x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Soldado proving a real hit with Valencia

The Real Madrid child prodigy is finallya at a club where he is the main focus of attack, which is reaping plenty of goals for the Spanish striker.

A glance at the top scorers' list in this season's Champions League reveals several familiar names: Eto'o, Messi, Anelka, Ibrahimovic, Benzema and Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez. The odd one out is Valencia's Roberto Soldado, joint second with Messi and Gomez.

Soldado, 25, scored the only goal for Valencia in their 1-1 home draw with Schalke on Tuesday, his sixth in this season's Champions League. His man-of-the-match award indicates that he is far more than just a goal-poacher.

Soldado's total would be higher but for several missed chances at home to Manchester United. Such profligacy can be excused; despite being a born-and-bred Valencian, he had been playing only a month for the club he supported as a boy.

Roberto Soldado Rillo was a child prodigy. He was playing for Don Bosco CF, a small side near his Valencia home, when the former Real Madrid coach and current Spain manager Vicente del Bosque helped persuade him to move to the capital when he was just 14. Soldado went on to represent Spain at every age level from Under 15 upwards.

The star of Real's "B" team for four years, Soldado finished as top scorer three seasons in succession. He was the second division's top scorer in 2006, the year after his first-team debut.

That Real lost that day did not help his situation, but he scored for the club in a league game against Osasuna two months later. It would be at Osasuna where Soldado would make his mark.

The striker was loaned to the Pamplona-based club for the 2006/07 season. "The idea is to have a good season with a La Liga team scoring goals, and to develop as a footballer," he said. "I want to return to the Real first team. I chose Osasuna because it gives me the chance to play in the Champions League."

The loan deal worked well and he finished as top scorer with 11 goals in 30 league matches. He also played 11 European games and then returned to Madrid, signing a five-year contract. With the promise of the No 9 shirt, life looked even better as he was called up twice for Spain in Euro 2008 qualifiers.

Then, Soldado played in just five league games in the 2007/08 season under Bernd Schuster, who sold him to Getafe for €4 million (Dh19.9m) in June 2008.

Once again, he prospered away from Real. He scored 13 in his first season at Getafe and 16 in his second as he helped the unfashionable side into Europe.

Valencia signed Soldado for €10m from Getafe last June to replace David Villa, sold for four times that figure to Barcelona.

Soldado stands at just 5ft 7ins and usually plays at the head of a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he is also used alongside another new signing, Aritz Aduriz, in a 4-4-2 line-up. They are complemented by flying wingers and wing backs in Unai Emery's attacking team.

Given that they lost Villa and David Silva, who moved to Manchester City, Los Che are overachieving; sitting third in the table behind league leaders Barcelona and Real in second.

They qualified for the knock-out stage of the Champions League after taking points off Manchester United in the group stage, drawing at Old Trafford in December. Following the draw against Schalke, Soldado said: "We expected a better result, but we are an ambitious club. We'll go into the second leg confident that we can progress."

With Soldado in such good form, they have every chance, but today his thoughts will turn to the league game at home to Sporting Gijon.

 

Fixtures

Today

Valencia v Sporting Gijon 9pm

Real Madrid v Levante 11pm

Real Zaragoza v Atletico Madrid 1am

Tomorrow

Almeria v Deportivo La Coruna 8pm

Getafe v Racing Santander 8pm

Getafe v Racing Santander 8pm

Osasuna v Espanyol 8pm

Sevilla v Hercules 8pm

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao midnight

Monday

Real Sociedad v Mallorca midnight