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Nacho Fernandez's contribution is undervalued

It’s a fact that steady, reliable squad members who can play in a variety of positions rarely get the accolades they deserve.  

Real Madrid CF v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Nacho has turned out for Real Madrid in all defensive positions to date and continues to impress with his commitment - something Zinedine Zidane referred to in general last week when discussing formations.

He’s even scored one of the most spectacular goals this season. Albeit the goal came against opposition from outwith La Primera; but that doesn’t matter. He still hit the back of the net against Cultural in León and that’s what counts. Furthermore, Nacho doesn’t appear to complain either. If he’s left on the bench we don’t usually see him laughing and joking on the side-lines when the team are trailing.

Nacho has been around the club for a long time. Signed originally as a youth team player in 2001, his progression to the first team was via the cantera. For someone who’s often thought of as a fringe player, Nacho’s now clocked up over a hundred first-team games for Real Madrid; reaching that milestone against Osasuna ten days ago.

Now even Marca acknowledge Nacho as first-team regular; and that’s despite being told by doctors as a twelve-year old that he would never make it as a footballer due to being Type 1 diabetic.

Nacho has spoken freely of his diagnosis over the last few weeks and this has been reported in several media sources. On UEFA’s own website (link below), there is a short interview in which he speaks of his condition and how he was encouraged by another doctor to continue playing as opposed to giving up the game.

It’s not uncommon in football to find players who are diabetic. However, like in most other sports, the urge to compete often over-rides everything else! Nacho is no exception. In his case though, the diagnosis was made early and being diagnosed at such a young age can sometimes help.

If diagnosed early enough, this can allow time for a gradual and progressive adjustment together with an acceptance of the condition. If the diagnosis is made later in adult life, such a situation can often be difficult to deal with.

It’s accepted that education and understanding of the condition are important factors in the management of diabetes; and in speaking highly of his endocrinologist, Dr Ramírez, to whom Nacho credits for ensuring he continued playing, Nacho also refers to his diet and how he has to be careful about what he eats.

With sportspeople in particular, there has been a lot of work done in recent years to address nutritional and exercise modifications. Although the same underlying principles are present throughout, athletes need to take extra care due to the high intensity of exercise associated with training and playing competitive sports.

Research has shown that specific dietary recommendations are essential in order to counteract or prevent a drop in glucose levels during sporting activity (Hornsby and Chetlin, 2006; Iafusco, 2006). It’s not only that, though, special consideration is needed with regards to travel, medication and recovery from injury (Jimenez, 2007); so from the club management aspect there’s a lot to think about.

As far as the individual management of the condition is concerned, the key to success is knowing your condition; and there’s no doubt Nacho is well on top of that.

As far as the current team selection goes, the choice of central defensive partner for Sergio Ramos at the moment has been dictated largely by injury. Nacho is currently in the supporting position, but as Raphaël Varane and Pepe continue to progress in rehabilitation, that could all change.

The fact that Nacho is diabetic won’t influence Zidane’s decision-making one bit; he’ll have known about this for years.

As with everyone else in the squad, however, Nacho will be no exception to Zidane’s selection policies. There’s no guarantee that he’ll keep his place in the team once the others return to full fitness.


Hornsby WG Jnr, Chetlin RD (2005). Management of competitive athletes with diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum. Vol. 18; 102 – 107.

Iafusco D (2006). Diet and physical activity in patients with type 1 diabetes. Acta Biomed. Vol. 77; Supplement 1. 41 – 46.

Jimenez CC (2007). Diabetes and exercise: the role of the Athletic Trainer. Journal of Athletic Training. Vol. 32 (4); 339 – 343.

Madrid’s Nacho on Diabetes: I was told my footballing days were over. Available here: Accessed March 13th, 2017.

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