Iago Aspas has gone from punchline to plaudits on his return to England
Iago Aspas’ teammate at Celta Vigo, John Guidetti, said he didn’t know what else the former Liverpool player needed to do to get a call-up to the Spain squad.
The answer, as it turned out, was nothing.
For the man considered to be one of the greatest flops to ever step foot on Merseyside, all it would take was an injury to Diego Costa for him to come full circle and receive formal recognition for his excellent form since returning to Spain, and to Celta Vigo in particular.
Just 43 minutes into the game, he took his first real chance on an international stage with both hands, and in doing so, he gave Liverpool fans a teasing glimpse of the player they thought they were getting when he signed, and the player he has become since his confidence has been restored in the north-western region of Galicia.
That, of course, is the short version of the story.
The long version includes 14 goals last season including two in an utter demolition of eventual La Liga champions Barcelona. It includes six goals so far this season - one in a deserving victory over Barcelona - and four goals in his last three La Liga games. It includes Aspas taking on the role of leader in place of Nolito, when many thought their form might take a sudden and irreversible dip once the former Celta talisman moved to Manchester City.
The even longer version of the story involves a player who has matured immeasurably following failed stints at clubs that were not where he belonged. His coach, Eduardo Berizzo says that “in anther era in his life, during his youth, he was unruly and disobedient and unwilling to assume responsibility, but since his return to Celta he has become an example to the every young player at the club.”
Maybe he knew he was running out of chances, and could feel the remnants of a bright footballing future slipping through his hands - he knew he was a flop at Liverpool and not a whole lot more at Sevilla.
At 29, and back at a club located just 30 minutes away from where he was born, he is playing at a level that justifies the decision from the Liverpool scouts who recommended him to Brendan Rodgers. Maybe it is a combination of all of these things, added to the fact that he really is very good at football.
Image: Liverpool’s Iago Aspas reacts to a missed chance in a friendly between Shamrock Rovers and Liverpool. ©INPHO/James Crombie
Berizzo said Aspas adds to their attack in every way, and he is right. He can play as a centre-forward as easily as he can run at pace at a defender, cutting in from the wing - like he showed us on Tuesday night - but he has an eye for an assist which is every bit as clinical as his eye for goal.
Sometimes transfers to clubs in different leagues or different countries simply don’t work out. It might be hard to convince a Liverpool fan of that, because once you become the butt of a joke, that joke can become your legacy, in particular if a club shelled out €9 million for your signature. Most players don’t get the chance to redeem themselves in the fickle world of football, let alone doing so in the country where you have been a punchline for years.
Aspas did just that, and in style. When he came on his debut for his national team, he scored one of the best goals you will see at any level. It was a finish that any of the world's biggest club would pay top dollar for, and one that should be revered and not ridiculed.
El Genio de Moaña - or the Genius of Moana, as he is known - has never scored double digit goals for any other club than Celta Vigo. He is a one-club man who just happened to play for a couple of different teams. Given his age, don’t expect any big money moves being made for him as he approaches the latter stage of his career, but even if he were asked, he might agree that the best place for him to play football is at Balaidos.
His natural habitat is Vigo, in a cosy corner at the top of Spain, and his uniform is the light blue of the Celta Vigo jersey. Back on English soil on Tuesday night, he finally looked at home wearing a different but familiar shade; the red of Spain at Wembley.