Angry, upset, confused, frustrated and disillusioned.
Those are just a few of the words that could have described Roberto Soldado following his omission from Spain’s European Championship 2012 squad. The player who was nicknamed ‘The Soldier’ during a spell with Osasuna had lost the battle but had in mind the bigger picture, the war.
With 85 minutes gone and the score 0-0 between Georgia and Spain at Boris Paichadze Stadium in Tbilisi, Soldado readied his rifle and fired into the home net after receiving a Cesc Fabregas pass. The Valencia man wheeled away eyes closed, teeth gritted and arms outstretched – it was his release.
It was credit not just to Soldado for striking, but also Vicente del Bosque, who chose to keep his No 9 on the field. After all, he’d missed a glorious opportunity earlier in the game and perhaps should’ve been completing his brace on 85 minutes. Still, Del Bosque persisted to make sure this wasn’t a 45-minute extended cameo in which Soldado felt the pressure to impress, instead affording him time in which to put aside doubts over his much-derided mindset.
Soldado is a divisive figure. For those in Valencia, and of course many outside it, he’s worked hard to round his game and become one of Europe’s most deadly marksmen. Others see him as a moody figure who could potentially snap at any minute and whom grabs his goals in gluts before disappearing for weeks. It’s perfectly acceptable to say both sides have strong cases too.
If anyone in Spain needs to silence the doubters, then it’s Soldado. He should not take the criticism to heart either – it borders on staggering that David Villa still receives harsh criticism and that Raul Gonzalez even suffered too. Like both those players had, Villa with Valencia and Raul with Real Madrid, Soldado has a huge amount of responsibility on his shoulders and how he deals with it this season could be to his making – or self destruction.
When a €30m offer came swinging in from Tottenham Hotspur this summer, Valencia refused it, but so too did Soldado. “My loyalty to Valencia is total – I want to play here and there are many things to achieve with this great team,” he stated, and these were the words of a man who did indeed sign a new contract in the close season.
Words of such loyalty were refreshing given many players refuse to give straight answers, but the fact Soldado is a boy from the area and supported Los Che growing up added weight to his words. Captaining the club then, is a form of great pride for Soldado who idolised legendary Valencia striker Juan Sanchez as he ran through the streets of Gandia with a ball as a youngster.
There is no room for petulance or histrionics on the field, and as Soldado commented on the game against Celta Vigo this weekend he said there would be ‘no excuses’ if they should fail to win. He speaks like a leader at a club who have few – the band around his arm owing much to it – and his efforts on the field will need to give belief to the supporters who feel their club has slipped away in recent years.
A new Coach and a multitude of new playing staff, there remain few constants. Soldado is one of them, and it’s time for him to stand and deliver.