Antonio Puerta's Death: One Year Later
When I sit down to write an article, there are times in which the words flow effortlessly into this little white space that houses them.
But for today, drumming up an old cliché about how life goes on, or discussing how my life was changed due to a tragic event doesn't matter.
What matters is that one year ago, Aug. 28, 2007, Sevilla FC lost it's "Diamond Left Foot" as Antonio Puerta passed away at 2:30 p.m. due to ''multiple organ failure stemming from prolonged cardiac arrest."
In case you were not aware, Puerta collapsed during the opening weekend of the La Liga season, while Sevilla were playing Getafe. As a Getafe player knocked the ball out for a goal kick, Puerta went to his knees, and collapsed on the pitch.
Teammates and Getafe players realized something was amiss, and signaled for the trainers, as Antonio Puerta sat up, and appeared as though nothing had happened.
However, when taken back into the dressing room, Puerta collapsed again, and the now infamous video shots of him being rushed into the ambulance were to be the last images taken of the Sevilla midfielder.
When news emerged of the 22-year-old's passing, the entire country was in mourning. People from all across Spain traveled down to Sevilla for the funeral. Puerta's coffin was laid in the stadium, while thousands upon thousands waited hours in line to pay their respects, even if it was only for a mere five seconds.
Puerta's funeral took place less than 48 hours after his death, keeping with the funeral rites of Spain. As his body was taken to the niche it appeared as if the entire city of Sevilla lined the streets. Some were crying, but most were being typically Spanish, rejoicing in his life while chanting Grande Puerta or Puerta campeón! as the coffin was hoisted overhead and carried to its final resting place.
Now, I'd be lying if I said "Antonio Puerta was the best player ever for Sevilla," or even one of the top ten all-time greats for the club. Sadly, he did not have time to establish himself in that capacity.
However, Puerta was more than just a good player, he was a Sevillista; a Sevillista since birth thanks to his father who played for Triana Balompie and having grew up in Nervión, the area where Sevilla's stadium is located.
He wore his shirt with pride as a part of Sevilla FC for 14 years, having played with the likes of Sergio Ramos, Kepa Blanco, and Jesus Navas while toiling in the Sevilla cantera.
Manolo Jimenez, Sevilla's current coach, had a special relationship with Puerta, which started in the cantera when Puerta was only 18-years-old. Jimenez thought highly of Antonio, calling him, ''A captain without an armband.''
Puerta will forever be remembered for one specific moment of brilliance against Schalke 04. In the club's 100th year, in the 100th minute of the second leg, Puerta scored a spectacular left-footed volley which carried Sevilla to a 1-0 win and into the UEFA Cup finals, where they consequently dominated Middlesbrough 4-0.
The goal is considered to be the starting point of Sevilla's "Golden Age"—a 15 month, five title run which included two UEFA Cups, one Copa del Rey, one European Supercup, and one Spanish Supercup.
Most Sevilla fans know this day as Jueves de Feria. Referring to the goal coming on the Thursday during the Feria de Abril, Sevilla's world famous carnival.
Last year, on the anniversary of this goal, Manolo Jimenez wrote a letter to MARCA which contained this paragraph.
''No resulta fácil encontrar las palabras adecuadas cuando se trata de recordar la figura del gran Antonio Puerta. Es un futbolista, una persona, por la que siento una especial predilección. Se cumple el primer Jueves de Feria sin él, se cumple el segundo aniversario del Jueves de Feria que cambió la historia del Sevilla y el destino de Puerta.''
''It’s not easy to find the right words when trying to remember the great Antonio Puerta. He’s a footballer, a person, for whom I felt a special predilection. It’s the first 'Jueves de Feria’ without him, and it’s the second anniversary of the ‘Jueves de Feria’ that changed Sevilla’s history, and Puerta’s destiny.''
Sadly for Puerta, he did not only leave behind his promising soccer career. Puerta's girlfriend, Mar Roldan, was nearly seven months pregnant with Puerta's son when he died and two months later, Aitor Antonio Puerta Roldan was born.
Almost immediately after his birth, Aitor was made an official Sevilla club member, to follow in his father's footsteps.
Sevilla FC "officially" retired Puerta's No. 16, with the stipulation that if his son ever made it into the Andalucian side, he could choose to wear it. However, the Spanish Football Federation rules state a club must use 1-23 to denote their players and thus the decision was overturned. This season, Puerta's friend David Prieto will don the No. 16 jersey, which he referred to as "a responsibility, a proud moment, and an honor."
Puerta is gone, but not forgotten in Sevilla. The first annual Antonio Puerta Trophy match was played this preseason, with Sevilla beating Malaga 2-0. His girlfriend Mar and son Aitor were in attendance at the match to witness a fitting tribute to the man they loved.
Sevilla FC have also created a soccer school in his memory where young children can go and learn the game, just as Antonio did when he was a youngster growing up in Sevilla.
Forgetting Antonio Puerta is not an option, as his picture, his face, and his image are considered holy if you are a Sevillista. His legend will undoubtedly live on in the club with new canteranos looking to emulate the young Puerta, who we never saw reach the pinnacle of his career.
One thing is certain. As Sevilla fans, we can only hope that one day we will witness No. 16 jersey on the pitch for Sevilla, with "Puerta" written across the back. It will be then we can all smile and proudly say,
Like father, like son.
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