It was the 8th of August 2009, Espanyol was on a preseason tour of Italy, preparing for another season in La Liga when disaster struck.
Club captain and fan favourite Daniel Jarque died at the age of 26.
The defender had trained with the squad in Coverciano, Florence in the morning, but suffered heart failure in his hotel room, while on the phone with his girlfriend.
Espanyol, through and through
Jarque spent his entire career at Espanyol, having joined the academy at the age of 12 and making his debut on October 20th, 2002 against Recreativo de Huelva.
After a couple of years as a bit-part player, the centre-back became a first-team regular, eventually winning the Copa del Rey in 2006. A season later, he was in another final, this time in the UEFA Cup against fellow Spanish outfit Sevilla but Espanyol was beaten on penalties.
Just a month before his death, he was given the captain’s armband at Espanyol, albeit under acrimonious circumstances, with the previous wearer Raul Tamudo unhappy at being demoted.
Dani Jarque’s World Cup win
Internationally, Jarque never managed to win a cap for the senior side but a year after winning the 2002 European Under-19 Championship, he was promoted to the U-21s squad, playing alongside David Villa, Victor Valdes, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and many others who became household names.
The latter two were the closest to the defender and provided many tributes to their friend following his death.
While playing for Arsenal, Fabregas revealed a shirt with Jarque’s name and squad number in a match against Everton, just days after his death.
In one of the most touching tributes ever seen in football, Iniesta took his Spain jersey off to reveal a shirt, reading “Dani Jarque: siempre con nosotros” (always with us), as he celebrated scoring the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final.
In an interview following the match against Holland, the Barcelona midfielder dedicated Spain’s triumph to his friend.
A true professional
Incidentally, the last fixture of 2010 for Espanyol was at home against Barcelona, where a normally hostile crowd turned into a thankful one, showing their gratitude to Iniesta, the man who had paid homage to their late captain.
Two years after winning the World Cup, when Spain was lifting the European Championship title for the second successive time, Fabregas once again donned a shirt commemorating Jarque during their trophy celebrations.
Earlier that year, Espanyol had renamed their training ground and ‘B’ team stadium in his memory, so that it now reads: “Ciutat Esportiva Dani Jarque”.
While the defender may not have been the most talented of players, what he lacked in ability, he made up for it in passion and character, as he became one of the most loved footballers at Espanyol and especially amongst his team-mates.