Being the fourth-highest scoring Spaniard in Spain’s top flight is, it seems, no guarantee of a look from the Coach of the national team. Lucas Perez, the star of Deportivo La Coruna’s storming first half of the season and a shining light in the desperate second that eventually saw Victor Sanchez del Amo sacked, didn’t get close to making the cut for Vicente del Bosque’s summer squad.
Del Bosque has at times been accused of picking old favourites over fresher, in-form options and it’s a criticism that does sometimes stand up. But the inclusion of Aritz Aduriz – the highest-scoring Spaniard in the Primera – in the late-season friendlies and eventually the tournament squad, years after his first cap, shows Del Bosque can be flexible, and leaving out both Diego Costa and Paco Alcacer suggests the trainer wasn’t entirely happy with the forward options he had during qualification.
Spain strolled to France at around the same time Lucas Perez was hitting the goal trail. He moved to Riazor in 2014, returning to Spain after coming through at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Vallecano, taking off for a spell in Ukraine, then to Greece, before landing in Galicia. The 27-year-old’s first season at Depor didn’t offer much indication of what was to come – six goals in 21 appearances, one in five, reasonable but not earth-shattering as relegation was avoided on the final weekend of the campaign in a 2-2 draw at champions Barcelona.
Lucas scored that day at Camp Nou, his first goal in seven games. At no point in 2015-16 did he go so long without finding the back of the net. The highlight was a run of seven goals in seven games between October 30 and December 19, matching the record of Depor legend Bebeto, set in 1993. The local boy, Perez a native of A Coruna, was on par with the Brazilian, and Depor were threatening the European places.
The goals didn’t exactly dry up thereafter but only five more followed by the end of the season. If Lucas had continued scoring at the same rate – the seventh of his seven in a row made it a total of 12 in 16 games – he’d not only have rivalled Aduriz as the most prolific Spaniard but also possibly Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez as the most lethal players of any nationality in the division. Lucas stopped scoring, Depor stopped winning, and Del Bosque looked elsewhere.
At 27 his time could still come. The next World Cup is only two years away and who knows if Aduriz, already 35, will still be scoring by then. You wouldn’t put it past him. Costa and Alcacer will surely come again, Borja Baston could establish himself and Nolito, in the 2016 squad as a winger-cum-forward, will still be around. So too will Alvaro Morata, Inaki Williams, Lucas Vazquez, Munir El Haddadi and more, the Spanish production line showing no signs of stopping. Lucas Perez may yet go down as another of international football’s nearly-men.