Just below the Puente de Madera (the pedestrian crossing over the Turia riverbed from Calle Conde de Trenor to the old Trenet station) is the field of the Escuela de Fútbol Base of CD Serranos, a legendary Valencia team founded in 1977 by the unforgettable Pipo Arnau. The aim of the organisation has always been the same: to train (humanely and sportively) its boys and girls in the practice of football. And it is true to say that in these almost fifty years of life, it has achieved this with flying colours. And not only that. Its ranks have produced youngsters who, as well as becoming professional footballers, have achieved unimaginable success. Juanfran, one of the best players in the history of Levante UD, came to the Orriols club from this exemplary club, which is named after the marvellous medieval monument that stands less than a hundred metres from its sports ground.

The Escuela de Fútbol Base del CD Serranos (located next to the medieval towers) is an example for Valencia. It was from here that the legendary player Juanfran

This Valencian from cap i casal didn’t take long to show the blue and red club that his time in the lower categories was going to be ephemeral and that he had come to Orriols with the intention of being part of the first team immediately. And José Enrique Díaz, the coach who led the team that season in 1993/94, decided to make him debut in the Second Division B match between the blaugranas and Hospitalet on December 5, 1993. Midway through the second half Juanfran (who that day was wearing the number 15 on his back) replaced his teammate Torres and entered the history of the oldest club in the Valencian Community at just 17 years, 5 months and 10 days old. And although his debut was somewhat bitter (the match was lost 0-2), he quickly understood that in that Levante (immersed in the cement years, one of the most difficult stages of its history) success was not easy and could only be achieved with the effort and unity of all.

Record of the first official match played by Juanfran with Levante UD (under the presidency of Ramón Victoria). The match was played at the Ciutat de València between the Granotes and the Catalan team Hospitalet.

Juanfran’s first spell at Levante UD spanned four seasons (from 1993 to 1997), the first three in the bronze division and the last in the silver division. To achieve promotion to the second division it was necessary to wait three seasons. In the first one, it could not be achieved under either José Enrique Díaz or Jordi Gonzalvo. In the second (despite the mythical record of 13 consecutive victories under coach Juande Ramos) neither, the unfortunate failure of the promotion play-offs prevented it. And finally, the third time around, with coach Carlos Simón, was the charm. By the way, a curiosity that probably not many people know about. In his first years with Levante Juanfran played as a centre forward. His reconversion to the position that consecrated him came, precisely, from the hand of the coach from Enguera. In a match that season, left-back Fael was injured, Juanfran said that he felt he was capable of taking his place, Carlos Simón gave him the go-ahead and he remained in that position for the rest of his career. The 1996/97 season in Segunda was the season of his consecration. Under the orders of coach Mané he exploded in an excellent way and at the end of that season Valencia CF signed him as a white player.

The team that played against Almería on 5 April 1997 in the 30th matchday of the Second Division. From left to right and from top to bottom Juanfran, Raúl Mármol, Paraguayans Peralta and David Gómez, Ruano, Rodri (goalkeeper), Raúl Ferrer, Caco Morán, Ino, Del Val and Pablo. The match ended 2-2

He began a long career (almost a dozen years) at Spanish and European clubs where he accumulated numerous successes. After two years with Che, he spent four and a half years with Celta Vigo where he reached his best level (which earned him a starting place in the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan). He then played for Besiktas in Turkey, Ajax Amsterdam, Zaragoza (back in Spain) and, for one and a half seasons, AEK in Greece. And it was in Greece where, in the middle of his second season, in 2009/10, he returned on loan to Levante UD. During this prolonged break as a Granota, his sporting record grew spectacularly. He won the Copa del Rey with Valencia, the Dutch Cup and Super Cup with Ajax and also won the Intertoto Cup twice (with Valencia and Celta). He had, therefore, an extraordinary CV when he returned to what had always been his home. A home and a Granota feeling that he always boasted about wherever he went. That’s why he didn’t mind returning to a club that, although celebrating its centenary, was in the second division and was far from being one of the candidates to return to the elite.

Juanfran made 11 appearances for the Spanish national team. He played the most important games at the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan under José Antonio Camacho. In the picture, the eleven that eliminated Ireland in the round of 16. From left to right and from top to bottom Casillas, Hierro, Luis Enrique, Morientes, Helguera, Baraja, Juanfran, De Pedro, Raúl, Valerón and Puyol.

On Monday 1st February 2010, the Ciutat de València was dressed in its best clothes to welcome (for the second time) one of its own, a footballer with granota DNA, a legend of the club, Juanfran García. He arrived (aged 33) on loan in the winter transfer window from AEK in Greece, a top club in the Greek Primera Division with whom he had won the runners-up spot in the previous season. And he didn’t mind in the slightest when he arrived at a team in a much worse sporting situation, in the second division and with very few options of returning to the elite. But Juanfran believed in Levante because he knew that he was arriving in a magical year, the centenary year, and he immediately sensed that he could do something very big. And that same week, coach Luis García Plaza decided to give him his debut because he also knew that he had to count on this asset immediately. And the results materialised immediately. On Sunday 7 February, Levante UD achieved an extraordinary victory in Cádiz by 2-4. Juanfran came on in the second half to replace Iborra. He was returning home after a break of almost twelve years. And one legend came on for another. A substitution that could not have been more symbolic.

In the winter market of 2010 Juanfran arrived on loan from Greek AEK (for the remainder of the season) to his beloved Levante in the year in which the club’s centenary was being celebrated. In the image on the pitch of the Ciutat on the day of his presentation in his second spell as a Levante player.

That wonderful intuition of the Valencian was confirmed and that 2009/2010 season saw the achievement of the century: Levante UD were promoted to the First Division in the same campaign in which the oldest team in the city of Turia celebrated its first hundred years of life. Although on the day it became a reality, with the 3-1 win over Castellón at the Ciutat, he was unable to play as he was suspended. But he did not miss the celebrations, obviously, and was one of those who enjoyed them the most. That 2010 promotion to the Primera División was the only one that Juanfran experienced (in 2004 he was at Celta and in 2006 at Ajax) of the three promotions celebrated by Levante during the career of the magical left-back. At the end of that season, the Valencian ended his relationship with Greek club AEK and officially signed as a new Granota player.

Levante’s return to the elite in 2010/11 was no bed of roses. In fact, the first half of the season was disastrous. And at the start of the second season, after a 4-1 defeat in Seville, they were bottom of the table with only 15 points. It was clear that we would have to grit our teeth if we wanted to turn the situation around. And, obviously, the support of the fans was going to be decisive. The club created the slogan “La unión es la salvación” (unity is salvation) to verbalise the need for everyone to pull together to get out of the abyss. And, incredibly, it worked a miracle. Because from matchday 21 (with the 2-0 win against Getafe) to matchday 32 (with the 2-1 win against Hércules), Levante won eight games, drew three and only lost one, 2-0, on their visit to the Santiago Bernabéu. The team had moved up to ninth in the standings with 42 points, four points off the European places and nine points off relegation. Permanence was in the bag.

On matchday 21, the players went out to the Ciutat wearing T-shirts that read “Unity is salvation”. And so it was. After the victory against Getafe, the team went on a spectacular run that gave them the chance to stay in the league. From left to right: Juanlu, Javi Venta, Munúa, Juanfran, Xavi Torres and Valdo.

And from hell to heaven. Because 2011/12 was the best season in the club’s history. Led by a killer in the penalty area (Ivorian Koné, with 15 goals, set the scoring record for a Granota player in a season in the First Division), Levante UD were the sole leaders for two matchdays. And, in the end, they finished in sixth position, which allowed them to play the following season, for the first time, in a European competition. In that legendary campaign, Juanfran played a key role in 29 matches.

Juanfran in the two matches played against the Ciudad Condal teams at the Ciutat during the 2011/12 season. On the left in the 3-1 win against Espanyol and on the right disputing a ball with Puyol in the match against Barça.

And Juanfran once again made history with Levante in the year in which the Granotes played in the Europa League competition in 2012/13. He scored the first goal in that competition. To reach the final play-offs, the team from Orriols had to finish in the top two in a group made up of Dutch side Twente, German side Hannover 96 and Swedish side Helsingborgs. And in this two-legged mini-play-off, the first match pitted Levante against the Scandinavians on 20 September 2012 at the Ciutat de València. The Granotes won 1-0 and the winning goal was scored by Juanfran García. However, there will always be an amusing controversy with his team-mate Juanlu, who believes that Levante’s first European goal was scored by him in the 0-2 win against Motherwell in the play-off qualifying round for the group stage.

Juanfran scored Levante UD’s first European goal in the 1-0 win against Swedish side Helsingborgs. In the picture with his teammates Pedro López and Ballesteros. That first foray into the old continent was more than remarkable when they reached the round of 16, where they lost to Rubin Kazan of Russia.

After the retirement from professional football of his teammate and friend Sergio Ballesteros (after the European year) Juanfran was left as the great reference point of the Granota’s squad, as the great captain of the Blue and red ship. And that 2013/14 season saw Levante enjoy a pleasant spell in the Primera División under the guidance of Andalusian coach Joaquín Caparrós. The team from Orriols finished in a comfortable tenth position, just one point behind their great rival from the capital. Although that year will be remembered as the year of the explosion of probably the best granota goalkeeper of all time: the Costa Rican Keylor Navas who, at the end of that season, signed for Real Madrid, where he would play for five seasons. And that season had a particularly emotional moment for Juanfran: on matchday 19 (the day they beat Málaga 1-0) the Valencian became, with 99 games played, the player from Levante with the most appearances in the First Division. In the following match (played against Barça and which ended in a 1-1 draw) the president of Levante UD Quico Catalán and the Honorary President Paco Fenollosa presented him with a framed shirt with his name and with the number of the 100 matches of the ephemeris. Juanfran is currently third in this historical ranking, behind Morales (first) and Roger (second). In addition, with 244 games, he is the fifth player with the most official games in the club’s history (after Dolz, Ettien, Latorre and Morales).

On 12 January 2014 Juanfran became with 99 appearances (after the 1-0 win against Málaga at the Ciutat Ciutat) the player with the most appearances for Levante in the First Division.

On 19 January 2014, before the start of the match against Barça, he was presented with a commemorative shirt celebrating his 100th game with Levante in the elite league. On the right disputing a ball with Cameroon striker Dongou.

In the derby at the Ciutat, Levante beat Valencia 2-0. In the picture Juanfran in front of the Chilean striker Vargas while his teammate Simao looks on.

The 2014/15 season was not as placid as the previous one and the team struggled to keep the category. On matchday 8, after a humiliating 0-5 defeat by Real Madrid at the Ciutat, the team was second to last with five points. Coach Mendilibar was sacked and the Granada-born Lucas Alcaraz took his place. This gave Juanfran, who had played very little under Alcaraz, more options. The change improved things and in the first eight games under the Andalusian coach only two matches were lost and the team climbed to fifteenth place. However, things went wrong again and after a painful defeat in the Mestalla derby on matchday 31, the team was back in the relegation places. Fortunately, a draw against Espanyol and two consecutive wins (at Getafe and another at home to Córdoba) put the team on the road to relegation. Elche’s administrative relegation at the end of the tournament also contributed to this. This meant that only the bottom two teams were relegated that year, as the Alicante side finished in thirteenth position.

Two of the few joys of that 2014/15 season were the 1-4 win at Almería (left) and the 1-0 win at the Ciutat against Córdoba (right).

2015/16 was Juanfran’s eleventh season as a Granota. It was also his last, as he was due to retire from professional football at the age of almost forty. And, unfortunately, it was a bittersweet ending as, after six consecutive seasons in the First Division (the longest period in the elite of the club), Levante UD were relegated to the silver category. And with the continuity of Alcaraz on the bench and the signing of players as interesting as the Moroccan centre-back Feddal, the Colombian midfielder Lerma and the Brazilian striker Deyverson, nothing seemed to predict this. But the team did not work and it was clear from the start.

In his last season as a Granota player, Juanfran did not achieve good results in his visits to the Nou Camp and the Santiago Bernabéu. On the left in front of Culer Dani Alves and on the right facing Madrid’s Isco.

After a traumatic 4-0 defeat at home to Real Sociedad, the Granotes were bottom of the table and had only managed one win in nine games. Lucas was sacked and the Catalan Joan Francesc Ferrer Rubi arrived as the new coach. But the situation not only did not improve, it got worse. And much worse. After losing to Atlético de Madrid at the end of the first half of the season, the Orriols side were bottom with eleven points and salvation was now six points away. In the winter transfer window, Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi (who had made history with Villarreal and Fiorentina) was signed, but it was not enough to turn things around (despite the transalpine’s great quality and his more than acceptable performance, scoring six goals in half a season).

On 13 March 2016 Juanfran played his last derby, winning 1-0 at the Ciutat after a great goal by Italian Rossi (on the right). On the left disputing a ball with Valencianista Javi Fuego.

Even so, as long as there was life there was hope for the long-suffering Granota fans, who in the last six matchdays of that tournament experienced a whole carousel of emotions. In the 33rd, the 2-1 win against Espanyol at the Ciutat generated optimism (salvation was just two points away with five games to go) that had to be confirmed in the all-important trip to Granada that followed that victory. The Levante supporters responded massively and the Nuevo Los Cármenes stadium seemed like an extension of the Orriols pitch. However, the team’s performance was lamentable and they conceded a very painful 5-1 defeat. But they had to reset and on matchday 35 the Ciutat de València was visited by Athletic Club. And the truth is that on that day a series of unfortunate circumstances deprived Levante of a victory that they undoubtedly deserved. Midway through the second half, the granotes were comfortably 2-0 up and Rossi had a goal that would have been enough to seal the win unjustly disallowed. And, unexpectedly, between the end of the game and injury time, the Basque team scored two goals in two isolated moves and drew a game that did a lot of damage to the team led by Juanfran in their fight to avoid relegation.

The unfair and painful 2-2 draw against Athletic Club all but sealed Levante UD’s relegation in 2015/16. Two images of Juanfran that day

And, unfortunately, relegation became official after Levante’s (also undeserved) 3-1 defeat in Málaga in the next game. The Granotes knew they needed the win to stay alive and, despite the Andalusians taking the lead on the half-hour mark, the team reacted and Morales equalised before the break after a great counter-attack. In the second half, Levante came to dominate the game and, incomprehensibly, the Basque referee Bikandi Garrido disallowed Morales an absolutely legal goal (the television summary left no room for doubt) that would have given the Granotes the lead and, probably, also given them an essential victory.

On 2 May 2016 Levante UD were relegated to Segunda División after losing 3-1 in Málaga. On the left Camacho, Bikandi Garrido and Juanfran before the start and on the right the Valencian in a dispute with local Miguel Torres.

On the penultimate matchday, with the team already in the second division, the Levante side hosted an Atlético de Madrid side at the Ciutat de València that still had a chance of winning the league (by the way, weeks later the colchoneros would finish runners-up in the Champions League in Milan). And despite the difficulty of the game, the players gave their all to at least make amends to their fans for their relegation to the silver division. Especially Juanfran. That day he said goodbye forever to his beloved team in the last match of his career at Orriols. And Levante won 2-1 after a thrilling comeback (after Fernando Torres had taken the lead in the first minute) culminated in the 89th minute with a great goal by Rossi. And, in this way, an already relegated Levante deprived the red and white team of that league.

On 8 May 2016 Juanfran played his last match as a Granota at the Ciutat de València and Levante UD won brilliantly against Atlético de Madrid by 2-1. On the left saying goodbye to his beloved fans after the match and on the right in a moment with Fernando Torres.

Although Juanfran’s last, last match defending the Levante shield was played a week later in Vallecas, closing that sad season for Granotas. The team from Madrid, Rayo, who were also relegated that year, ended up winning 3-1. And in his last appearance, the Valencian left a performance full of courage and love for his colours, his own.

Half an hour into that game Juanfran felt a fatal twinge, a muscle injury that stopped him in his tracks… But let’s let him himself, in his own words (in a later interview), tell us what he felt that day.… I knew I was injured and I knew I couldn’t continue playing… But there was something inside my little head telling me that, after 22 years playing, that I couldn’t go to the side of the pitch… I mean, I didn’t deserve that, right…? And something told me to come back even though I knew I couldn’t play… And that moment was… Unbelievable! I can’t thank the Rayo fans enough for the gesture they made…! And then, above all, the words that the referee dedicated to me, right…? What he said through the earpiece to his assistants… That he should take the necessary time because Juanfran deserves it! When you meet all these conditions, these requirements and you leave the pitch crying, it’s more because you feel how much you are appreciated (and what you are going to leave) than because of anything else…! And the 40 or 50-metre walk I made from the time I was injured to the changing rooms… That… You either live it or you have no words!

On 15 May 2016 Juanfran played his last match for Levante UD (22 and a half years had passed since his debut as a Granota), closing an extraordinary career with the club from Orriols.

And to round off the career of this legendary player, the club paid tribute to him in June 2016 with a well-deserved farewell ceremony at the Ciutat de València. At the event, the club also thanked all the people closest to Juanfran for the important role they played in helping the Valencian player achieve everything he did. The president of Levante UD Quico Catalán and Juanfran himself took the floor to verbalise the gratitude of the club towards him and of him towards all Levante fans.

On 28 June 2016 there was an emotional tribute at the Ciutat de València to Juanfran García where he confirmed his retirement as a footballer. On the left the Granota legend listening to president Quico Catalán and on the right with his wife and two daughters.

The “Fundación Levante UD” was in Santiago de Compostela on 16 March 2023 at the “Official Act of Rare Diseases”. And it did so through the Association of former Levante UD footballers. From left to right Juan Carrión (national president of the Spanish Federation for Rare Diseases – F.E.D.E.R.), H.M. Queen Letizia of Spain and former Granotes players Juanfran and Pallardó.