Ask a Liverpool fan to name the first signing that Rafael Benitez made for the club when he took over as manager in 2004 and there’s a good chance that they’d guess Xabi Alonso or Luis Garcia. They’re on the right track as regards naming Spaniards, but the correct answer is a right-back called Josemi. He didn’t exactly put a huge dent in the Anfield balance sheet, costing just £2 million, a sum that would seem derisory for many current Championship players, but nor did he ever perform to any level which would suggest that he was a bargain.
It can be argued that Josemi’s hometown is more famous than him, having come from the holiday resort of Torremolinos. The next natural step up was nearby Malaga, who signed him as a teenager in 1998 and kept him in their B team for almost three years until he graduated to the senior side. His first season in the Malaga seniors was a real success, with the club earning an unexpected Intertoto Cup place (readers aged under 20 might need to consult Google on that competition) and Josemi regarded as one of the main reasons for them getting to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup in 2002.
Two more productive seasons with Malaga followed before Benitez, eager to put his own stamp on the decidedly ordinary Liverpool squad bequeathed to him by Gerard Houllier, made Josemi his first signing upon taking the reins at Anfield in June 2004. It was a case of starting small before moving on to secure bigger names and, while the Spanish right-back was a regular in the team at first, that would soon change. A red card at Fulham in October 2004 led to a suspension which allowed the far more consistent and reliable Steve Finnan to reclaim his place in the first XI. Once the Irishman got back in, it was to the detriment of Josemi, who was not defensively great, had minimal pace and made a habit of going into the referee’s notebook – indeed, during his Liverpool career, he was booked on average once every three matches.
Even in the memorable Champions League triumph of 2004/05, Josemi fell out of the picture having played in most of the group matches. The only way you’d even know he was in Istanbul on that most glorious of nights was by him taking a prime position between Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher during the trophy presentation, draped in a Spanish flag. In an overloaded 2005/06 season for Liverpool, Josemi played just 12 times before, at the end of 2005, he joined Villarreal in a move that saw Jan Kromkamp go in the opposite direction. He would again enjoy regular game time with the Yellow Submarine, but was ineligible to play in their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2006 and featured only once when they incredibly finished runners-up in La Liga two years later.
In 2008 he transferred to Real Mallorca, where he was a first team regular for two seasons, the second of which saw the club from the Balearic Islands finish a lofty fifth in the Spanish top flight. He didn’t stick around for their Europa League campaign in 2010/11, though, instead moving to Greek club Iraklis. His one-year spell in Greece ended in acrimony for his club, who were demoted from the top division due to financial irregularities. Josemi then returned to his homeland for another year, taking a step down to the second tier with Cartagena, before retracing his steps back to Greece for another two years, firstly with Levadiakos and then with Xanthi.
The 2014/15 season would be Josemi’s last as a professional footballer and he spent it in India with Atletico Kolkata. It was an Indian summer for the Spaniard in more ways than one as he enjoyed one of the best seasons of his nomadic career, turning in some fine performances and briefly captaining the team in the injury-enforced absence of the regular skipper…a certain Luis Garcia, a team-mate of his from that spell at Liverpool a decade previously. He retired from playing in the autumn of 2016 and earlier this year he returned to Malaga in the role of match delegate.
While the high point of Josemi’s career came at Liverpool, his time at the club was largely a disappointing one and few were complaining about Finnan being Benitez’s preferred option at right-back.