Borja Iglesias talks to ESPN about Real Betis’ strong start, mental health and respect for Karim Benzema

One of La Liga’s top forwards was looking to score four goals in his young season when Real Madrid faced Real Betis at the Bernabéu last Saturday.

But we’re not talking about Karim Benzema, he’s gone on to score three league goals. Pichichi races (both 5 goals).

Iglesias, 29, has been around for a while. He went through his Vigo academy at Celta, then shined on loan at Real Zaragoza, and his 17 league goals in the 2018-19 season convinced Betis to sign him for his €30 million at Espanyol. A breakthrough in top flight has been achieved.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS and more (US)

But he has never started a season like this: he scored in Betis’ first game in a 3-0 win over Elche, scored two penalties in Mallorca’s 2-1 victory, and scored two penalties at Osasuna. Scored the only goal in a 1–0 win against This is how people talk about the surprise call-up of a player who has never played for his home country at any level in the 2022 World Cup, to the Spanish national team.

Nicknamed “Panda” by his teammates because he loved the designer’s song that stuck in his head in 2016, Iglesias was no conventional footballer.

As a boy, he was so into football that he approached his parents late at night after an evening game against Celta Vigo, hoping to coincide with the La Liga team’s return home for pictures. I was taken to Santiago de Compostela Airport. and sign.

In 2020, he decided to paint his nails black. He said it was a small gesture to remind him to use his position to fight racism and homophobia: “I have to admit too – I like it.” he tweeted.

He missed his best friend Thibaut Courtois to score a goal for the first time, but the two share a love of video games and have jointly invested in eSports team DUX Gaming. The one loss that saw Betis drop a game this season (Stream replays on ESPN+ in the US.)

Ahead of the match, Iglesias spoke to ESPN’s Martin Einstein in a new episode of The Bike Diary, discussing his form, mental health and admiration for Benzema.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

ESPN: How can you explain this improvement in scoring power?

Iglesias: It’s unbelievable. Sitting and thinking too much can make you dizzy.

ESPN: It’s hard to enjoy things in a professional environment with so much pressure and stress.

Iglesias: completely. Sometimes I think it’s harder for me to do my best because I wasn’t enjoying myself. The pressure I was putting on myself demanded so much from me that it wouldn’t allow me to enjoy it. Of course, you are not performing at your peak. I was stressed. Sometimes I went to bed saying that the day was not fun. It didn’t make sense to me because I was doing what I had dreamed of since I was little.

ESPN: You are one of the few footballers who have an open mind and humanize the profession. I need it. Because footballers are where they are, earn what they earn, and have a high-profile position in society, they are expected to be robots and nearly perfect in every way. And it can backfire.

Iglesias: Yes, I think the truth is, it’s something that needs to be normalized, not just inside the sport. “If he’s a football player, he’s making money, and the fans love him, how is he okay?” Well, sometimes, for whatever reason, you’re not okay. or being on the news or doing something you really love, but it’s not okay. Sometimes all these factors don’t mean you’ll be okay.

ESPN: You said you were in therapy and you saw a psychologist.

Iglesias: always felt supported [my teammates]the coaching staff, and the professionals who help you with these things are trained and have the tools to help you reconnect with yourself, feel happy again, and have fun. For, [the psychologists] I was too demanding to allow myself to see it.

ESPN: In a way, if you have this, if you have…

Iglesias: Of course, if you have everything, why aren’t you OK? And the truth is, I’ve felt that way at times. was And, of course, you can get out of shape. Of course, some days you don’t want to wake up and go to training, and other days you go to bed and say, “Oh my God.” Sometimes it happens and you need the day to appreciate the really good things too. Without difficulties, there is no great progress. I suffered through the process, but I am so grateful.

I think it’s nice to get away from the typical interviews and just talk about football. I would love to see my teammates doing something like that. Because they have a lot to offer. Sometimes it’s something I don’t want to do or circumstances don’t allow it, but the stereotype that I can’t offer anything to a football player bothers me a lot. There are people who are more qualified. Everyone’s experience is different. There are things my teammates have gone through, experiences they can talk about, and then I can talk about other people. Often, when you put yourself in their shoes, you find that, as we said, they are people you might idolize or admire for one reason or another, but they are also you. I have a problem with

ESPN: What was the moment that mattered to you?

[Betis captain] Andres Guardado was a big influence on me during difficult times [last season]We played Sevilla at home and the team played really well but I was really bad. I lost the ball a few times when I actually tripped over it. That day, I went home feeling very depressed. He noticed it and sent me a message. He remembers him telling me: “You’re at your peak as a footballer. We all believe in you. You’re almost there, so keep going.”

Two weeks later, he scored twice (against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey on 26 January). Since that moment, I’ve been through his two seasons, he’s 1.5 seasons and the beginning of this season, and it’s been really good. I think that message helped me a lot because I needed someone to tell me exactly that that day, and of course, Andres Guardado’s fifth World Cup (against Mexico). It’s amazing when you say you’ve competed or plan to compete in .

ESPN: Balance in the dressing room is also thanks to experienced players who know how to bring something to strengthen the group.

Iglesias: completely. They give us a lot on the pitch, but nothing compares to what they give us off the pitch. They are the people who see things in a different way, have the ability to express it, and help you with three words in moments when you don’t even know what’s going on. did. Because they know how to keep all our feet on the ground in good moments and they know to be positive in difficult moments.

ESPN: How about playing against a forward like Karim Benzema?

Iglesias: the truth is he is one [players] It’s the most fun to watch. I have enjoyed watching him over the years. In some ways he was kind of a role model for me. I also think what’s great is his ability to adapt to what the team needs. I’m sure he wants to be the main character more than what he really wants, so he’s always scoring goals and doing everything else.

ESPN: What do you want to emphasize about him is his maturity, intelligence and adaptability?

Iglesias: Yes, I think those three things have helped Karim take that step in the last few years. It’s fun to watch him because when you see him live you can see that he doesn’t lose a single ball. Every touch is good and every touch makes sense. He doesn’t look fast, but he’s fast. he’s really good, really good

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