Pablo Alfaro will be remembered as one of Spanish football's toughest defenders but he could not hide the tears as he said goodbye to Sevilla FC.
At 36, the rugged defender has decided to leave the club he captained for much of the last five years in search of first-team football, saying: "You can't imagine how tough it's been for me to take this decision. I'm not leaving because of the money but because I want to feel useful for a team." Club president José María del Nido is hoping that Alfaro will be back at the club before too long. "We're proud of him having played for us and hope to welcome him back someday," he said. "It's an honour to have him cry as he bids farewell because that means he's one of us."
The player leaves Sevilla midway through a UEFA Cup campaign, as Juande Ramos's men prepare for a last-32 tie against Russian side FC Lokomotiv Moskva. However, few would deny that Alfaro - a qualified doctor - played a major part in leading the side back into European contention. Having started his career at his hometown club Real Zaragoza in 1989, he moved on to FC Barcelona, Real Racing Club de Santander and Club Atlético de Madrid. Things did not go to plan in the Spanish capital, and he was offloaded to modest UD Mérida just in time to see them relegated.
However, that setback laid the ground for Alfaro's finest years, as he joined Sevilla in 2000. At the time, the club were in the doldrums in the Spanish second division, but under the leadership of coach Joaquín Caparrós, the defender helped seal a Primera División return in 2000/01. 'El Doctor Alfaro' provided the defensive steel in a side which boasted local talent in the form of José Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos, 'Antoñito' Ramiro and some superb foreign discoveries like Julio Baptista and Daniel Alves, courtesy of sporting director 'Monchi' Rodríguez.
Since Alfaro's arrival, Sevilla have ended each season in the top half of the table, recording a sixth-placed finish last term to qualify for this season's UEFA Cup. Alfaro's record of 25 red cards in his career may not be enviable, but provides a mark of his furious commitment.
One astonishing tale saw Alfaro take man-marking to the extreme in a Copa del Rey game against Atlético when press photographers caught the defender plunging his finger inside Touché's rectum. The referee missed the incident, but Alfaro justified his actions, saying: "I was defending my team to the limit." Marca columnist Roberto Palomar wrote: "Alfaro never takes off his white coat. That's a real urologist, always on call. You go up for a corner and suddenly he's checking your prostate. Not many doctors would do that."
This season, Alfaro has been given only limited opportunities to display such skills, making four substitute appearances in the Primera División. He played the last 15 minutes of Sevilla's 2-0 UEFA Cup win at 1. FSV Mainz 05, playing his final 90 minutes for the club in a 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers FC. The New Year celebrations had barely died down as Alfaro announced his decision to leave the Sánchez-Pizjuán stadium for pastures new. Sevilla's opponents might well be delighted that they may not see his like again.
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