Europa League: Andres Guardado explains why he’s ‘fallen in love’ with Real Betis under Manuel Pellegrini

Andres Guardado is living a dream with Real Betis right now ahead of Thursday’s UEFA Europa League knockout playoffs second leg against Zenit Saint Petersburg which sees Los Beticos bring a 3-2 lead back to their Benito Villamarin home in Seville. You can stream the match at 3 p.m. ET on Paramount+.

The 35-year-old scored one himself in last week’s Russian success, restoring the Spaniards’ lead before halftime after a wild opening 30 minutes at Krestovsky Stadium and the veteran Mexican star is consumed by the Verdiblanco project at present.

“Betis is a special club,” Guardado told CBS Sports’ Jenny Chiu exclusively. “Anyone that loves soccer and is passionate, I invite them to come witness it live. Come to the stadium, live Seville, and the Beticos of Seville because it is very hard to explain. I think that people do not have any idea, that they cannot imagine the passion there is for Real Betis — not only here in Seville but in all of Spain.”

Guardado has made a home away from home over the years in LaLiga with a lengthy spell with Deportivo La Coruna followed by a stint with Valencia CF before brief moves to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

However, few of those recognized clubs have felt as home for the man from Guadalajara as Betis does right now with Manuel Pellegrini’s men third in the league, one step away from the Copa de Rey final and eyeing a round of 16 Europa League berth against Zenit this week.

“I have been at Valencia and Deportivo,” Guardado explained. “Valencia is another one of those clubs that is considered important in Spain, but it did not give me that kind of magnetism that Betis has. You go to Barcelona, and you find Beticos there, you go to Madrid, and you will find 2,000 Beticos there. Pamplona, Bilbao, San Sebastian — there are Betis fans all over Spain. It is a club that brings out a lot of passion everywhere, that has a lot of fanfare.”

When Guardado moved to Seville to join Betis back in 2017, the Mexico international was looking for a place to settle and enjoy his soccer after three clubs in as many different countries across five years having spent that long at Riazor in his Depor days.

Now, the Atlas youth academy graduate could not imagine it any other way and has fallen in love with Betis as a club, an institution, the fans and the city itself with an exciting new chapter being written under Pellegrini’s guidance.

“For me to be playing here has been one of the greatest decisions in my career and I am going on six years here,” said an emotional Guardado. “I have become a Betico for life and I have fallen in love with this team, with the institution and its passion. I have identified with a lot of the values held here. From the singing of the anthem when the team comes out to the passion in which they experience, it is something that the soccer aficionado will really enjoy. That is the truth!”

Guardado feels that people who question Betis’ relative lack of silverware in a country dominated by powerhouse names such as Real Madrid and Barcelona are missing the point and that Verdiblancos are more than just a club — they are a way of life to their supporters and those who experience it.

“The most curious thing is that a lot of people do not get it because they say ‘Betis has not ever won anything important, they won two Copa del Rey trophies, a league title like a 1,000 years ago, it is not a club that is constantly in Champions League, it is not a league that is not constantly in Europe. Like, why is this special?'” he said. “I think it is precisely that which makes this special — they do not need to win anything to have this kind of fanfare and passion for this team. It is something that really is contagious for anyone that loves soccer.”

Guardado and his Betis teammates are on a busy run with Zenit on Thursday before the Seville derby this weekend which could see Los Beticos close the gap on their bitter rivals in LaLiga’s second spot before next week’s Copa del Rey semifinal second leg against Rayo Vallecano with a 2-1 lead.

Given the fondness for Betis across Spain, their fanbase should swell in size with neutrals wishing them all the best as they seek their first major silverware since the 2004-05 Copa del Rey which featured a young Joaquin who is set to retire this summer as a club legend.

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