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Off-the-radar: Gaizka Toquero

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The story of a hard-working man who made it big.

David Ramos/Getty Images

"¡Ari, ari, ari, Toquero lehendakari!"

It was the 2008-09 Copa del Rey semi-final against Sevilla. At the San Mamés, the old San Mamés, Bilbao were leading 2-0. But they were not safe - Sevilla had won the first leg 2-1, and a goal at Bilbao would keep them alive.

Step forward, Gaizka Toquero.

Fernando Llorente presses David Prieto and gets the ball off him, but the defender has blocked the only possible angle Llorente can exploit to score. Meanwhile, the other center back, Federico Fazio, is quickly moving towards him. He passes the ball into empty space.

Halfway through the pass, Bilbao fans are already celebrating.

Toquero made the lung bursting run from the halfway line and positioned himself perfectly for the pass. Fazio turns around and runs back to where he was - where he should have been - but it’s too late. Controlled with the left boot and finished with the right, Toquero takes Athletic Bilbao to their first Copa del Rey final in 24 years.

The 24-year-old bald striker, in a single year, went from being a third-division player at Sestao River to being signed for a first division club, to being loaned to second-division Eibar because he didn’t fit Joaquín Caparrós’ plans, being recalled midway because impressive performances meant he now did fit the coach’s plans, scoring against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey semifinal and Barcelona in the final, and becoming a Bilbao legend. Ambitious indeed.

And why? He was never the most technically gifted, nor the most talented. But it was his dedication, boundless energy and sacrifice for the team that made him so valuable - and that energy would rub off on the fans. Values that have existed since childhood.

Values that represent where he comes from.

In many ways he is unlucky - his hard work has resulted in five medals, but they are all silver and not gold. Three Copa del Reys, a Europa League and a Supercopa in seven years.

He is now back home at Alavés, where he started his football career but never played for the first team. At 31 years of age, with six goals and two assists to his credit, and with the same dedication, sacrifice, humility and ambition from the start of a game to the end of a game, from the start of his career to the end of his career, and from the start of his childhood to his last breath, Toquero is truly El Lehendakari.

The president.

This is reproduced from an article about Toquero. You can read it here.