El Centrocampista

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man – Aritz Aduriz returns to save Athletic

Photo: EFE

Outside La Liga’s big three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao, sits a man on a mission. Scorer of eight goals in just ten games, Aritz Aduriz currently sits fourth in the race for the coveted Pichichi award – despite his Athletic Bilbao team enduring a less-than dynamic start to the season.

Aduriz has scored the first goal of the game on five occasions already this term- the joint highest number in Spain and a higher number than all three of the strikers above him, he doesn’t take free kicks and with a solitary penalty the Basque has netted exactly half of Athletic’s 16 league goals, three of those eight were match winners- it’s fair to say Aduriz is very much making up for lost time.

Athletic’s cup runs last season, which saw them go all the way to the final but eventually lose in both the Europa League and Copa del Rey, massively took their toll on the squad and with players fatigued to an enormous degree, the club are still suffering the effects of this gruelling run.  Oscar De Marcos playing 56 games in his first full season.

After all the promise shown during their march across Europe last season, the team eventually finished 10th in the league and were left disappointed by two cup final defeats. Rumours soon began to appear about their two best performers, Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente, who didn’t have mind set to stay any longer and after a season thrust straight in the shop window coupled with caps for La Seleccion, both opted to leave. Despite the unrest, the club managed to just keep hold of Llorente, for now at least, however Martinez bid farewell to Bilbao as he made his way to Bayern Munich.

Llorente remains in person but not in spirit, with a contract that expires next summer he’ll likely be moved in January; Marcelo Bielsa has little time left for the striker who was previously the focal point in his conquering cup team.

The problem for Bielsa and Athletic as a whole is that it doesn’t really matter when Llorente leaves; the club remain one of the most financially stable in Spain and with such a small pool of talent to pick from the fee received is largely irrelevant. Athletic’s solution of what to do with the €40 million received from Bayern Munich for Javi Martinez was to spend in on infrastructure- helping improve the clubs impressive Lezema academy.

Coincidently, the club training ground also saw one of the most incredible scenes of the summer season as Bielsa physically confronted the building site manager after work was left uncompleted following the summer break.

With Bielsa finally, placated, Athletic entered the transfer market in an effort to add some depth to a squad short on numbers.  Benat Etxebarria was heavily linked with a move back to club where he began his youth career, however, the final decision to not go all out to bring Betis  midfielder back to the club was a strange move, especially considering the money received from Martinez.

It was a summer nearly as intense as the football they had played during the season, but quietly Athletic Bilbao completed a transfer that has so far served them unbelievably well.

After his discrete €2.2 million move back home, Aritz Aduriz’s statistics this term have been fantastic and his contribution to the team has been enormous. It’s not the first time the striker has returned to his homeland during his 13 year professional career but this spell looks like it will last up until retirement – unlike his previous two year tenure which ended in 2008.

Knocked out of the Europa League, it has taken Athletic three months to string more than one win together, kick started by Aduriz’ double against Granada which has made the league table much more readable for supporters. However, with trips away to the Bernabeu and Camp Nou in the next three fixtures Athletic will be hoping their new inform talisman can continue to make up for lost time.

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