The battering-ram striker who will keep painting his nails… as Real Betis star Borja Iglesias prepares for Man United, he talks about fighting racism and homophobia and his respect for Marcus Rashford
- Borja Iglesias started painting his nails black before matches around June 2020
- It was done as an act of solidarity with those protesting George Floyd’s murder
- The Betis star has big respect for Thursday’s opposing forward Marcus Rashford
It was around June 2020 when Betis’ battering ram centre-forward Borja Iglesias started painting his nails before matches. And it wasn’t much long after that, when the first tweet dropped.
‘What the f*** is this?’ posted one enquirer. Iglesias responded: ‘I don’t have a problem explaining to you. It’s my way of raising awareness and fighting against racism, and I think it works against homophobia too.’
Three years on and it has become his trademark. The black varnish was an act of solidarity with those protesting the murder of George Floyd a month earlier in Minneapolis. Later the protest became multicolored as he spoke about homophobia in football too.
‘When the Black Lives Matter protests began I did it to make myself conscious of it,’ he says. ‘Certain things have been normalised that we shouldn’t accept as normal.
‘People near me said certain things and I thought: we have to correct this. I painted them black at first then I changed it, and now I do it more because I like it.’
Real Betis star Borja Iglesias (right) is a battering-ram of a forward who will be looking to knock Manchester United out of the Europa League
The Betis star started painting his nails before matches three years ago which he says helps raise awareness against racism and homophobia – and it has become his trademark
The black varnish was as an act of solidarity with those protesting George Floyd’s murder
MANCHESTER UNITED VS REAL BETIS ODDS
Manchester United – 4/11
Draw – 15/4
Real Betis – 13/2
*Odds provided by Paddy Power
There can be a price to pay for thinking outside the box. He gets told to ‘Stick to football’ just as often as Marcus Rashford, who he admires and is looking forward to facing at Old Trafford.
He has not let it stop him speaking out. On gay footballers being able to be open about their sexuality he says: ‘In women’s football it’s totally normal. I think that is the direction we are moving in. We have a new generation coming through with a much more open mentality.’
On Thursday’s rival, Rashford, Iglesias is a fan of the player and the person: ‘He can play in so many ways,’ he says. ‘He’s physical but he’s very skilful. He can run in behind, he scores goals. And he is very important in the way his team plays right now.
‘And off the pitch he’s an example to follow. He is not afraid to position himself on issues and give visibility to social causes.
‘And he’s someone who is not afraid to show off his tastes – he likes fashion, he doesn’t mind going out on the catwalk – if that’s what he wants to do, he does it.’
As for sticking to football he says: ‘When I limit myself, I feel worse on the pitch – as if having my focus so fixed solely on football is not healthy. I think about other things, and when I return to football I do so with a clearer head.’
His head has been very clear this season – there was a clamour for him to be included in Luis Enrique’s World Cup squad last November that was ultimately ignored. But he’s currently the second highest scoring Spanish forward in La Liga.
It hasn’t always been easy – four years ago Rashford scored when Manchester United beat Celta Vigo in a Europa League semi-final and Iglesias was watching from the stands as a B-team player.
‘There is a moment in my third year of the four at Celta B when I thought: well perhaps this is my level.
‘Not arriving at the top too quickly helps you to keep things in perspective: it wasn’t that long ago that I was playing on pitches up to my ankles in mud.’
Now it’s United in Europe and he can’t wait. ‘They are my first memory of English football. I’m not sure if it was because of Eric Cantona or David Beckham. They were the ones that had most impact in Spain when I was growing up.’
Chelsea’s Didier Drogba was also someone he watched closely. ‘He was strong but also so good with his feet,’ he says.
Iglesias is looking forward to facing Marcus Rashford who he is a fan of on and off the pitch
‘He was very good with his back to goal, good into space, he pressed, he won it in the air despite not being so tall. Ruud Van Nistelrooy I loved too because of his ability to finish.’
When it comes to putting chances away a thinking footballer needs to not over-think on the pitch.
‘This year I had two very similar examples – one where I scored and the other where I nearly tripped over the ball. And the difference was thinking too much.
‘In the first the defender was chasing me and I was thinking: where is he? How do I protect the ball? And I scored.
‘And there is another one, against Atletico Madrid when I go through and I’m completely on my own running towards Jan Oblak and I’m thinking: should I go around him, or should I hit it with the inside of my left foot and there is a moment when I leave the ball behind.
‘I’m at my best when everything flows. I usually take a moment before I warm up when I do a little bit of meditation – as much as you can because you’re in a busy dressing room when there’s music playing and everyone has got their own ritual.
‘I try to give myself a couple of minutes to breathe calmly and to think: I’m going to play another big game. And that serves me well because if I go back five years I would be desperate to be in this situation.’
The added incentive on Thursday will be trophy at the end of the line if Betis can progress. It would be only the fifth in the club’s history and it would lead to another famous party.
‘When we won the Copa del Rey last season it was on a Saturday and we didn’t have another league game for nine, 10 days it was fantastic,’ he says.
Betis striker Iglesias is the second-highest Spanish scorer in LaLiga so far this season
Iglesias was part of the Real Betis side that clinched the Copa del Rey trophy last season
‘The three days afterwards, I went out. Then we had to focus again. There was a game coming up and the manager asked us to calm down a bit!’
Thursday’s first-leg comes first and if he can swap a shirt at the end, it will be Rashford’s.
‘If I have the chance, I’ll ask. I suppose he’ll be one of the most requested. You have to be fast. When Alex Moreno was here (now at Aston Villa) he was so quick, you’d request one and find that he had already asked for it in the warm up!’
He’ll enjoy it whatever happens. ‘When the draw was made some of my team-mates were like: ah no United is going to be tough,’ he says. ‘I thought: yes, it’s tough, but how fantastic to be playing at Old Trafford.’
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