Imagine being asked to answer the question ‘Who is the best defender your country has ever produced?’ Which defender would you pick? In Andorra, people would say ‘Ildefons Lima’ without hesitation. Lima is considered a legend in Andorran football for all the things he achieved during his career, not much silverware; but rather than that, much respect from the opposition players. He is one of the rare few players to have played professionally outside Andorra. In case you have never heard of the country before, Andorra is a landlocked country situated in the eastern Pyrenees with France to the north and Spain to the south. Such is his reputation in Andorra that he still plays football at the age of 40 for both the club and the country. Now, if the interest is peaked, we shall learn more about the man, the myth, the legend that is Ildefons Lima.
His early life is pretty ordinary, contrary to his career. Ildefons Lima Solá was born on 10 December 1979 in Barcelona, Catalonia, to an Andalusian father and a Catalan mother. He is also the younger brother of Antoni ‘Toni’ Lima. He began his youth career with CF Damm, a football club in Barcelona founded in 1954 that is dedicated to youth football, a Catalan version of Wallsend of some sorts. His debut as a senior came with FC Andorra, a football club in the third tier of Spanish domestic football. Two years later, he went to play for RCD Espanyol’s B team, and then, for UE Sant Andreu. In 2001, he departed for a Greek football club by the name of Ionikos.
Now is the time to look at his later club career. Lima went to AO Ionikos Nikaias along with his brother Toni, who were playing in the first division of Greek football. Unfortunately for him, he left the club without playing a single minute for them. He, then, went on to play for the Liga MX outfit, CF Pachuca. Again, he struggled to make an impact in Mexico, scoring once in three games in the process. Ildefons went back to Spain to play for Las Palmas. He also spent time with Poli Ejido, and Rayo Vallecano. In 2005, he departed Spain again; this time for Italy. He played four seasons for US Triestina Calcio, an Italian lower league football club. Then, in 2009, he was transferred to the Swiss Super League side, AC Bellinzona.
Two years later, Lima went back to Triestina for one further year, playing for ‘I Giuliani (The Julians)‘ until the second disbandment in their history. 2012 saw the return to FC Andorra for ‘Ilde’, where he had begun his senior career in 1997. In two seasons with the Andorran-Spanish club, he amassed an average of one goal per three games – scoring 15 times in 45 matches for the club in his second spell. In 2014, he moved to Andorran domestic football for the first time in his career by going to FC Santa Coloma. His most memorable moments with the club include 4 league championships and the goal he scored against a football club from Armenia, FC Banants, in a Champions League first qualifying round match. That goal partially helped Santa Coloma qualify for the next round. ‘It was amazing,’ said Ildefons Lima, in an interview with Charles Dunst from These Football Times. ‘To win a Champions League and pass the round was amazing. I still have my goosebumps. It was amazing, one of the best feelings that I have ever felt on a football field.’ The goal that sent FCSC there, though, came from a goalkeeper named Eloy Casals. Lima is now playing for Inter d’Escaldes, having moved there in 2018.
Ildefons Lima is one of those players who is more renowned for his international career rather than his club career. ‘Ilde’ made his international debut on 22 June 1997 against Estonia in a friendly, a 4-1 loss in Kuressaare, Estonia. In the same match, he became Andorra’s second-ever goalscorer after Agusti Pol, who had scored against the same opposition the previous year. Ildefons also broke the world record for the longest international career, a record previously held by Ecuador’s Iván Hurtado, by five days when he played against Turkey on 17 November 2019 (22 years and 148 days). Lima won more caps and scored more goals than any other player to have ever donned the Andorran shirt (127 caps, 11 goals) ‘Now I’m at 111 (caps) and I am so happy,’ said Lima in the same interview with Charles Dunst when asked about his international career. ‘Eleven goals is very difficult. I think a few weeks ago, with a friend, we were looking and Gerard Piqué has scored less than me.’ Throughout his career, Ildefons Lima scored against the likes of the Republic of Ireland, Wales, and Belgium. He is the second player ever to have reached 100 caps for Andorra after Óscar Sonejee.
His style of play can be summarised as a bit of an uncanny one for a defender, given that he scored 57 times in 547 appearances for both club and the country. These stats might suggest that he could well be a central midfielder, not a centre-back. He was even deployed as a striker during his first stint in Triestina by the demand of the then-club chairman, Flaviano Tonellotto. ‘My first game with the Primavera team [youth team] was as a forward,’ told Ildefons to an interviewer. ‘We won that match, and you [the interviewer] know the rest.’ That experiment, however, did not bear its fruits. In his first spell with ‘I Giuliani’, he scored only once in 79 appearances for the club. He could have scored more goals had he been deployed as a centre-back, one can only guess.
Nevertheless, Ildefons Lima is still going strong at the age of 40, showing no signs of backing down from his first passion anytime soon. Thanks to his involvement, football in Andorra has considerably improved achievement-wise, such as FC Santa Coloma’s qualification to UEFA Champions League’s second qualifying round and the recent victories of ‘El Tricolors’ against Hungary, and, then, Moldova. ‘I hope that young people see that someone in Andorra has been able to play for so many years at a good level and see it as a great challenge,’ tells Ilde on his legacy to football in Andorra. ‘I want to compete until the forces allow me and I want to continue adding points with Andorra.’ As for Andorran domestic football, the first division is attracting more and more foreigners than ever. Including the likes of the ex-Zaragoza striker from Serbia, Goran Drulić and the Deportivo La Coruña and Villarreal legend and a one-time World Cup winning-Spanish full-back, Joan Capdevila, players from Chile to Mali come to the eastern Pyrenean to play football, albeit as amateurs. People seem to be very optimistic about the future of football in Andorra.