A world record career of 23 years and 128 games that has made his name echo across international football, ILDEFONS LIMA’s career with Andorra seemed destined towards another historic record before a controversial dispute with the FA has turned his one final dream into an ill-fated shot at history. Gianluca Lia spoke to the evergreen Andorra captain on his hopes of ending his international career in a respectful manner…
Andorra’s Nations League commitment against Malta this afternoon could have represented his 135th appearance for his beloved nation.
Yet, 40-year-old Andorra legend Ildefons Lima is in the midst of an unlikely dispute with his country’s Football Association, determined to clear his name and earn a well-deserved send off on the field.
Lima made his Andorra debut at the age of 17 and went on to represent his country for 128 games across 22 years. He became the country’s record holder in appearances while at the same topped the all-time top scorer list with 11 goals, despite his role as a defender.
His next target was to become the second player to play international football in four different decades after Jari Litmanen of Finland, however the Andorra FA had other ideas.
“It’s a nonsense controversy,” Lima told the Times of Malta.
“When all the leagues had stopped during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, as head of the Andorra Players Union, I had said that this was no time to play football and should we resume our competitions, we had to implement a medical protocol to safeguard the players’ health.
“At the same time, while leagues of our level did not restart, the Andorra FA opted to continue our competitions despite not having such protocols in place.”
Lima takes into account that even a big league like the Ligue 1 did not find a way to restart and that coronavirus does not distinguish between who is wealthy or not, therefore the players’ health has to be a primary objective.
However, the Andorra captain was not warned of any wrongdoing until when coach Koldo Alvarez called up his team for their first 2020/21 Nations League match with Lima being excluded.
The Andorra FA had released a statement explaining that Lima was left out for ‘non-sporting reasons’ before coach Alvarez revealed that there was an ongoing feud between his captain and the football governing body.
“It is just three persons from the Andorra FA who want to cut me out from the national team setup and they revealed it themselves through a statement, therefore I am not inventing anything,” Lima pointed out.
“I’ve been asked to resign from the Players Union and apologise if I want to be reinstated because I did not act as a captain should, according to them.
“At the end of the day, I did not criticise the FA because I have the utmost respect for them for letting me represent my nation for so long but unfortunately to me, it seems that these persons are using me as a guinea pig to make a show of force.”
Lima points out the irony that when everyone stopped, the Andorra championship continued whereas now that there are medical protocols in place, the league is the only one in Europe which has not yet started.
“We started training with our clubs without any medical protocol except for my club, Inter Club Descaldes, because it affords all the costs,” Lima underlined.
“Otherwise, we had to do like the other clubs and train with the masks – can you imagine doing training sessions with face masks?
“The only time when Andorra players were swabbed was during the UEFA competitions at club and internationa level, and obviously that is not enough.”
Similary to Malta, Andorra do not enjoy a professional status in football and therefore the majority of the players have other part-time jobs.
In this case, Lima points out to another problem that could surface during such a period.
“Given we are amateurs, a lot of my team-mates have part-time jobs and rightly so,” he said.
“Therefore, these players go to work hence they are not in a particular club bubble and then they come to join us for training, which makes it easier for the virus to spread.
“Four teams train in half-pitches on two Andorra FA complexes simultatenously… which is already a miracle, let alone during these difficult times without a medical protocol.”
Lima explained that the case is at the Andorra tribunals since the FA is not letting him do his job properly, while at the same time FIFPRO – the World Players Association – has taken his case before FIFA.
“At the same time, I want to make a point – I want to continue play because I feel I can give more to the national team… otherwise I would gladly leave my place for younger players to help my country,” Lima said.
“However, I am very sad right now because they are not respecting their football history while at the same time they are not even showing reciprocal respect towards them as well.
“It is disappointing because they cannot really understand what does it mean to represent Andorra on a football pitch, against some of the best players in the world and in some of the most impressive stadiums while you are getting beaten and battered.
“We are at the back of a 7-0 defeat to Portugal – it’s been long now since we conceded that amount of goals…during such games you would think, why do I play football?”
World Cup mode
Lima has memorable stories of representing Andorra against Malta having scored his nation’s goal in their 1-1 draw back 18 years ago.
The former Las Palmas and Triestina player pointed out at Malta’s progress in such a short time, heaping praise on the Maltese football governing body for striving towards more improvement despite the limited resources that the island may provide.
“The 3-0 win over Liechtenstein is a result that for a team like Malta is a massive boost,” Lima explained.
“I remember coming over to Malta and seeing all those pitches and that National Stadium, which here in Andorra we will never have.”
Over the course of the years, Andorra were holders of an infamous record – a winless streak during which captain Lima tallied most of his goals including against Belarus during the 2010 World Cup qualifications ad against Wales in the Euro 2016 preliminaries.
However, it was Lima himself who halted the unbeaten run which was stretched up to 86 games when he scored in a 2-0 win over San Marino on February 22, 2017.
“I faced Brazil and France at their peak in 1998 among other teams, but believe me when I tell you that I was so nervous against San Marino,” Lima admitted.
“How could we lose that game? Could you imagine the backlash back in our country should we return from San Marino as losers?”
Nonetheless, Lima is proud to represent such a small nation, especially during games against high-profile sides.
“You know, sometimes against these top teams it is like a siege with everything they throw at you,” Lima explained.
“Technically, tactically and physically they outwork you, but you can always level those features by playing with your heart.
That is why I will always support the underdogs like Malta, San Marino and others beside Andorra, because I feel them in their most painful moments but also in their rare moments of joy.”