Nunca se rinde” is the Sevilla FC motto – never give up – and nobody embodies this better than Jesús Navas.
Here, after all, is a 37-year-old who shows no sign of slowing down in the cause of his beloved club. He played 49 games for Sevilla in 2022/23 – and in arguably the most demanding role on the pitch, at full-back, shuttling up and down the right. To emphasise the point, in the Andalusian side’s triumphant Europa League campaign he served up more crosses (52) than any other player in the competition.
A local boy from the town of Los Palacios y Villafranca, 30 minutes south of Seville, he played his first match in a Sevilla shirt 20 years ago this coming November. Save for four years at Manchester City between 2013 and 2017, his whole club career has been with Sevilla. Hence he felt as deeply as anyone the difficulties of a 2022/23 season in which Sevilla sacked two coaches and fought relegation into the springtime – before the joy of the denouement against Roma in Budapest, which secured their place in the Champions League group stage for a fourth successive year.
The emotional toll was fully apparent in the aftermath of Sevilla’s Europa League final triumph when he sat down for an interview with me, still in his kit, cradling the Europa League trophy in his arms. In a darkened room off the tunnel area of the Puskás Aréna, he sat illuminated by the lights of a film crew, those piercing blue eyes all the more striking.
In the TV ‘flash’ interview area outside, his team-mates were still responding to reporters’ questions. Here, in this more intimate setting, Navas’s emotions were raw. “Never give up” may be the motto, but his emotions conquered him as, between sobs, he spoke of the Sevilla “family”.
Five times he mentioned the word in just under five minutes. “This year has been very hard for our family, for our fans and for us,” he said of a campaign of storm clouds suddenly lined with silver. “Today, we were a family,” he reaffirmed. And again, when summing up this seventh triumph for Sevilla – and fourth for himself. “In the end, we’re a family. Those of us who have been here for a longer time, the veterans, we pass on this hunger because this competition made us great, really great,” he asserted.
In Navas’s mouth, “family” is no marketing-department soundbite. He joined Sevilla aged 15. He made his first-team debut two days after turning 18. He was in the team that won Sevilla’s first UEFA Cup – as the competition was then known – in 2006. Indeed, he provided the assist for the late Antonio Puerta’s extra-time winner against Schalke in that season’s semi-finals.
And families don’t forget. In the lead-up to the Europa League final, he cited both Puerta and José Antonio Reyes – another old team-mate and Nervión favourite who has passed away – in an interview with UEFA. Recollections of Reyes came first as he remembered his early days in the first team, days “filled with enthusiasm and excitement”. He added: “I had team-mates who were role models for me, such as José Antonio Reyes. Being able to play with him was amazing. I’ve grown up here and it means everything to me. I always dreamt about playing for Sevilla’s first team and I was lucky enough to make my debut under Joaquín Caparrós.”