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FOOTBALL

How Charlie I’Anson became English pioneer in Spain

There are twice as many footballers from the island of Curacao playing in England's top divisions as there are English players in Spain but Real Murcia's Charlie I'Anson is happy to be in the minority.

How Charlie I'Anson became English pioneer in Spain
Real Murcia's Charlie I'Anson. PHOTO: JOSE JORDAN / AFP
I'Anson, born in Luton and brought up in Malaga, is one of three Englishmen to have kicked a ball this season in Spain's top three tiers, including its lowest, Segunda B, which spans into four separate leagues.
 
“Players from England often ring me up,” I'Anson said, in an exclusive interview with AFP. “They ask what it's like, and they're interested, they just never make the jump.” 
 
The likes of Isco and Jamie Vardy have appeared on I'Anson's winding journey to this point but the 24-year-old's immediate focus is Real Murcia, whose fight for promotion to the second tier begins with a play-off at home to Elche on Sunday. 
 
Named “Charlie” on the teamsheet, he will share a changing room with players from Nigeria, France and Brazil, but not England, whose representation in Spain is dwarfed by the 30 Spaniards in the Premier League alone.
 
“First of all it's the money,” I'Anson said. “Players at the bottom three or four Premier League teams earn more than players playing for the teams that finish fourth or fifth in Spain. And secondly, I think it's the language. English people aren't comfortable trying to learn, they think it's too hard. But it's easier than they think.” 
 
I'Anson began learning aged seven, when his parents took him and his older brother to Malaga, and after joining the local team, Atletico Benamiel, he crossed paths with a young Isco. The pair remain friends, even if their interaction on the pitch was more short-lived. 
 
“Isco was quickly put up two age groups,” I'Anson said. “You could see the world class player he is now even then. He had the same movements, the same walk. He was different class.” 
 
Paella and roast beef
 
Isco was spotted by Valencia and I'Anson caught the eye of Nottingham Forest but Forest were then putting their faith in Jamaal Lascelles, the now Newcastle captain, and wanted I'Anson to convert from centre-half to full-back. He took up an offer to join Grimsby instead. 
 
“It was a completely different way of football,” I'Anson said. “In Spain, I used to cry because coaches would tell me to keep playing it out from the back  and we would keep conceding goals. In England, they were more developing athletes. You'd have to stay on in the gym after training. Basically they wanted to beef you up.” 
 
I'Anson made 17 appearances for Grimsby in the National League and witnessed the blossoming Vardy while the Leicester striker was still at Fleetwood. 
 
“He scored the winner against us, in the last minute,” I'Anson said. “It nearly kicked off as well, it was a nasty game I remember.” 
 
Grimsby offered I'Anson a two-year deal but refused to pay an extra 100 pounds a month, so he upped sticks again and returned to his family in Spain. He joined Elche in 2012, and played two matches in the top flight, but when the club discovered he had broken his foot in pre-season of 2015, their support evaporated. 
 
I'Anson has since been to Valencia B and Granada, after loans with Alcorcon and Oviedo, but his adrenaline will be pumping a little faster when he faces Elche for Real Murcia this weekend. 
 
“They treated me badly,” he said. “I really want to show them what they've been missing.” 
 
Even if they come through the two-legged tie, Real Murcia will have to navigate a further four matches, over six weeks, to gain promotion.
 
It is an exhausting system, and one which allowed I'Anson only six days off in the summer last year. Unlike most footballers, however, his ambitions are not limited to wins, promotions and trophies. He wants experience too.
 
“Ever since I was young I always thought I'd love to play in England, Spain, France and Italy,” I'Anson said. “I know it'll be hard but if I can do it, great. It'll be like my own grand slam.” 
 
He speaks fluent Spanish and thrives on the local culture, while still finding time to watch his beloved Tottenham on television. 
 
This summer, he will be tuning into the World Cup, when he affords himself the luxury of two countries to support.
 
“It's impossible to pick between the two, my blood is English and my life is Spanish,” I'Anson said. “Whatever team does better I say I'm supporting so I'll be happy if either wins.” 
 
I'Anson'a sense of neutrality extends to English and Spanish cuisine too.
 
“I love paella,” he said. “But my mum lives over here so if I'm lucky she still makes me a roast beef on a Sunday. I think I get the best of both worlds.” 
 
By AFP's Thomas Allnutt

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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