This 2022 is a year of retirements in Spanish water polo. And not just any two. Dani López Pinedo and Iñaki Aguilar have been the guardians of the National Team since 2005. Both have alternated the goal after taking up the baton of the myth Jesús Rollán once he retired after the Athens Games in 2004. A paved road, which was not easy, but which in the long run has led to two brilliant careers in sports and comforting in personal terms. Pinedo and Aguilar have symbolized what healthy competition is in a sport of values like water polo.
“I’m proud of the career I’ve had,” says Pinedo (1980), a kind of Benjamin Button out of the water. His trajectory has been opposite to that of Aguilar. Before the Sydney Olympic Games (2000), at just 18 years old, Dani López Pinedo (1980) entered the dynamics of Joan Jané’s National Team or the Golden Generation, which had just won that medal at the World Cup in Perth in 1998 and would do the same in Fukuoka 2001. But the goal was closed and the doors were not opened until 2009. “It was difficult for me to get there and that makes you value more when that moment arrives,” he says. He experienced his first Games at the age of 32 (London 2012) and the last at the age of 41 (Tokyo 2020), where he was closer than ever to the medal. “We were fourth, we competed until the last day to get on the podium and, for us, it is as if we had done it. The young people saw that it was possible,” she explains.
Aguilar (1983), a psychologist and professor by profession, had better luck in his beginnings. He fought until the last day to attend the Athens Games (2004) although he was finally left out (“they opened the doors for me until they could”). Then, the goal was his until 2009 and shared with Pinedo until 2016. 11 years on the national team in which he won three medals, but for the Barcelonan what he keeps in his backpack are the experiences. “When we get together we don’t talk about plays or games, we talk about trips, jokes… We never start talking about games. All of that has been a learning experience on a personal level. When you go to work you realize that you have skills that you have been acquiring”, values.
Aside from their experiences with the National Team, both have experienced dozens of finals in the domestic league. Pinedo did not taste triumphs until he arrived at Atlètic-Barceloneta, while Aguilar has had to live the other side of the coin as a rival of the hegemonic team, always in the shadow of the champion in CN Terrassa, CN Sabadell or CN Barcelona. “I was left with the 2014 Euroleague in the magical Picornell, it was the best moment in the history of the club,” commented Pinedo, who can boast of being European club champion.
The pandemic has delayed both of their decisions. López Pinedo wanted to close the circle after the Tokyo Games, but 2021 was a year of closed pools. “I would have been left with the thorn, now is the time and I have enjoyed my last year,” he emphasizes, to which Aguilar agrees: “I was going to leave it when my time in Terrassa ended, but I felt sorry for the pandemic.” His farewell has coincided with the emergence of Unai Aguirre, barely 20 years old, who already played in Tokyo 2020 and whom everyone points out as the goalkeeper of the present and the future. His godfathers, Pinedo and Aguilar.
The future is Unai Aguirre, a “pure talent”
“He is a pure talent, but you have to take care of him. In the National Team you have to always be good,” explains Pinedo. “It’s the first time that I didn’t reach the level of a teammate. I thought, I’ll do it and I can, but it wasn’t possible,” he commented, while highlighting the ease in Spain to get goalkeepers out. It is Antonio Aparicio’s school in the men’s national team. “The goal in Spain has always been well covered. In the past, with us and in the future. Top-quality goalkeepers are emerging, the future is assured”he declared.
His stops have drawn a success story. They have never had conflicts or anger despite being two men and one destiny, the goal. “I’m older than Iñaki, but I learned a lot from him. As a teammate he’s a ten even though there was that competitiveness. What I learned the most was his perseverance. He’s as professional as a pine tree,” Pinedo said. Aguilar sees himself as a “goalkeeper by trade” and highlights his teammate’s level of demand and competitiveness, his management with other teammates. At the level of human and sporting quality, he has helped. I have improved a lot with him. It was a mirror for me. “You knew you had to be better than him to play.”, he reflected. Now they will no longer play or compete, but water polo will miss them.