MADRID (AP) – Javi Poves finally achieved what most football players dream of, getting to taste the riches of the professional game.
For the 24-year-old Spaniard, that taste was sour enough to make him immediately walk away from the table.
Poves was a promising defender with Sporting Gijon and made his debut with the Spanish club's topflight team toward the end of last season. But instead of eyeing the future with promise, Poves' already disillusioned attitude toward the game only grew stronger as he got a firsthand look at being a top-level athlete.
So he made a decision that has turned heads all over Spain: he strode into the offices of Sporting in July and quit.
''It's all about money and players are just playing to distract people from what's happening in the real world,'' Poves told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. ''These things started driving me crazy and gradually I came to this decision.''
Poves' pronouncement stunned many in Spain, where football helps unite a country that is staggering through an economic crisis with unemployment at more than 20 percent. The national team is the World Cup and European champion and Spain's league advertises itself as the world's best thanks to clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid.
''It surprised me to see him retire so soon because he had all the qualities to keep playing,'' teammate David Barral, who shared a room with Poves on the road, was quoted as saying in La Nueva Espana newspaper. ''He has his own ideas and I have mine. But I support him because he's my friend, he's got a great heart.''
El Pais newspaper labeled him ''The Angry Footballer,'' while other media outlets called him anti-football because of his rejection of the game.
For Poves, however, it was simply a matter of putting his own values above money.
''My motivation in training fell off and the club wasn't happy for me to continue on like that. So I quit because of my ideas which, agreed, aren't so common (in football),'' Poves said.
He is now living at his parents home in Madrid, where he is mapping out his new future.
Poves made it clear that his decision wasn't meant to be a political statement, and that he doesn't want to be associated with the larger protest movements that have attracted angry young Spaniards - labeled as the ''indignados'' - who are frustrated by the lack of future prospects due to the dragging economic crisis.
''I'm just one person more. But because I'm a football player this decision causes more repercussions,'' Poves said. ''It's not normal but I have to accept it.''
In a week when Real Madrid drew headlines for signing a 7-year-old prospect, Poves said part of the reason he quit was because of the values young players are being taught by the clubs themselves.
''Players are seen as egoists who fight day-in, day-out just to make more money,'' Poves said. ''But that's not the players' fault. They've been programmed, educated to believe that and nothing else. They instill these values from a young age.''
Poves said Sporting teammates and officials - including coach Manolo Preciado - had been fair with him despite his outspoken views.
While the majority of his teammates didn't agree with his perspective, Poves' decision has still filtered into the changing room chatter going into the new season.
''Inside the locker room it's been pretty much a revolution this year,'' Poves said.
''Society is telling us not to believe in anything. So everyone thinks the only God alive is themselves,'' he said. ''I don't know if there is a God or not, but we can garner many important things from religion.
''(But) it's true, I'm going through a confusing time right now.''