Roberto Soldado's career has hit an almighty low, plunging into a pit of indecision and anxiety. A signing that promised a feast has left Spurs fans hungry for more. The Spanish striker has gone from one of the most clinical in Europe to an object of ridicule, condemnation and even pity.
The question on many's lips is how. How can such a potent striker fall so far? How can we have expected so much but see so little? How can Soldado hope to revive his career again?
Let's start where it all began for Spurs and Soldado.
Summer arrived. It is in no way hyperbolic to say that Spurs fans were gagging for a world-class striker, a classic number 9, the player who had been missing for so long from White Hart Lane. This clearly was on the mind of Andre Villas-Boas, who set Franco Baldini the task of finding this golden player. Rumour after rumour of courting strikers went by. Panic began to set in amongst the fanbase. Would our saviour arrive?
Rumours of Soldado to Spurs began after the failure to sign David Villa at the start of July. Roberto Soldado, a Spanish striker praised by their media, featuring in their national team and much revered for his consistency. More than 20 goals a season for the past four seasons in Spain. He fit the bill, the model striker, the marquee signing. '#SignSoldado' trended on twitter, and Baldini was set on a mission to secure Roberto's signature.
Roberto Soldado signed for Spurs on the 1st August, the North London club's third signing of the summer after Paulinho and Nacer Chadli in July. The fee was £26million, more than any spent on a Spurs player at the time. I felt the wave of optimism and excitement on his first match against Espanyol. Everyone wanted a glimpse of Soldado; this sacred figure burst onto the pitch and everyone saw the talent there. He scored a penalty and his all-round play was pure energy. It was a delight. Optimism. Expectation. That's what Soldado took with him from Spain.
It all went downhill from there.
At the first, he had many chances, both in the league and in the cups. His movement both in and outside the box was professional. He came so close so many times. He opened his tally through penalties in the league and standard goals in the Europa League. The talent was there, and Andre Villas-Boas was prepared to let that talent find its feet in the league. Expectation was still high.
October came. Soldado was struggling to get find that first goal from open play. Never had I heard the term 'open-play goal' more often since the Spaniard signed for us. Such scrutiny from the press. 'FLOP', declares the Daily Chip-wrap, 'Jermain Defoe is better', 'Let Defoe play for his England chances'. The pressure got to AVB and he dropped Soldado for Defoe in the league for the first time. Tottenham lost 3-0 to West Ham that day. Lesson learned. Back to you, Robbie.
A week later, Soldado scored his first goal from open-play in the league against Aston Villa, and that remains his only goal of that manner in the league this season. I see it over and over and over again, Vine after Vine, and it looks sexy and succinct; one touch - BANG - goal. This was the player we signed, I thought, Roberto Soldado — classic number 9! This goal was the first of many, I thought.
The weeks and the games went by quicker and quicker, and each like a painful dagger to Soldado torso. Expectation grew on Soldado more and more. Hull at home — penalty. Everton — no goals. Newcastle — no goals, loss. Manchester City — no goals, thrashed. A team of flops, they said. £100million down the drain! Soldado and the team broke under the scrutiny of the press and the expectation of the fans.
Things go from bad to worse for Soldado, now off-the-pitch. Soldado's wife suffered a miscarriage and his heart was as broken as his game. Amongst this tragedy, Soldado found a brave and outstanding strength and scored a hat-trick against Anzhi in the Europa League. I was there that game. I could see the energy and the movement I saw in August. We screamed and sung his name from first minute to last. He embraced our passion, and at last, I thought, at last Soldado has found his feet.
Three days later, Liverpool came to the Lane and thrashed Tottenham 5-0. The humiliation. The depression. The sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. The inexperienced gamble of Sherwood filled the void. You know the story, I needn't elaborate.
Like after the City thrashing, there was a response from the players. Soldado partnered Adebayor upfront and they fed off each other. Hopes of a new partnership were conceived in the minds of Spurs fans that these two could feed off each other's play, in the same way that Liverpool and Man City had prospered in attack. It soon became apparent though that Adebayor's form exceeded that of Soldado's immensely, and Sherwood dropped the Spaniard and left Adebayor as the lone striker.
Soldado has made a few sub appearances since then, but has looked very disappointing in front of goal. Outside the box, he produces tricks and flicks that create chances and opens up play; inside the box, he has no confidence and no composure. His much maligned and ridiculed misses against Dnipro and Norwich serves as examples to Soldado's fall from grace. He is a shadow of the man I saw in August, a pitiful figure, and one fears for his career.
So, that's where he is right now: football despair. Many have decided his flop is permanent, his pitfall leaves no means of escape. Many have called for his departure and replacement with a talent much younger. However, I do not.
Whilst some Spurs fans laments at the signing, 'why couldn't we have signed Negredo/Benteke/Remy?', I state simply this: we have Soldado. Behind the mask of incompetence Soldado dons lies the free-scoring, consistent, lethal striker of La Liga, up with the highest echelons of Europe's strikers. It may take a matter of games for that mask to fall off. It may take months. It may even take till next season, under a new manager and a new system. But my faith is there: he will return.
Soldado's Spurs career has been poor and unhappy. It started so bright on that August day, the sun shining on Soldado and White Hart Lane, hope and expectation showering on all Spurs fans. Now, like the miserable British weather, his career has been flooded and saturated, broken, with the fear it may never return to its former light.