Joan Sabaté, better known as ‘Maradona of La Rambla’,  beat two world records and became one of Barcelona’s most beloved personalities.

Ten years have passed since Joan Sabaté, known as Maradona of La Rambla, showed his football skills in front of the Canaletas Fountain, at Las Ramblas in Barcelona. The street is not the same without him. Locals and travellers miss this football master. A man who beat two world records: touching the ball 8,700 times in an hour sitting on the floor and 16,000 times without interruption.

Maradona of La Rambla has been one of the main attractions of Barcelona’s main street for twenty years. His story began when, in his words, “there were two living statues.” He soon became an icon for both locals and foreigners. Sabaté made sure they recognized him wearing the official shirt of both FC Barcelona’s or Catalonia National Football team. That’s why his favorite place to juggle the ball was the Canaletas Fountain.

Sabaté worked as a football player at Unión Deportiva Ibiza-Eivissa from 1965 to 1966. However, when the renovation arrived, he preferred going back to Barcelona, ​​his hometown. There he worked as a laborer until a few years later, he lost his job. When that happened, he recalled an anecdote with his coach: “One training day,  I went to the middle of the field and began touching the ball. Players stopped to stare at me and formed a group.  (…) The coach whistled and shouted ‘let’s train’, but nobody listened. He looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘kid, I’ve never seen anything like this before. If someday you find yourself unemployed, go to Las Ramblas, put a plate to beg and I guarantee you’ll earn enough money to live”.

el maradona de la rambla
Joan Sabaté, Maradona of La Rambla. Source | ‘Está pasando’.
“Save Maradona of La Rambla”

In 2005 Barcelona City Council passed a regulation forbidding touching the ball in La Rambla. For this reason, the police asked Sabaté to leave Canaletas. He refused and his story  appeared in the media. He was not alone. Neighbors, family, friends and fans created the platform Save Maradona of La Rambla to help him. They collected 9,500 signatures so that he could continue working in Barcelona’s main street.

Sabaté retired three years later, in 2008. He was 65 years old and considered that his time was over. He organized a farewell event in which he touched the ball twenty times-one for each year in La Rambla.  Today, he is working in a museum about the history of his life. La Rambla, especially Canaletas, misses him.