After six seasons in the shadow of Santiago Cañizares at Valencia CF, goalkeeper Andrés Palop is the star of his own show at UEFA Cup semi-finalists Sevilla FC.
The 32-year-old may have paved the way to the UEFA Cup final after a splendid performance in Gelsenkirchen last week enabled the Spanish side to hold FC Schalke 04 to a 0-0 first-leg draw. A similar showing in Seville tonight could send Juande Ramos's team to Eindhoven. "At Valencia the praise was always for the same players," said Palop. "I always felt I was good enough to be No1, otherwise I would have sat on the bench and carried on earning my wages. I've always fought for a place in the team and at last a coach has trusted me. This is my moment."
On the sidelines
Not involved in Valencia's 2-0 win against Olympique de Marseille in the 2004 UEFA Cup final, the closest Palop has come to a high-profile European occasion was his substitute's berth at the 2-1 UEFA Super Cup defeat of FC Porto. First inducted into Valencia's youth teams in 1995, Palop enjoyed an early taste of Primera División action during a two-year loan spell at Villarreal CF from 1997-99 before being called back to Mestalla. However, with Cañizares very much first choice, his opportunities were limited.
In six years at the club, Palop made just 63 appearances as Valencia lifted two Spanish titles, the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, so he was understandably eager for senior football when joining Sevilla on a free last summer. Sevilla's sporting director and former goalkeeper, Ramón 'Monchi' Rodríguez, said: "Football has lost too many years of Palop." He is certainly making up for lost time, having ousted Antonio Notario from the starting lineup at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.
'A wise decision'
Juan Manuel Otxotorena, Valencia's one-time goalkeeping coach who now fills a similar role with Liverpool FC and Spain's national team, is delighted with his protégé's progress. "He needed to feel loved and the change of club has been a wise move," he said. "Palop is brilliant and has tremendous strength. He could yet make the national team."
Palop added: "
I am enjoying the best period of my career. I feel I am part of a team where the players care for one another. I missed that at Valencia." Secure of his place, Palop may yet repay Sevilla's faith with the greatest night in their history.
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