Every now and then one of those players that pushes the gap between opposing fans further apart comes along. When that player is with you, he’s the greatest asset your club has. When he’s against you, he’s the most irritating individual in football.
In this case, the player in question is Iago Aspas of Celta Vigo.
Stroll down to Balaidos these days and one name is sung louder than all the others, is on the back of more replica shirts than all the others and is talked about more than all the others. It’s of course the 25-year-old Aspas, having his debut season in Spain’s Primera Division.
The thing with him is, there is lots to admire. He’s a hard worker who runs himself into the ground for the team, and plays with the same energy and spirit in the 90th minute that he did in the first. Aspas though, is no headless chicken. He’s one of the most decisive players in Spain right now, creating a high volume of chances for his teammates and weighing in with two assists.
After all, though, he is a striker and is required to score goals – with five so far from 12 appearances – the Galician is doing what’s asked. So much so, the club handed him a new deal at the start of September until 2017 – it not only rewarded the player but warned off prying eyes, of which there are plenty.
Speaking to a scout the other week, conversation turned to the Celta striker, and we both made the same observation. Aspas’ approach was reminiscent to that of David Villa while plugging away with Real Zaragoza. The now Barcelona man was often pigeon-holed as a No 9, but his game was so unique it was naïve to call him just that.
It applies to Aspas too – he works the channels and looks to cut inside on his opponent but also operates on the last defender’s shoulder. Off the ball he shuts down opponents too, making life difficult when moving out of defence – it’s as if Aspas has studied Villa’s every move. He’s a striker, but, well, not.
A few things separate them, and one thing does more than most. Aspas is an irritant who likes to run his mouth, appeal for everything, and snap at ankles. This was apparent this past weekend, when despite having an impressive game against Real Mallorca, Aspas was hauled off by Coach Paco Herrera.
The decision was met with fury by Balaidos, who although have huge respect for Herrera, were saddened to see their idol removed. “It was one of those difficult times he has every now and then. I know him, and I did it to protect him – but above all the team,” explained the Coach. Aspas was already on a yellow, and had several run-ins with Mallorca players and more dangerously the officials.
Herrera couldn’t just speak ill of his Jekyll and Hyde striker though, and as swift as the criticism came so did the praise. When asked if he was there Lionel Messi, as many suggest, Herrera didn't hesitate. “For us, he is.” In one Press conference, he spoke of Aspas the monster, and Aspas the Messi.
As the figure of Aspas walked towards the bench, he kicked a packet of bottles, mumbled some expletives and gestured his disapproval. The fans saw all this, but still sang his name: “Iago Aspas, lo, lo, lo!”
Not only is he their Messi, but he’s actually one of them out there and that’s more important than anything. As long as he’s on that field, Celta fans know they have a chance. He’ll scrap, pull, shout but score goals too. And as much as they’ll resist to admit it, opposing fans would love him in their team too.