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Xabi Prieto engrained in Txuriurdin Legend

Saturday 2nd September 2017
Real Sociedad's captain, Xabi Prieto, recently made his 500th appearance for the club. Can he cap his legacy by bringing glory to Anoeta?

Francesco Totti. Carles Puyol. Ryan Giggs. All completed their careers at just one football club. Despite limited silverware, Xabi Prieto has similarly remained loyal to Real Sociedad, choosing to be a one-club man.

His 500 appearances rank fifth among one-club men still turning out for their team. As you'd expect, it puts him in good company. Andres Iniesta and Daniele De Rossi have also played exclusively for their clubs, Barcelona and AS Roma.
Born in Sociedad's home city, San Sebastian, Xabier Prieto Argarate joined the side when he was 14. Prieto progressed from the youth side all the way to iconic status with the famous Blue-and-White of the Basque Country.

It hasn't always been an easy choice. He stuck with the club when they were relegated in 2007, then fought for three years to return to La Liga. Constantly rebuffing interest from stronger clubs endeared him to the Txuriurdin.

Puyol, Iniesta, and Giggs' loyalty wasn't tested as harshly. Their drawers are filled with winners medals. Real Sociedad has been far less successful than Barca and Manchester United. The sole honour Prieto can claim is a Segunda Liga title won in 2010.

Prieto's dusty trophy cabinet has not impeded his standing within the footballing community. If anything, it has enhanced his reputation among those who understand the nature of football beyond the elite sides.

None of that implies he hasn't shown up in the bigger games. Quite the contrary.

His goals against Aberdeen in the 2014-15 Europa League were the reason Sociedad made it past the third qualifying round. Two strikes in the away leg ensured progression.

His performances against Real Madrid are also memorable. He once scored a brace in a 4-1 win. More recently, and appropriately bittersweet, his first professional hat-trick came at long last against the Merengues, but in a 4-3 loss.
Anticipation for his 500th appearance, last weekend, was at a fever pitch. Buoyant after a 3-2 away win against Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad played host to Villarreal in the new season's second game. The entire team looked up for the occasion from kick off.

The Blue and White controlled the football in the early stages. Villarreal mounted little opposition to win it back. Willian Jose found the net with just 25 minutes on the clock, making it two goals in as many games for last year's Brazilian signing. That set the Anoeta Stadium rocking. Yet, the best still to come.

Nine minutes later, with the home side still in ascendance, Willian made a cross from within the box. It fell to Raúl Navas, who in turn slid it across to the unmarked quincentennial man. Prieto calmly slotted home for Sociedad's second. Stadium and player intertwined in a moment that will long stand in Anoeta faithful's memories.
Juanmi joined the fun before half-time. After the break, Real coasted to a 3-0 victory. Villarreal were permitted to look a bit better but could not penetrate the Anoeta's intense atmosphere and Sociedad's passionate determination to see out the result.

Although the season has seen just two games played, supporters' will be further elated to see their club currently atop the table. Given Prieto's decent performances against Real Madrid in the past and its work thus far in 2017-18, the league title pipe dream seems less smoky. If the club continues like this, with Prieto rallying the side, there is no reason to think it cannot challenge for a Champions League place.

It's a big year for Real Sociedad. This season marks their first European competition, excluding qualification rounds, in four campaigns. The club returns to the continent, flying the flag for the Basque Country again. While Prieto is 33, his imperious leadership will be critical to the side's fortunes, both domestically and on the continent.

Prieto's contract expires at the end of the season. No one dreams he will sign elsewhere. Supporters do worry 2017-18 will mark an end to his playing career. That only increases the urgency to do well, to give their Txuriurdin legend a proper, deserved farewell.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.


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