Red-hot striker Roberto Soldado will add first touch of class to Tottenham Hotspur
Next month it will be eight years since David Beckham landed a cross on the head of 20-year-old Real Madrid striker Roberto Soldado who, at the second attempt, nodded the ball past Olympiakos keeper Antonios Nikopolidis to score on his Champions League debut, His future was made. At least it should have been.
Tottenham's new striker had grown up watching Ronaldo score spectacular goals for Barcelona and Real Madrid and, after being spotted by then Real Madrid youth-team coach Vicente Del Bosque at regional boys side Don Bosco, he was signed aged 14 and eventually made it to the first team inspired by eye-opening training sessions alongside his Brazilian idol.
But Madrid had little time for nurturing young talent and Soldado, like Alvaro Negredo and Juan Mata after him, was discarded. The long road back – culminating this summer in becoming Tottenham's record signing at £26m – speaks volumes for the character of a player who has taken the longest path to reach the top.
"I remember my dad telling me that Del Bosque had watched me the previous Saturday to make the final decision," he says, recalling the culmination of Real Madrid's 18 months scouting him.
Del Bosque remembers it. "He already had the physical power at that age and it was not difficult to see that he was going to make it as a top player," he says.
The first year away from home was tough and when, aged 17, he left the players' residence to flat-share with a team-mate there were times when the bright lights of the capital were all the young striker could see. "I was dedicating myself to anything but football, but my parents moved to Madrid and got me back on track," he says.
He made it to the first team; and then on to the end of that Beckham cross, but was eventually packed off by Madrid first to Osasuna and then to Getafe where it would have been easy for his head to drop again. Getafe is just a half-hour drive from the Bernabeu but comfortably La Liga's least-populated and mournfully quiet stadium.
But he did well enough at Getafe to earn a move to Valencia where he bettered the scoring rate of his predecessor David Villa and put himself back in contention for a place in the Spain squad for Euro 2012.
He scored a hat-trick in a friendly against Venezuela and appeared to have booked his place, but it was Manchester City's new summer signing Alavaro Negredo who went instead – Negredo judged to be better at holding the ball up and bringing team-mates into play.
"I went on holiday that summer, cheered the team on like any patriotic Spaniard and set myself the target of scoring more goals than I had the previous season because the goals I had scored had not been enough," he says – a typical reaction for a penalty-box predator who sees he has little business outside the area.
The vast majority of his goals are scored with his first touch and Tottenham are buying a player who will not over-elaborate at the expense of seeing the ball nestled in the back of the net. "It's instinctive," he says. "Hugo Sanchez scored 38 goals one season and they were all with his first touch."
As well as the 30 goals Soldado scored last season, Del Bosque also saw an improvement in his link-up play and started him in Spain's first Confederations Cup game against Uruguay where he played his part in their most impressive performance.
He is now ahead of Negredo in the international pecking order; and alongside him in the Premier League.
Hot Spur: Soldado's CV
Born 27 May, 1985, Valencia
2002-06 Real Madrid B (63 goals in 120 games) 2004-08; Real Madrid (4/27)
2006-07 Osasuna (loan; 13/44)
2008-10 Getafe (33/66)
2010-13 Valencia (81/141)
International 11 caps for Spain, six goals
Honours La Liga 2007/08
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