Chubby man out runs ronaldo

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Chubby man out runs ronaldo

Post by Fernando on Fri 07 Oct 2011, 2:53 pm

ipping the scales at over 14 stones, a veteran of 350 league games in the top flight, and just three months short of his 37th birthday, Sergio Ballesteros doesn’t look like he should be captaining a table-topping side.

But then again La Liga paupers Levante's ramshackle collection of rejects and journeymen – currently second in Spain on goal difference behind Barcelona – are not where they are meant to be either.

The club with the smallest budget – 23 million euros as opposed to Real Madrid's 500m euros – and the oldest defence (169 years between the back four and goalkeeper) are the story of the season so far in Spain.

They have already beaten Madrid, who they lead in the table, they have the best defensive record in the league (Ballesteros is playing like Beckenbauer) and no-one wants to visit their elements-exposed 25,000 Ciutat de Valencia stadium.

Ballesteros has been around the block. Several times. He was sent off for slapping David Beckham in a match between Real Madrid and Mallorca in 2005 when he was already being referred to as a 'veteran'.

Now the man they call 'papa' in the Levante dressing room – a nickname that would be more apt if most of his team-mates were not almost as old as him – is the cash-strapped club’s captain marvel.

The YouTube video clip of him out-sprinting Cristiano Ronaldo for a loose ball in Levante's recent 1-0 win over Real Madrid has become one of the country's most watched.
The club's first choice goalkeeper Gustavo Munua is 33, right back Javi Venta is 35, central defender Nano is 31 and left-back Juan Fran is also 35. Between them they have conceded just three goals all season.

'We have played a lot of matches between us,' says Ballesteros, who will be pushing up to the 500 games mark in all competitions if he puts in another full season.

He was part of Spain's Under 21 European champions team in 1998, a full decade before the senior side’s success.

He was a target for Southampton. 'Tenerife, my club at the time wouldn’t let me leave,' he remembers.

He never progressed to full international honours and his size slowly outgrew his reputation. 'Aren’t you too fat to be a footballer,' one brave interviewer asked him as a 27-year-old who already appeared to have seen his best days. 'No, I’m just stocky,' was the restrained answer.

Ballesteros cuffed Barcelona's Carles Puyol within weeks of that Beckham incident though he is prouder of the fact that both reds were overturned than he is of landing one on one-time captains of England and Spain.

'He trod on my foot and I reacted,' he says of the Beckham red. In truth, despite his clumsy appearance he commits almost a foul a game – a minor miracle in Spain.

'We don’t have 80,000 members or 120m euros worth of TV money. We have to work with what we have,' he says.

Levante's share of the television cash is closer to 12m euros and their 7m euro wage bill would not pay the salary of Ronaldo.

Midfielder Juanlu, who scored the goal that put them momentarily clear at the top of La Liga because Barcelona were yet to play, was carried on the shoulders of waiting supporters who mobbed the team bus as it pulled up outside the stadium last weekend.

'I haven’t seen people this happy for years,' he said, adding cautiously: 'Of course, we know this is not really our league.'

It’s true that Levante will struggle to keep up their early pace especially when bigger squads can better handle injuries and suspensions.

But there are advantages, too.

While managers around Europe's top clubs hold their breath hoping none of their star players are injured on international duty, Levante coach Juan Ignacio Martinez – known affectionately as JIM – will have to find a bar showing Cape Verde v Zimbabwe on Saturday to make sure forward Valdo doesn’t pull up playing for the home side.

Reserve keeper Keylor Navas is also away representing Costa Rica against Cuba and Brazil but providing no-one slips a disc watching Spain on the television, the rest of the squad will be rested and ready when the league restarts next week against the Champions League club down the road, Villarreal.

Then come two home games in the stadium that Scotland fans, who went to the 1-1 draw between the two sides in qualification for the 2006 World Cup, may remember after an eventual abandoning of the match because of torrential rain and floodlight failure.

There has been no facelift since then but the basic facilities can play into Levante’s hands shocking visiting superstars.

Sporting director Manolo Salvador says: 'We've got as many points now as we had last January.'

The aspirations are still humble. The official supporters club christened a brand new television, donated by a local businessman last weekend, to watch that historic win over Real Betis that took them top.

channel and asked about being top for the first time in the club’s history.

She said: 'Very good. Very good... and with such a big television!'

The TV seemed to inspire almost as much enthusiasm as the league position. Presumably, because unlike Levante, it will still be there at the end of the season.

Not that Ballesteros will hear of talk of a quick slide back into obscurity.

'Nobody here is at the end of their career,' he says. 'We are all in this together.'

You get the impression he prefers a nice warm bath to those muscle-rejuvenating ice ones Raul uses to prolong his career. He was also a bit non-plussed when I asked him this week about the famous oxygen tent the former Spain captain admitted sleeping in to keep him young.

There's enough altitude at the top of the league to keep Levante's players high and dizzy for a good while yet.



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