Up close and personal with an Azkal in Spain
When we visited Malaga, Spain a few months ago, we never expected to share a beer or two with the Spanish-Filipino Azkals player Juan Luis Guirado.
Standing 6 feet and 2 inches tall, the Malaga-born Guirado gamely shared his story with us, narrating his journey from Malaga to Manila to represent the Philippines in the international football arena.
“I think I was already playing football when I was born. I started playing when I was young in all corners of our neighborhood in El Palo, Malaga. That was every day. I began playing professionally when I turned 18,” shares Guirado.
The 33-year-old defender/midfielder was playing for the Spanish team, Racing Lermeño, until January 2012. He joined the Azkals February of the same year. Those who have been following the humble and down-to-earth Guirado always remember how he helped the Philippines win over Palestine during a close match back in March 2012. That was when he scored his first international goal, giving the Philippines the much needed lead.
The game ended at 4-2 in favor of the Philippine team.
“It was through my cousin Rafa [Garcia] who made me consider playing with Azkals. Seeing that the team was improving and Azkals was looking for players around the world, he asked us if we would like to play for the team,” recalls Guirado.
According to Guirado, there were many considerations before he joined the Azkals. Among them included the economic situation in Spain plus the fact that he just started working at Frito Lays for Pepsi Company. But Guirado was determined to become an Azkals player. And he never once regretted his decision.
“For me, it was and still is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me, professionally. More than the pride on being able to represent a lot of people and although I was not born in the Philippines, I feel every bit a Filipino every day of my life,” admits Guirado.
Guirado’s family was equally happy and supportive of him.
The Azkals player was born to a Filipina mother, a native of Ilagan, Isabela. His mom, Angela, belongs to the famous Aldeguer clan in the Philippines. She met her husband Juan Luis senior, a true blue Malaguneo, during a visit to her cousin in Spain. Guirado’s younger brother, Angel Guirado, is also a midfielder at team Azkals.
“My siblings and I have always been exposed to the Philippine culture thanks to my mother. My mom, who is always brimming with happiness and optimism, cooks a lot of Filipino dishes. It´s always fiesta at home,” enthuses Guirado.
According to Guirado, he was five years old when he first visited the Philippines for the first time. He remembers the colors and the rice fields. His second visit was eight years ago, enjoying more his stay by spending more time with his relatives and going to places like Ilagan and San Fernando. He loved pancit, crispy pata and lechon.
“I am always amazed by the happiness and optimism of the people in the Philippines. And the heat! You can’t forget that,” reveals Guirado.
Guirado was recently tapped to do a project in Payatas. It was an eye-opener, he says.
“I didn’t doubt for a second in saying yes. I wanted to see the reality of life, and if I can help in any way I can, I will always be there. They taught me a lot of things and I enjoyed more than I expected. I hope to go back soon to learn more and enjoy more than I expected,” admits Guirado.
Guirado says he has always been a Filipino at heart.
“Right now, I am trying to learn and improve my English and Tagalog. I want to take this opportunity to learn more and more things about the Philippines. I even show off my Philippine passport every time I travel and I see Filipinos at the airport,” shares Guirado.
Guirado says that in Spain, he can now actually point out a Pinoy in the crowd. Once in Burgos, he stopped a Pinoy and called out, “Kabayan! Pre, kamusta?”
This article was first published in the 3rd issue of The Filipino Expat Magazine. For more inspiring stories of Filipinos in Europe, visit www.thefilipinoexpat.com or like https://www.facebook.com/TheFilipinoExpatMagazine