Roberto Soldado should never have been made a Tottenham player.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but from the moment of his official £27million signing for the north Londoners in summer 2013, he immediately struck as a striker who would struggle with the pace, power and intensity of the Premier League, and resultantly require some sensational talent to overcome it.
Although few doubt the pedigree of a Spain international with seven goals in just twelve appearances for his country and 100 La Liga strikes under his belt, throughout spells with Real Madrid, Osasuna, Getafe and Valencia, it’s continually proved insufficient to conquer those barriers of physicality. And for Tottenham particularly, the 29 year-old always felt like a poor fit; after all, this is a striker who could count all of his goals from outside the box for Valencia on just a single hand from a total of 81, joining a club that averaged the second-most long-shots per match in the Premier League throughout the two campaigns prior to his arrival.
Tottenham are now left with their very own version of Fernando Torres; a centre-forward once on the cusp of greatness, reduced to attempting square passes around goalkeepers instead of blasting the ball into the back of the net, as his confidence reaches a lower low than his meager Premier League tally of just seven in 45 appearances. Soldado’s strike-rate for Spurs, one per 4.6-games, and Torres’ for Chelsea, one per 3.9 games, are frighteningly similar, whilst their nationality and slight uplift of form in European competitions provide further similarities.
Now just three months away from the summer transfer window, Soldado’s howler against Fiorentina yesterday evening was probably the final nail in the coffin of his Tottenham career. Spurs visited Stadio Artemio Franchi in need of an away goal after a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, and when the opportunity to open the scoring fell to the Spaniard, he choked in quite spectacular fashion, passing the ball to Nacer Chadli across the Fiorentina box rather than taking a dig, only for it to be swept up rather comfortably by the Italian side’s No.1, Neto. The Lilywhites went on to lose the Europa League tie 2-0.
But what becomes of Soldado between now and then? How should Mauricio Pochettino respond to the striker’s latest act of ill-confidence? Is he now doomed to the reserves until the summer, or does the Spaniard deserve yet another chance to silence his critics?
Well, Soldado’s surprise start on Thursday was undoubtedly interlinked with the recent heroics of Harry Kane, a 21-year-old with 24 goals this season, including seven in the Europa League, that’s made a potentially dangerous amount of consecutive Premier League starts in recent months for a player so young. With the Capital One Cup final on Sunday, sparing the England U21 was a smart strategy, and there will likely be further occasions this season when the sheer intensity of Tottenham’s campaign catches up with him again, resulting in a well-deserved, much-needed rest.
A few weeks ago, the vast majority of fans would have selected Soldado over Emmanuel Adebayor – who was booed off by the White Hart Lane faithful against Sheffield United in January – as Kane’s stand-in, but the former Valencia star’s clanger against Fiorentina might just have convinced them and Pochettino otherwise.
Although the Togo international is a notoriously mercurial figure, a return of 96 goals throughout his English top flight career, including eleven league goals last season, speaks for itself in regards to Adebayor’s compatibility with the Premier League. Likewise, in comparison to Soldado, bouts of low confidence have never been Adebayor’s problem; rather, his temperamental arrogance and subsequent work-shy attitude. The 31-year-old can be monumentally frustrating when refusing to apply himself fully, but he’s got Tottenham out of some tight spots before and has more than enough quality to do so again.
Meanwhile, even if Soldado is to return at some point this season, he needs time away from the limelight, to distance himself from the Fiorentina affair and regain some much-needed confidence. Thursday night felt like rock-bottom for the striker, so in theory, and with the Capital One Cup final representing Spurs’ last pressurised knock-out fixture of the season, it can only go upwards from here.
But it’s certainly a case of the lesser of two evils; one striker clearly with his heart in the right place but devoid of all self belief, and another supremely talented but lacking the attitude to match. What’s imperative for Tottenham however, and specifically their Pochettino-inspired style of play, is a forward willing to press from the front. Otherwise, Spurs’ high defensive line becomes quickly exposed.
Purely for his appetite and desire, despite the woes of yesterday evening, Soldado edges just in front of Adebayor for me. But a few weeks away from the first team certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.