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Off-the-radar: The late bloomer - Cartagena's Mariano Sánchez

He reached the Segunda at he age of 31, the Segunda B at 26. This is the story of Cartagena legend Mariano Sánchez.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

In light of Barcelona B's promotion playoff game against Cartagena, this is the story of one of its legends.

"In an emergency situation, I will be the first in line to help Cartagena. That's very clear"

It's funny to think that things could've been so different.

A Pinatar CF youth graduate, Sánchez rejected an offer to play youth football for Real Murcia when he was 18, after deciding to move to Madrid to study architecture. The possibility arose of him entering the Juvenil team of Real Madrid but, after three weeks, chose to leave it to be able to focus on its studies. Before dismissing football completely, Atlético also knocked on his door, but two weeks after training with them, he told them the same thing - he had made up his mind.

He had chosen to retire from football.

He graduated as an architect at the age of 23. After five seasons without any football, at the age of 25 he joined amateurs AD Mar Menor-San Javier for the 2003-04 season in the Tercera, playing 32 games and scoring 6 goals.

In the final round for promotion the team was defeated by Alcoyano. His performances throughout the season, and in those games, set up his shot at making football a career - in 2004, CD Alcoyano gave him a chance in the Segunda B. He was an undisputed starter in defensive midfield, and earned himself a move to FC Cartagena in 2005 - Juan Ignacio Martínez, the new coach, had coached Mariano at Mar Menor and personally asked for him.

In fact, in his first season, Cartagena reached first place in the group, but remained in the Segunda B, being beaten in the playoffs by Vecindario. And in his fourth season, he was given the captain's armband, and led Cartagena to their first ever promotion to the Segunda.

At the age of 31 years and seven months, he - finally - made his debut in the Segunda.

He never appeared in less than 34 league games during his three seasons in that tier, suffering relegation in his last - the team missed him as he nursed a sprain in his left ankle at the beginning of the season, and never really recovered.

Despite many rumors to the contrary, Mariano actually renewed his contract for a further two years in June 2012, aged 34. In those two years, Cartagena came 2nd but failed in the promotion playoffs both times.

After having played 312 times for the club over nine seasons - a club for whom only Perico Arango (540) and Alejandro Sagarduy (514) have played more - the player who, for nine seasons, had become the face of Cartagena, retired at the age 36.

Guess where he is right now?

Back in Pinatar where he is currently the owner of the Pinatar Arena. The arena that has since had over 186 teams from 25 different countries come down to what has become the sanctuary for many European clubs seeking refuge during the harsh winter of their countries - including Spanish youth teams, Shakhtar Donetsk, Standard Liège, Bochum, Heerenveen, and Borussia Dortmund. The arena that now owns a hotel to attract said clubs. The arena that lies in a small town of 24,000 people on the banks of the Mar Menor.

The arena that a former-architect-turned-entrepreneur is slowly, but surely, building into another underrated footballing story.

This article is reproduced from a series on the faces of Spanish football. You can read it here.

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