Obscure Footballer of the Week returns, catching James Dutton’s eye this week is Rafael Benitez’s first signing in English football. Take a bow, Josemi…
Liverpool. Istanbul. 2005.
Three words that conjure up such emotive images amongst Liverpool fans.
The sight of Vladimir Smicer wheeling away with his arms outstretched, a sign that the previously unthinkable was possible.
Andriy Shevchenko with his hands on his head, unable to quantify Jerzy Dudek’s inexplicable save from a yard out during extra-time. Then there is the Polish goalkeeper himself, with his legs like jelly in the penalty shoot-out, saving from Andrea Pirlo and the Ukrainian again.
Ultimately, there is the eternal image of Steven Gerrard hoisting aloft the European Cup; the fifth Liverpool captain to do so. To his left are stalwarts of the club’s European adventure, John-Arne Riise, Xabi Alonso and Luis Garcia.
But whose that stood to his right? There’s Florent Sinama-Pongolle, now a relic of Gerard Houllier’s transfer follies, but instrumental in the defining victory of that season, the 3-1 against Olympiakos that took Rafa Benitez’s side into the knock-out stage. Pongolle has gone on to become something of a journey-man, but his efforts in 2004-5 are deservedly immortalized in this snapshot.
Sandwiched between the young Frenchman and his captain stands someone completely unrecognisable to the untrained eye. He stands there, frizzy haired with a Spanish flag tied around his waist, his face is contorted into a mix of jubilation and utter disbelief, having fought his way to the front, to stand next to the European Cup. His name is Josemi, and he has performed one of the greatest photo-bombs in football history.
A full-back by trade, Josemi had signed for Liverpool from Malaga back in July 2004 for the sum of just £2 million; an unremarkable deal, but significantly the first part of the Rafalution, he unwittingly instigated the relentless flow of Spaniards, not just to Liverpool, but into the Premier League.
After three years in La Liga, Josemi had built a reputation as a tough tackler, enhanced by his record of receiving a yellow card once in every three games.
Benitez, initially skeptical of Liverpool’s incumbent at right-back, Steve Finnan, perceived the Andalusian to be the answer. Indeed Josemi began the 2004-5 campaign as the club’s first choice right-back, starting in the opening game of the season at White Hart Lane, whilst Finnan was shifted to right-midfield.
Josemi remained an ever-present in the Liverpool starting eleven until the middle of October, when he was sent off for two bookable offences during a whirlwind 4-2 victory at Craven Cottage. Thereafter the Spaniard struggled to regain a foothold in the side; whilst Finnan made the right-back berth his own, Josemi’s debut season was ravaged by injury and poor form. He played seven games during the club’s victorious Champions League campaign, but was conspicuous by his absence during the latter stages.
He spent just 18 months at Liverpool, making a mere 35 appearances before being a makeweight as part of the deal that brought the similarly obscure, Jan Kromkamp, to Anfield from Villarreal. Kromkamp spent just 8 months on Merseyside, making 18 appearances.
Josemi’s career since leaving England has been epitomised by the problems that he encountered in this country, namely a struggle to establish himself as a first-team regular that has seen him sign for five different clubs; 32 appearances over two seasons at Villarreal then, having signed for Mallorca, he appeared 53 times between 2008 and 2010.
The nomadic Spaniard has left Spain since, transferring to Greek outfit Iraklis Thessaloniki, who were subsequently relegated from the Greek Superleague. He returned to Spain for the 2011-12 season, where he made 18 appearances for Segunda Liga outfit FC Cartagena, before moving back to Greece, this time to Levadiakos FC.
Josemi’s modest and workmanlike talents have taken him from Spain to the Greek backwaters, via the most successful English club in history. His stint at Anfield is an embellishment of an unremarkable career, but a stint that will forever immortalize him as a Champions League winner.
Josemi proved to be the original version on the conveyer belt of sub-standard full-backs who infested Liverpool’s first-team during Benitez’s tenure. He eventually found his upgrade in Glen Johnson, five years later, but only after sifting through Josemi, Jan Kromkamp, Phillip Degen and Andrea Dossena.
That this most unremarkable of defenders has a Champions League winning medal is perhaps befitting of the wholly remarkable way in which it came about. In true Josemi style, he was watching from behind the dugout, not even deserving of a place on the bench, when his team-mates clawed their way back from a three-goal deficit at half-time.
Perhaps it was those fresh legs that enabled the greatest photo-bomb in history, in the greatest cup final of history. Josemi, we salute you.
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