x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Roberto Soldado soldiers on

Marcotti's man It may be a cliche, but Getafe's Spanish international forward really has worked his way to the top.

Roberto Soldado shields the ball from a Sevilla defender in a Copa del Rey match last month.
Roberto Soldado shields the ball from a Sevilla defender in a Copa del Rey match last month.

"Work hard. Do everything they tell you. Eventually you'll succeed." A cliche handed down by our elders? Perhaps. But Roberto Soldado would probably agree, because, for much of his life, he did everything right. He still does. Watch him play and you will see movement, intelligence and textbook technique, enough to turn him into a viable Primera Liga centre forward. What you won't see, however, is a star.

Because there are liz0mits to what you can learn, the pendulum in the "nature v nurture" debate does not swing all the way to the latter. If it did, he'd be one of the best strikers in the world. It wasn't always like that. Blessed with good - but not great - skills, his application and his understanding were always his strong points. He had a knack for the simple, just being in the right place at the right time, and he translated it into goals, plenty of them.

Having set multiple records for his local side, Don Bosco, on the outskirts of Valencia, he moved to Real Madrid's legendary cantera at the age of 15. It was supposed to be his finishing school and, in many ways, it was. At 17 he made his debut appearances for Real Madrid B, scoring seven times, mostly from the bench. The following year he became a regular as the side battled for promotion to Segunda A, the second tier of Spanish football. They narrowly missed out, but Soldado nevertheless was among the leading scorers with 16 goals.

That summer, he joined up with the Spanish Under 19 side at the European Championship in Switzerland. He guided a gifted side who included future Spanish internationals such as Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos and David Silva all the way to the final, where they defeated Turkey, 1-0. By this point, Real fans were genuinely excited. He could be the next great striker to come out of the cantera after the emergence of Raul a decade earlier.

Their enthusiasm was further stoked the following season, as he scored 21 goals in Real Madrid B's triumphant promotion run to the Segunda A. The pundits predicted it was just a matter of time before he'd be called up to the first team and they weren't wrong. He made several appearances in the Champions League and ended up turning out 11 times in La Liga. All this while doing double duty with Real Madrid B, scoring 19 goals along the way.

That summer, Fabio Capello rolled into town. "He needs to play," was his verdict on Soldado. So off he went on loan to Osasuna, where he immediately was given his own nickname - "Gudari", which means "soldier" - and won a place in the hearts of supporters. He scored 11 goals, many of them real gems, but, according to one critic, the kind of strikes that "are the result of practice, not genius". The following season he returned to Real, but attracted little interest - and even less opportunities - from manager Bernd Schuster.

He played just 137 minutes of league football that year as the club pretty much wrote him off. The things he did well were things that can be taught. Better to find a guy with natural skills and teach him the other stuff, rather than this Soldado guy, because you can't teach things like skill and pace. That was the message from above and so he was unceremoniously shipped out in the summer of 2008, sent to little Getafe in exchange for ?4million (Dh20m).

And then a funny thing happened. Hard work won out. He scored 13 goals as Getafe managed to avoid relegation. The simplicity of his game, so underappreciated at Real, became prized on a team like Getafe, with their no-frills approach. The scoring has continued this year - he has 12 already - helping the club solidly establish itself in mid-table. He has proved his point. You don't need to look like a star or act like a star to make it in Spanish football.

Maybe the elders were right. Maybe "hard work" really does bring great rewards. sports@thenational.ae