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Gratitude for Nacho

The Spaniard has renewed his contract. A quick tribute to a loyal Real Madrid servant.

Real Madrid CF v Athletic Club - LaLiga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.

With news of Nacho officially renewing his Real Madrid contract today, I just wanted to show him some gratitude.

319 times Nacho, a jack-of-all-trades defenseman, has suited up for Real Madrid. Those appearances have come across 13 seasons. If you extend it to his Castilla days, Nacho has played 430 games over 18 seasons. If you took it back further, to 2001, when Nacho first enrolled in the academy, the Spaniard has spent 22 years at the club (and counting). There are one-club men at the senior level, and then there are one-club men at both the senior and academy level. Nacho is intertwined with Real Madrid. He knows nothing else but wearing Real Madrid’s shirt.

And if there was anyone who ever had a reason to leave, it was Nacho. He’s played less games than Ivan Helguera (eight seasons) and Isco (nine seasons). But you can put it another way: Only 35 players in Real Madrid history have had more appearances than Nacho, and you realize — if you didn’t already — how invaluable Nacho has been.

Gratitude must be shown. He has always been, at best, third-choice center-back but usually fourth choice — all while being good enough to be first choice elsewhere. He has often also been second-choice wing-back. Whenever he’s called upon, he puts in a shift that makes his presence felt, and when he’s not called upon, we don’t hear any complaints from him.

Every team could use a Nacho. Every champion needs a player like him. With Real Madrid, they were lucky that they had him every year.

He’ll have his struggles defending elite wingers, and some times his step-ups are a bit too aggressive. He is not Marcelo in attack nor is he Ramos at the back. But you also know what he is: Someone who always gives every ounce of energy he has in tank. You will never have to worry about effort if he’s on the field. He is an elite passer (99th percentile among center-backs) and reads the game well defensively. He is very good in the air — hard to muscle off and out-duel even for players who are taller than him. This season, he notably locked down Mohamed Salah over two legs, and received a ton of praise from Jurgen Klopp as a result:

I would argue Nacho is a perfect example of being a successful footballer. No, he doesn’t have the superstardom of other players, but he’s living a life any of us would love to have. He wakes up everyday playing for the club he loves, training with his best friends — who just so happen to be the best players in the world. He’s played with legends all throughout his career and has won 10 major trophies.

And he stayed at Real Madrid as a squad player in a respectable manner. He didn’t eat up a roster spot superfluously, eating up salary without contributing (like plenty of Real Madrid players have, including this past season). No, he was valuable, well-loved, and above all, he is at Real Madrid not just because he’s well-liked, but because he is a really, really good footballer.

And all of his managers have attested to his professionalism and reliability. Ancelotti once said that Nacho is “one of the healthiest players” he’s coached. This season, in February, he said of the Spaniard’s lack of playing time: “I see him every day, and I understand his discomfort at not playing, and he’s gone through moments where he was not happy... But he’s not complained, he continued to suffer, and show professionalism.

“When I have needed him, he’s been ready.”

Back in 2020, Nacho revealed that he could’ve left but Zinedine Zidane didn’t want him to, and even more telling is that Nacho wouldn’t have wanted to leave anyway.

“My past with this jersey has been perfect, I wouldn’t change a single thing,” Nacho told Real Madrid TV three yeas ago. “I’m so happy about being here, I just wouldn’t trade it for anything and I hope I can stay here for many years. This is the club of my life, I’ve been here since I was just a kid.”

Nacho will stay at Real Madrid at least one more year, and every time he does renew, it’s good news.

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