Shropshire Star

Jesus Garcia Sanjuan tees up a new career and reflects on a Wolves spell of two halves

Jesus Garcia Sanjuan has a picture on his wall at home of the goal celebration after scoring for Wolves against Fulham.

Jesus Garcia Sanjuan in action for Wolves against Sunderland

“There was me, Steve Bull, Robbie Keane, Mixu Paatelainen all in the picture,” reveals the former Spanish midfielder. “I bet the rest of them were thinking, ‘who the **** is this guy’?”

That might be partly due to the quality of the goal, a lovely run in behind the defence and clinical finish into the bottom corner unbefitting of a career in which he only scraped into double figures in the ‘goals for’ column.

But also, because Sanjuan had literally only just arrived in the country to try his luck in the Championship, snapped up on a three-month loan from Real Zaragoza by Wolves boss Mark McGhee.

And thrown straight into battle, or at least initially on the bench, for the Coca Cola Cup tie at Craven Cottage in September, 1997.

“I’m not even sure the manager knew my name,” he laughs.

Sanjuan had spent seven years at his home club at a time when they had enjoyed one of the most successful spells in their history, but was now finding his options limited.

An intermediary originally approached him in the summer of ’97 and brought him over to Sheffield United on the promise of a contract.

But it was the close season for Sanjuan and he was in holiday mode and not in shape for football, and he was asked to play a trial game which, predictably given his lack of fitness, didn’t go well.

“I was rubbish, I could hardly move, and after I went to the office of manager Nigel Spackman, and he said he wanted me to go on trial for a week or two,” he says. “I said I’d been told I’d got a contract and was there because they wanted to sign me, and that I wasn’t in shape, so I decided to go home.”

That experience prompted plenty of reservations when it was Wolves’ turn to come calling, but the confirmation of a three-month contract saw him fly over and, within just over 24 hours, take his place on the bench in Mark McGhee’s team at Fulham.

“Then there was an injury and I was on the pitch after about 12 minutes,” Sanjuan takes up the story. “And about 20 minutes later, I scored!

Face-to-face with Chris Sutton while playing for Kilmarnock

“It’s funny because I wasn’t used to scoring goals, but it was quite a nice one, breaking the defensive line and putting it in the corner.

“Once I’d done that, I think everyone probably thought I was a bit of a player!”

That Sanjuan was a bit of a player was well known from his time with Real Zaragoza, where he emerged through the ranks to be a key part of the squad over a number of years.

Of course, the Zaragoza side from that era are best remembered for their 1995 Cup Winners Cup final win against Arsenal – ‘Nayim from the halfway line’ and all that, having won the Copa Del Rey the previous season.

“It was such a good time for the club, especially with that Cup Winners Cup final, where I came off the bench midway through the second half and was then taken off towards the end of extra time when the manager brought someone on for penalties,” Sanjuan recalls. “It was 1-1 at the time, but then of course Nayim scored in the 119th minute.