Ildefons Lima On Representing Andorra And Being An International Football Record Breaker

Ildefons Lima On Representing Andorra And Being An International Football Record Breaker

An interview with Ildefons Lima, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You won 137 caps for Andorra during an international career that spanned 26 years from 1997 to 2023. It makes you the longest-serving international footballer in the history of men’s football. How proud are you to hold such an honour?

“I am very proud because playing football at a good level for twenty-six years is hard enough but to do so at international level is special.

“When I started in 1997, I could never have dreamed of playing for my country for over a quarter of a century.

“Making one appearance for Andorra was a dream come true so to go on and make the number that I did was beyond my wildest dreams.

“Walking out at iconic stadiums across the world representing Andorra was the greatest privilege and I will never forget those experiences.

“Now that I have retired, I look back with sheer pride knowing that it was the right time for me to retire from football given the physical and mental strain that it puts on your body and mind.”

Which memories from your time with the national team would you pick out as your personal favourites?

“One of my earliest memories was facing – then World Champions – Brazil in 1997 and facing Ronaldo Nazario, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos among others.

“With Andorra, we were only at the start of our journey as a national team while Brazil were the greatest team on the planet. It was a surreal experience and such an exciting moment for me.

“France went on to dethrone Brazil as world champion in 1998 with great players such as Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps and we faced them while they were world champions too.

“We played them in Paris at a sold-out Stade de France and they had the World Cup trophy on display for the fans. That was another incredible moment.

“Since then, I have faced many strong footballing nations with Andorra over the duration of my career whereas back in the late 1990s; it was a new experience for me and for the country as a whole.

“I would also have to pick out our victory against Hungary from 2017. It was the greatest night of my career to be able to defeat such a nation alongside my teammates.

“No one gave us a chance going into the game but we proved everyone wrong with a victory and a clean sheet against a strong European nation with a great footballing heritage.”

You have swapped shirts with many world-class footballers over the years. Which shirts stand out to you as being your favourite mementoes?

“I have over 1,300 shirts and they all mean a lot to me because I was grateful to every player that swapped shirts with me.

“Of course, the shirts of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Andriy Shevchenko are amazing to have.

“However; having the shirt of Mario Frick of Liechtenstein means just as much to me as those great players. He was a great player for a small national team like ourselves.

“I am passionate about football and I love my short collection. I realise how lucky I am.

“The first shirt that I swapped was against Latvia in 1997 and the last shirt that I swapped was for Granit Xhaka against Switzerland in 2023. All great memories and mementoes to have.”

You represented clubs such as Rayo Vallecano and UD Las Palmas during your club career. How did playing for clubs such as those compare with your time with the national team?

“It was amazing to represent two important clubs such as those in Spain.

“Las Palmas are an island club and as such, the fans are incredibly passionate and have such a unique connection with the team.

“It was a pleasure to represent them and I gave my all for the club during my time there.

“Similarly, Rayo Vallecano is a unique club as they are the third team in Madrid after Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

“Playing for them was also unique as we were the big underdogs in the city and we were a working-class team that played for the fans to make them happy.

“I loved playing for Rayo Vallecano and living in Madrid in equal measure. Special times.”

You also played club football in your native Andorra, Mexico and Italy. What are your standout memories of those experiences?

“Mexico was tough culturally for me. People assume that because the country is Spanish speaking it must be easy to adapt but it was not.

“That being said, I was proud to play for Pachuca even if it was a tough time for me personally.

“I absolutely loved playing in Italian football. I played in Serie B and was able to face historic clubs such as Juventus, Napoli and Torino during my time there.

“One of my favourite games in Italy was against Roma on the Coppa Italia as I was able to play against Francesco Totti who was a player that I admired a lot. I loved that period of my career.”

Finally, Ildefons, given your history as a footballer in Andorra and beyond, would you like to be a manager in the future?

“Maybe, one day.

“I have my UEFA A license already and I will do my Pro licence in future but for now, I want to rest.

“I am 44 and coming off the back of a long career as a player so I want to relax, recuperate then plan my next step carefully.

“One thing that is certain is that I love football and my national team so in the future, I would like to continue to give more to football and to Andorra in some capacity.”