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The salvation of Jesús Navas

Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012, 12.49CET
Playing in a packed stadium would terrify many. For Spain's Jesús Navas, playing anywhere but his native Seville used to be an almost insurmountable ordeal.
by Graham Hunter
from Gniewino


Published: Wednesday 20 June 2012, 12.49CET

The salvation of Jesús Navas

Playing in a packed stadium would terrify many. For Spain's Jesús Navas, playing anywhere but his native Seville used to be an almost insurmountable ordeal.

There were more good reasons to avoid obvious puns about Jesús and salvation when Spain scored their late winner against Croatia on Monday than simply avoiding cliché.

Jesús Navas has, quietly, become a touchstone player for Vicente del Bosque given he has now been the Spain coach's first-used substitute in three of his country's last four tournament matches – the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, plus the matches against Italy and Croatia here. The interesting thing is that Navas is here at all. To an extent, Jesús has been saved by football.

Born in Seville, as an emerging winger he would have severe nervous attacks if he had to leave friends, family and the environment he knew best to travel with the team which signed him.

On a number of occasions his phobia would inhibit his ability to go to a training camp or, crucially, to spend time abroad at a tournament with Spain's youth teams. Now here he is at his second major tournament, not only far from his comfort zone, but where he needs to spend long periods of time in a foreign country where the language, food and particularly climate, for an Andalusian, are extremely testing.

©AFP/Getty Images

Jesús Navas has overcome personal issues to become a key player for Spain

Why do I say that football has 'saved' Jesús Navas? Because Sevilla FC were so concerned that such a sparkling individual talent might underachieve that they set about helping him.

They set up psychology sessions and attempted to create routines which would help Navas, eager to conquer his anxiety attacks, come to terms with travel and distance from his known environment.

One friend who works with Navas at Sevilla told me this week: "The club did employ some psychological tactics to try and turn the situation round because they cared about Jesús making the most out of his life, but the thing which eventually helped most of all was his absolute love of football. He's a straightforward guy who takes an enormous amount of joy out of simple things like playing and training.

"Eventually his will to turn this around plus support from the guys of his own age in and around Sevilla meant that he was surer and surer of his ability to do what had previously been so difficult. Then his marriage last year really added a final seal to his self-assurance."

A happy football story. UEFA EURO 2012 is a better place for having Jesús Navas at it. 

Last updated: 22/06/12 3.08CET

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