Iago Aspas: Testament of success outside the Premier League
The thrill and excitement of the Premier League make it a preferred destination for most top footballers. With millions of viewers across the globe, coupled with the financial backbone of English clubs, they rush to grace its green pitches with their expertise. However, not all tourists have pleasant memories of the country. Spanish forward Iago Aspas leads this grumpy group.
Outside his homeland, Aspas is fondly remembered for one sterile year with Liverpool. Having set the Spanish top-flight alight with 35 goals in two seasons for Celta Vigo, Brendan Rodgers turned to him in anticipation of Luis Suarez's almost inevitable departure to Barcelona in 2013. Perhaps Fernando Torres' success story in that part could have fuelled the move.
In the end, Aspas boarded the same train as Suarez to the Iberian Peninsula. On arrival, they parted ways and headed to Seville and Catalonia respectively. A woeful 15 appearances which produced just one goal funded that trip. A combination of factors was responsible. Most glaring, however, was his petit physique. Aspas' thin, wiry frame appeared inadequate against the muscle of Premier League defenders. His performances were totally lacklustre, sub-par and uninspiring.
Back home, where football is more silky skills than combat, Aspas is flourishing again. His rehabilitation process began at Sevilla in 2014. Even with Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro preferred, the Moaña-born player still managed to give a good account of himself. He hit the net nine times in the same number of starts, prompting Celta to return for his services.
Now, back at Balaídos where it all started, Aspas' reputation is swelling again. In 2015/16 season, Aspas racked up 18 strikes across all competitions, helping the club clinch a continental berth. He bettered that tally last term by adding eight more, leading them to Europa League semis.
As usual, just three players fared better: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo. Neymar and Antoine Griezmann didn't come anywhere close. Neither did more celebrated compatriots Aritz Aduriz and Alvaro Morata.
This season, he is well on track to surpass his previous achievements. Under Juan Carlos Unzué, Aspas' influence has risen a notch. He is now the focal point of the team irrespective of where he plays: middle, out wide left or right. And that has reflected positively on his game. He is closer to Messi than Ronaldo can dream of. His strike in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Eibar took his tally to 16. Six adrift of the Argentine, two above CR7. As in previous years, none of La Furia Roja's forwards come close.
Aspas is scoring all kinds of goals: headers, screamers as well as crappy and sometimes solo finishes like his second against Real Betis a fortnight ago. Interestingly, he waited till matchday eight before registering his first of the campaign. But since then, he's been on fire. The next nine games yielded an astonishing nine goals. Including strikes against top sides Barca and Valencia.
For Aspas, however, it isn't just about individual accolades. On several occasions, he's gone the extra mile for the team. He's been booked six times, affirming his work ethic. When scoring seemed almost impossible, the 30-year-old turned provider for his teammates. He's done that four times already.
Aspas' remarkable career upturn since returning to Spain proves one thing: the Premier League isn't necessarily the benchmark for success.