- Alex Sanchez played in Spain’s La Liga despite being born without a right hand
- Became an unintentional role model
- “I have a unique platform to spread a positive message”
Alex Sanchez is different from most. He enjoyed a successful career in his native Spain, completing a childhood dream by turning out for local side Real Zaragoza in La Liga, and then at Osasuna. It was a success that was earned despite what most would consider a major impediment, with Sanchez having been born without a right hand.
But it is not only that physical distinction which makes Sanchez stand out from the pack. Football may be his main passion, but the 30-year-old has a rounded perspective on life away from the sometimes tunnel-view confines of the game at the top level.
Sanchez has successfully completed a law degree, has a PhD in human rights, and is now seeking a master’s in politics. Writing a book on sport intertwining with human rights is his next project. At the same time he has become, inadvertently, a role model for youngsters feeling constrained by an impediment.
At the age of 28, Sanchez decided he wanted a new life experience. Long consumed by wanderlust, he unexpectedly made the move to Sydney to play in Australia’s second tier competition.
“I wanted to try new things in my life and it (moving) was the best decision I have ever made,” Sanchez told FIFA.com about moving Down Under to join Sydney Olympic. “I wanted to test myself. I wanted to learn English.
“I try to travel around the city and learn as much as I can about Australia. I consciously didn’t gravitate towards the local Spanish community, purely because I wanted to integrate. Now I have made many good friends, including one of the best I ever made in my life.”
Sanchez immediately settled in Australia both on and off the field, last year helping Sydney Olympic end their title drought as the team's top scorer.
A free-running striker, Sanchez debuted for Zaragoza as a teenager with many media outlets at the time describing him as the first professional player with only one hand. Orlando Pride full-back Carson Pickett has latterly gained attention for overcoming a similar obstacle.
“My initial experience was bad for me, in terms of media and trying to sell newspapers through my story,” said Sanchez. “But the positive was a lot of people, or mothers with kids with disabilities, came to me and thanked me for inspiring their kids.
“As a teenager all I really wanted was to be recognised for my abilities as a player and what I did on the pitch. Now I’m older I have realised I have a unique platform to spread a positive message.
“In recent years, I have been thinking of setting up a foundation to help people with disabilities through sport. I think sport has made me so happy and helped in my life. It is something I’m grateful for.”
Sanchez believes sport is a perfect tool for integration and aiding acceptance. “At school I was one of the most popular kids because I was good at football,” he said.
“I think it helped me be outgoing and just be happy. Sport can help people integrate into society in many ways, and it is a really useful tool.
“I have never focused on my hand, and I think that is because of sport. I was never thought about it in terms of it being a negative or positive, because you don’t always know the decisions other people make about you. This has just always been who I am.
“To be a role model is a beautiful thing. There was no such role model when I was a kid, so if I can help I would be happy.”