Thursday 28 September 2023, 08:15

Ildefons Lima: "There is no other sport that unites people the way football does"

  • After four decades and 137 internationals for Andorra, Ildefons Lima finally said goodbye to international football

  • Lima also represented clubs in numerous countries around the world

  • “It's important to be willing to integrate. If you can adapt, these experiences make you a better footballer”

Football is unique in its ability to bring people together and possesses an unrivalled platform to support important campaigns.

Ildefons Lima is clear about this, following his lifelong football journey. He finally hung up his boots and Andorran national team shirt for good earlier this month, after representing his country across four decades.

Twenty-six years ago, in 1997, at the age of sixteen, he travelled with Andorra to play against Latvia. After 137 international games, on 12 September 2023, he bowed out against Switzerland, substituted by a player who was born two years into his international career. spoke to the now retired central defender as he recalled some of his memories, and confirmed how in his opinion, #FootballUnitesTheWorld.

"I never found it difficult to go and play in other countries. I consider myself an adventurer and I liked the challenge of being away from home. It opens your mind. Everything is new. I always enjoyed that my life was not repetitive," he explained.

Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, and Mexico provide plenty of anecdotes and countless memories from a career that spanned spells at clubs such as Pachuca, Rayo Vallecano, Triestina and Bellinzona.

Andorra's defender #6 Ildefons Lima gestures as he leaves the pitch after he played his very last match during the UEFA Euro 2024 football tournament Group I qualifying match between Switzerland and Andorra

"I went to Mexico in 2002, which wasn't very common for a European player back then. The assimilation process was complicated, but it helped me to grow. In Greece I tried to integrate, to learn the language. It's important to be willing to integrate,” Lima reflected. “The player is the one who arrives in a new country and must adapt. If you can adapt, these experiences make you a better footballer.”

Ildefons Lima always knew that football would allow him to enjoy another of his passions: travelling. "I like it a lot and with the national team I had the privilege of visiting countries that, if it wasn't for football, I would rarely go to. Wherever I’ve been, if I had some time off from training and playing, I tried to travel. To get to know everything about the culture, the place, and its ‘peculiarities,’ compared to what I was used to.”

Going back to the beginning of his journey in 1997 and that first match against Latvia, Ildefons made a decision that would mark him forever: he asked a rival, Mihails Zemļinskis, for his jersey. Today he has almost 1,300 jerseys at home.

"I started doing this with the national team and since then I've been exchanging jerseys, which I've always loved. I have shirts from Cristiano Ronaldo, Lewandowski, Mbappé, Fernando Torres, Rooney, Van Persie...and many, many more!"

One shirt stands out from the rest: "I'm very fond of one from the game we won against Hungary, which I think is the most important victory we achieved [with Andorra].”

One of his shirts has also found its way to the FIFA Museum. "I was going to Switzerland, and I contacted them,” Ildefons said. “They responded immediately and told me that they would love to have a shirt of a player like me, who had represented his country for so many years. They have one from a match I played in against Liechtenstein.

"I am very proud that it is now in the FIFA Museum. It is further affirmation for me that representing Andorra for so long, will stand for something in the future too.”

After his last game with Andorra, Lima was overwhelmed with many messages of affection and congratulations, but he explained that one stood out, above all the rest: "I received a message [via Instagram] from Gianni Infantino and I was shocked. I thought it was a fake, but when I went in and saw that it was him... I thanked him and we exchanged a couple of messages.

"I hope one day I can meet him in person. For those of us who like football, being congratulated on your career by the world's top representative of the sport you play shows that you have done something right," he said, smiling.

Now, the Andorran is thinking about his next steps. “In Andorra we always try to improve, but we are undoubtedly limited by the size of our territory and our population. We will always try our best, so those limitations are reduced as best as possible when we come up against ‘bigger’ countries.” As he prepared to say farewell, Ildefons Lima had a final, perhaps unsurprising message. "My name will always be linked to Andorra, and I want to continue to be linked to football too."