pellegrini, Diego López managed to be runner-up in the league and participated in European competitions. A brilliant stage that was broken by the descent to Second of 2012.

Benefited from the Casillas-Mourinho war

The Galician continued in Primera at the hands of Sevilla, where he only lasted half a year. In January 2013, a fracture in the left hand of Iker Casillas opened the doors of the first white team. “He arrived in Madrid at the worst possible moment for a goalkeeper: in the middle of a war between a legend like Casillas, who was the captain, and the coach, Mourinho. He benefited from that scenario to maintain a place on the team, as he remained a starter when Casillas was medically discharged. But it was a more personal decision than football. Diego complied, but he didn’t live up to the big nights “, remembers the SER journalist Anton Meana.

With the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti on the white bench, Diego López did not lose the title in the League because the goalkeeping coach, William Vecchi, preferred a tall goalkeeper. The media pressure and internal turmoil that caused this decision led Ancelotti to give Casillas the Champions and Cup. “He carried his nerves inside and never lost his form, but his environment was not happy with the treatment of Casillas’ militant media. He endured great pressure,” he adds. Madrid won both Casillas’ competitions, but not Diego López’s, who left in the summer of 2014 for the arrival of Keylor Navas.

Espanyol’s first choice

His next destination was Milan, where he only had a few months of peace. A patellar tendon injury and the arrival of a 16-year-old who was twice his age, Gianluigi Donnarumma, separated him from the title and also from the Italian team. In 2016, Diego was the first idea for Espanyol’s sports area, which had just been ruled out by Moyá and Willy Caballero. The choice was between him, Roberto Jiménez and Mandanda. The Galician’s high salary at Milan was an obstacle that slowed down the operation in May, when he was first polled. Espanyol needed a goalkeeper and Roberto signed. But Pau López’s desire to leave on loan reactivated the operation. “We had to wait, we knew it would come out, although we played a lot on the last day of the market,” confesses the white-and-blue sporting director of the time, Ángel Gómez.

Espanyol added him on loan a few minutes before the end of the summer market after Milan took over part of their record. He was coming for a course and already has six. The white-and-blue entity, in fact, is already where he has accumulated more seasons and the second where he has played more games: 187, only behind the 230 he played with Villarreal. Diego López has broken Espanyol’s unbeaten records in First (586 minutes), Second (538) and Europa League (374), and has also registered his name as the most veteran player in the history of the club, surpassing the 39 years and 273 days of Alfredo Di Stéfano. As he trains as a coach, he continues to resist making his final stops. For now, performance accompanies it. Age, as he puts it, “is just a number on the ID card.”

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