Music

Striking the right chord

He was once a star in the making for Real Madrid. But when Álvaro Benito’s footballing career was cut short by injury he picked up a guitar and started writing songs to fill the void. Now a bestselling artist with Spanish rock band Pignoise, as well as a renowned football pundit, he tells Simon Hart how music changed his life

“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

Music
Pitch perfect

Álvaro Benito selects his five favourite tracks

Bubbles

Biffy Clyro 

Benito’s go-to band; this is from the Kilmarnock trio’s 2009 album. (Has nothing to do with West Ham, just FYI.)

In Bloom

Nirvana

From the 1991 album Nevermind, which played a huge part in Benito’s musical education as a youngster. 

1979

Smashing Pumpkins 

Another grunge heavyweight from the 1990s, though this is one of the Chicago band’s gentler numbers. 

This suffering

Billy Talent 

A 2007 release from the Canadian rockers, who formed back in 1993. Power chords play a significant part in proceedings.

Super massive black hole

Muse 

Another band known for a blood-and-thunder approach. This one, from 2006, takes a fabulously funky tone.

“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

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Did music provide a balm? “It didn’t help at all,” says Benito, who bought his first electric guitar aged 18. “It can help to keep you occupied, but not to forget. Ultimately you have too many hours alone, being unable to walk, especially with these thoughts in your head: will I be able to walk again? To stand up? To play football? Where will I play? Those questions, the uncertainty, that was the worst thing – worse than the physical process.  

“The moment I decided to stop was a liberation. It was tough – I cried a lot – but I could do no more. I’d given everything to try to get back. It was insisting on something that wasn’t going to happen: I was never going to be the player that I had been. Never. I’d banked everything on football. I’d manage to get to the highest level and then, all of a sudden, it vanished.” 

The tattoos on the fingers of his right hand illustrate his story: a football, a smiley face, a musical note, the number 24 that adorned the back of his Madrid shirt – and, on his thumb, a broken heart. “Sometimes I dream I’m playing football. Not as much as before, but still sometimes. That never goes away.”

Maybe, but his reinvention was impressive. In 2005 the Pignoise song No Way Back was chosen as the theme for a popular TV series, Los Hombres de Paco. “It was a game-changer,” he says. “Without Los Hombres de Paco, I don’t know what would have happened; perhaps it would have taken us a lot more time, or it wouldn’t have happened at all.” Three years later he composed Spain’s anthem for EURO 2008, Pasar de Cuartos, which translates as ‘Get Past the Quarters’ – a reference to La Roja’s traditional tournament exit point. (If the fact that they finished as champions is anything to go by, the song had the desired effect.) 

Benito describes being a musician as “the most enjoyable” job he has known. “You’re your own boss: you decide your own schedule and don’t have to answer to anybody. And the whole creative process of composing and putting out a record, then connecting with the public, is a really nice process. I go out to perform and I don’t feel pressure. Football has a lot of pressure.” 

Álvaro Benito (left) is part of a trio collectively known as Pignoise

Given that many footballers fancy themselves as musicians – and vice versa – it is interesting to hear him compare the two. “In football, when you’re playing you forget the public; you concentrate on your game. Music for me is interacting. You’re seeing how people respond, their feelings – if they sing along or not, if they applaud or not. There’s more connection.” 

He offers another point of difference. “Music is a bit more mechanical: you rehearse a lot to repeat it live. Football is uncertainty, whereas music is certainty.” And he has thrown himself back into it since 2019, when he lost his job as Real Madrid U19 coach following comments on the radio about the senior side’s Copa del Rey exit. Raúl, his old team-mate, replaced him. 

“Right now, I’m happy,” he says. “This job lets me play my music and being a coach doesn’t.” Indeed, not long after leaving Real he had his favourite concert experience. “It was 2019 at the Arenal Sound festival. We’d been a long time without playing, as I’d left the group to start coaching. We decided to get back together after five or six years and it was the first concert. It exceeded our expectations: 50,000 people singing the songs at full throttle. It was a big high. Oof. The fact that people remembered us; not just remembered us, but we’d got bigger. It was just totally unexpected.”  

As for his TV role, it allows him to spend time in the company of the man who gave him his debut all those years ago: Jorge Valdano. “Jorge helped us a lot. He knows football and footballers well, and has that gift of treating you as a human being and knowing how to touch the right buttons so you feel confident and perform at your best. He has a great vision of the game and of people.”

Benito’s own vision is always worth hearing, albeit just one layer of a life which, to paraphrase John Lennon, has happened to him while he was busy making other plans. “I’d have happily stayed a footballer for 15 years but you never know what life will bring. If you’d told me 20 years ago this is how my life would be, I wouldn’t have wanted it. Even four years ago I was focused on becoming a coach, but suddenly Real Madrid got rid of me and I started commentating.” Coaching’s loss is our gain – for the time being, at least. 

Music
Pitch perfect

Álvaro Benito selects his five favourite tracks

Bubbles

Biffy Clyro 

Benito’s go-to band; this is from the Kilmarnock trio’s 2009 album. (Has nothing to do with West Ham, just FYI.)

In Bloom

Nirvana

From the 1991 album Nevermind, which played a huge part in Benito’s musical education as a youngster. 

1979

Smashing Pumpkins 

Another grunge heavyweight from the 1990s, though this is one of the Chicago band’s gentler numbers. 

This suffering

Billy Talent 

A 2007 release from the Canadian rockers, who formed back in 1993. Power chords play a significant part in proceedings.

Super massive black hole

Muse 

Another band known for a blood-and-thunder approach. This one, from 2006, takes a fabulously funky tone.

“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

Music
Striking the right chord

Álvaro Benito selects his five favourite tracks

Bubbles

Biffy Clyro 

Benito’s go-to band; this is from the Kilmarnock trio’s 2009 album. (Has nothing to do with West Ham, just FYI.)

In Bloom

Nirvana

From the 1991 album Nevermind, which played a huge part in Benito’s musical education as a youngster. 

1979

Smashing Pumpkins 

Another grunge heavyweight from the 1990s, though this is one of the Chicago band’s gentler numbers. 

This suffering

Billy Talent 

A 2007 release from the Canadian rockers, who formed back in 1993. Power chords play a significant part in proceedings.

Super massive black hole

Muse 

Another band known for a blood-and-thunder approach. This one, from 2006, takes a fabulously funky tone.

Music

Striking the right chord

He was once a star in the making for Real Madrid. But when Álvaro Benito’s footballing career was cut short by injury he picked up a guitar and started writing songs to fill the void. Now a bestselling artist with Spanish rock band Pignoise, as well as a renowned football pundit, he tells Simon Hart how music changed his life

“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

Music
Penalty Pedigree

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“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

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Did music provide a balm? “It didn’t help at all,” says Benito, who bought his first electric guitar aged 18. “It can help to keep you occupied, but not to forget. Ultimately you have too many hours alone, being unable to walk, especially with these thoughts in your head: will I be able to walk again? To stand up? To play football? Where will I play? Those questions, the uncertainty, that was the worst thing – worse than the physical process.  

“The moment I decided to stop was a liberation. It was tough – I cried a lot – but I could do no more. I’d given everything to try to get back. It was insisting on something that wasn’t going to happen: I was never going to be the player that I had been. Never. I’d banked everything on football. I’d manage to get to the highest level and then, all of a sudden, it vanished.” 

The tattoos on the fingers of his right hand illustrate his story: a football, a smiley face, a musical note, the number 24 that adorned the back of his Madrid shirt – and, on his thumb, a broken heart. “Sometimes I dream I’m playing football. Not as much as before, but still sometimes. That never goes away.”

Maybe, but his reinvention was impressive. In 2005 the Pignoise song No Way Back was chosen as the theme for a popular TV series, Los Hombres de Paco. “It was a game-changer,” he says. “Without Los Hombres de Paco, I don’t know what would have happened; perhaps it would have taken us a lot more time, or it wouldn’t have happened at all.” Three years later he composed Spain’s anthem for EURO 2008, Pasar de Cuartos, which translates as ‘Get Past the Quarters’ – a reference to La Roja’s traditional tournament exit point. (If the fact that they finished as champions is anything to go by, the song had the desired effect.) 

Benito describes being a musician as “the most enjoyable” job he has known. “You’re your own boss: you decide your own schedule and don’t have to answer to anybody. And the whole creative process of composing and putting out a record, then connecting with the public, is a really nice process. I go out to perform and I don’t feel pressure. Football has a lot of pressure.” 

Álvaro Benito (left) is part of a trio collectively known as Pignoise

Given that many footballers fancy themselves as musicians – and vice versa – it is interesting to hear him compare the two. “In football, when you’re playing you forget the public; you concentrate on your game. Music for me is interacting. You’re seeing how people respond, their feelings – if they sing along or not, if they applaud or not. There’s more connection.” 

He offers another point of difference. “Music is a bit more mechanical: you rehearse a lot to repeat it live. Football is uncertainty, whereas music is certainty.” And he has thrown himself back into it since 2019, when he lost his job as Real Madrid U19 coach following comments on the radio about the senior side’s Copa del Rey exit. Raúl, his old team-mate, replaced him. 

“Right now, I’m happy,” he says. “This job lets me play my music and being a coach doesn’t.” Indeed, not long after leaving Real he had his favourite concert experience. “It was 2019 at the Arenal Sound festival. We’d been a long time without playing, as I’d left the group to start coaching. We decided to get back together after five or six years and it was the first concert. It exceeded our expectations: 50,000 people singing the songs at full throttle. It was a big high. Oof. The fact that people remembered us; not just remembered us, but we’d got bigger. It was just totally unexpected.”  

As for his TV role, it allows him to spend time in the company of the man who gave him his debut all those years ago: Jorge Valdano. “Jorge helped us a lot. He knows football and footballers well, and has that gift of treating you as a human being and knowing how to touch the right buttons so you feel confident and perform at your best. He has a great vision of the game and of people.”

Benito’s own vision is always worth hearing, albeit just one layer of a life which, to paraphrase John Lennon, has happened to him while he was busy making other plans. “I’d have happily stayed a footballer for 15 years but you never know what life will bring. If you’d told me 20 years ago this is how my life would be, I wouldn’t have wanted it. Even four years ago I was focused on becoming a coach, but suddenly Real Madrid got rid of me and I started commentating.” Coaching’s loss is our gain – for the time being, at least. 

Music
Pitch perfect

Álvaro Benito selects his five favourite tracks

Bubbles

Biffy Clyro 

Benito’s go-to band; this is from the Kilmarnock trio’s 2009 album. (Has nothing to do with West Ham, just FYI.)

In Bloom

Nirvana

From the 1991 album Nevermind, which played a huge part in Benito’s musical education as a youngster. 

1979

Smashing Pumpkins 

Another grunge heavyweight from the 1990s, though this is one of the Chicago band’s gentler numbers. 

This suffering

Billy Talent 

A 2007 release from the Canadian rockers, who formed back in 1993. Power chords play a significant part in proceedings.

Super massive black hole

Muse 

Another band known for a blood-and-thunder approach. This one, from 2006, takes a fabulously funky tone.

“Julio never made the Real Madrid first team but in music he’s a god. We’re nobodies in comparison to him!”

The Julio in question is Iglesias, the legendary Spanish singer whose promising goalkeeping career was curtailed by a serious car accident. The man laughing at the comparison is Álvaro Benito, a one-time prodigious winger at the Santiago Bernabéu who, after injury ended his football dreams far too early, ended up becoming a rock musician. Not that he agrees with the job description. “I’m a composer,” he explains. “I like to write songs – and to write songs you have to play the guitar.”

Today the 45-year-old fronts the Spanish rock band Pignoise; this, though, is just one of the hats he wears. To viewers of the Champions League and La Liga on Movistar Plus+, Spain’s main football broadcaster, he is an articulate and thoughtful analyst. His insights can also be found on the radio (Cadena SER) and in his newspaper columns for AS.

Benito actually chooses ‘football coach’ as the first label on his Twitter profile, followed by ‘I write songs’. He coached in Real Madrid’s youth ranks for four years until 2019 and, as he explains, this experience informs his approach as a broadcaster. “From my time as a coach, as soon as a game starts you have to try to predict where the key is, where you can hurt the opponent, how the opponent can hurt you, how the teams are looking and what they have to do to improve. This is what I try to do as
a commentator.” 

That and speak to the viewer in the same way he would address a player, he adds. He’s talking to us in an office in Movistar’s HQ in Tres Cantos, a smart new town north of Madrid. “A footballer likes a message that’s practical and easy to understand. Moreover, a player doesn’t listen to you for that long; you’ve a limited amount of time to explain what you want and have to be clear and concise. You have to be correct too, because if you tell a player to do something and it doesn’t help him improve, the next time he’ll listen less. And then the third time, if he still doesn’t improve, he doesn’t listen any longer. The same goes for the viewer – people aren’t stupid.”

Benito will shortly be heading to a studio downstairs for El Día Después, the long-running Monday-night show that reflects on the weekend’s football action in Spain. It says a lot about his broadcasting ability that he has stepped into the shoes of the late and much-loved Michael Robinson – “We all grew up with his voice” – on the show. Right now though he is in musician (sorry, composer) mode: baggy jeans and a black Nirvana T-shirt over a long-sleeved white top. It’s a look that immediately transports you back to the 1990s.  

“Around 1992, I got my hands on [Nirvana’s bestselling album] Nevermind and my life changed,” he says. “I started to listen to all the Seattle music – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots – and then I started to open up to harder rock. Then it was Californian punk with The Offspring, Green Day, and that was probably what influenced me most when I started to play. Many of my favourite bands are from then but my favourite group are Scottish: Biffy Clyro. It’s like prog rock but they’re very versatile. They’re very original.” 

Discovering grunge was not the only way his life changed in the 1990s, as it was a decade that began with him joining Real Madrid as a 14-year-old. “I could do many things on the pitch. I understood the game and I was very fast; I could dribble well and I had a good shot,” he says of his younger self. “I had a very strong, very precise shot.”

“Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!”

Benito advanced through the youth ranks alongside Raúl González – “Raúl and I were together for four years and I gave him a lot of goals!” – and broke into the first team not long after him. Indeed, his favourite match in a white shirt was a 4-1 victory over Sevilla in December 1995, in which he scored his first senior goal and Raúl netted twice. “I scored the second,” he remembers. “Raúl passed the ball to me, I controlled it with my left foot, the goalkeeper came out and I put it over him.”  

Music-wise they found common ground too. “Raúl listened to quite a few of the groups I liked – he, Fernando Redondo and I used to like Andrés Calamaro, the Argentinian singer. I went to the odd concert with Guti – we saw the Foo Fighters. Rafa Alkorta liked The Smiths.” 

Yet by the time Raúl was winning the third of his Champions Leagues with Los Blancos in 2002, Benito was about to conclude “the sad process of having to leave football so young”. An injury to his left knee in late 1996 – sustained on Spain U21 duty – led to the removal of his meniscus, sparking a painful spiral of injuries and eight more surgeries. There were moves to Tenerife and Getafe but with his cartilage degenerating, the end arrived in 2003.

Music
Penalty Pedigree

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