“I just hope Barcelona don’t try to sign him!” jested Ernesto Valverde when asked about veteran striker Aritz Aduriz. The 34 year old is in his third spell with the historic Basque club and has enjoyed an incredibly prolific three years back in the red and white stripes of Athletic Club.
This season he has hit a magnificent 20 goals in 20 appearances, which is more than Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar. Incredibly, this season Aduriz looks sharper, fitter and stronger than ever when many critics had tipped the Spaniard to become a victim of age after a stellar season last year.
Returning to the starting line-up for the Supercopa tie against Barcelona, he hit a magnificent hat-trick to steer Athletic to their first silverware in over 30 years. In fact, he played so well that Barcelona fans applauded him as he raised the trophy. There is a notion that this was partly down to the fact that both Catalunya and the Basque region both want independence from Spain and have formed a kinship, but we’ll stick to the romanticism for now.
Aduriz’ relationship with the Spanish national team has been a strange one. Initially called up during 2010 when he was with Valencia, Aduriz never had the chance to impress Del Bosque, only making a fleeting substitute appearance against Lithuania. Ironically, Aduriz was playing second fiddle to Fernando Llorente the very player he replaced at Athletic. Del Bosque, as is well documented, is a fiercely loyal man who trusts the core members of his squad to the hilt, and clearly Aduriz did not offer enough for Del Bosque to trust him. This would explain why so many of those who failed in Brazil two years ago still feature in the squad today.
However, in those two years Aduriz has taken over the spot off Spain’s premier striker from a certain Brazilian-turned-Spaniard, Diego Costa. This term Costa has failed to hit the back of the net on a number of occasions and also failed to hit Jose Mourinho with a bib. Despite this, and Aduriz registering 80 goals in three calendar seasons, which brings him on to 111 goals for Athletic, he has largely been ignored by Del Bosque. Instead, debuts have been given to Paco Alcacer, Alvaro Morata and Nolito in a bid to solve Spain’s centre-forward crisis.
Should Aduriz continue to out-perform the rest of the Spanish squad, then Del Bosque will almost certainly be tempted to hand him his first cap in five years. Despite fans calling for Aduriz’ return Del Bosque has so far resisted, being quoted as saying that reports of a call up “remain speculation [until he is with the squad]”.
This weekend the irrepressible striker hit another stunning domestic hat-trick, this time against Rayo Vallecano. The perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot, header – which became his third of the season. Aduriz represents a package that can only be described as the complete striker; strength, height and athletic ability. But the underrated part of his game is his link-up play. So much of Athletic’s play comes from their front man and his ability to bring others into the game. Raul Garcia, finally, joined Athletic in the summer and his partnership with Aduriz is causing significant trouble for opposition defences, early signs are good for the pair. With Iker Muniain returning to full-fitness things are destined to get better.
Aduriz, though, presents a challenge for Athletic. Once his contract runs out at the end of next season, there is the almost insurmountable task of replacing the striker. Their reliance on his goals has propelled Athletic to the Champions League, final of the Copa del Rey and victory in the Supercopa over Barca. But for now, lets enjoy Aduriz in his stunning prime.
About the Author – Ben Jarman
Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.