Roberto Soldado covers his face in relief (and possibly disbelief) after scoring against Cardiff
Our friends at Squawka.com take a look at Roberto Soldado ending five months without a goal from open play.
"Oh, how he's waited for that!" were commentator Peter Drury's words upon seeing Tottenham Hotspur's £27 million Spanish striker Roberto Soldado find the net at home against struggling Cardiff City.
It was to prove the game's only goal, giving Spurs a vital win that keeps them in the hunt for a top four place. For Soldado - and even manager Tim Sherwood, who was looking on from his technical area - the relief, not to mention the joy and satisfaction, was clearly evident.
And why not? The 28-year-old had been enduring a nightmare spell in front of goal in his debut season, both failing to score in open play, and failing to score, period.
His strike against Cardiff was his first in open play in the league at White Hart Lane, with the previous five all coming via the penalty spot. This goal also ended a nine-game scoring drought (in all competitions) that dated back to January 1st.
It just wasn't happening for him. His amazing miss while facing an open goal at close range against Dnipro in the Europa League knockout round epitomised his ongoing goal mouth frustration. And when he did score in the second leg - from open play to boot - the goal was ripped away from him by means of the dreaded offside flag.
His confidence had clearly been affected throughout, but he remained determined to battle on, even admirably failing to draw on the cliche excuses associated with new imports.
"Of course it is difficult, but I certainly don't think that a change of country and a new language is any excuse whatsoever for not performing at the level that I expect of myself," he told the Daily Telegraph back in December.
"I think that I've been here for long enough now to have a good understanding with my team-mates during a game, which is the most important thing, and let's hope that from now on you will start to see another Roberto Soldado."
But, unfortunately, we didn't. The Spaniard netted just once after saying those words - and that was yet another penalty, this time at home to Stoke City in a 3-0 win for Spurs.
What was the problem, then? Application? Apparently not.
"He's a good trainer," Sherwood revealed after Spurs' 1-1 draw with Hull City at the beginning of February. It also emerged later in the month that, in addition to spending extra hours on the training pitch, Soldado was taking three English lessons a week with a personal tutor. It was a clear indication of his commitment to the cause. So no, application wasn't the issue.
His lack of English was, however, part of the problem - at least according to the Daily Telegraph's Matt Law, as he explained near the end of February:
"Soldado understood English when he arrived at White Hart Lane and could speak enough to communicate. The gaps were filled in by [Andre] Villas-Boas speaking Spanish with the player.
"That approach proved to be counter-productive, as Soldado’s grasp of anything other than basic English did not develop quickly enough. He can converse with team-mates and staff, but cannot fully express himself. The difference has been decisive.
"Soldado was Valencia’s captain, the leader of the side, the man responsible for conveying messages from the manager and telling team-mates what was expected. He relished the responsibility and the expectation on him to perform.
"While Soldado did not expect to be given the Tottenham armband, he arrived hoping to take up a senior role within the London club’s squad. He wanted to be one of the biggest voices in the dressing-room and on the pitch."
But with only laboured English, Soldado has not been able to express himself and take up that leading role. It is understood the player believes he has only been able to get across 50 per cent of his personality, and has frequently become frustrated at having to take a back seat.
A situation like that would definitely impact on a striker's confidence. So too would the fact that his wife sadly suffered a miscarriage late last year. The striker has said, however, that he and his family have settled well in London, thus removing that as a reason for his profligacy in front of goal.
In his book Focused For Soccer, renowned sports psychologist Bill Beswick made mention of a 'transition zone':
"Players and clubs may find the need for a transition zone that blocks contamination and distractions from passing from one phase of life to another. This can help players focus on one thing at a time, encouraging them to switch on when they come to soccer and switch off when they return home."
Separating football from one's personal life would indeed promote properly-focused performances, but there are cases where one's personal life can inspire his football.
However, Soldado's problem didn't lie at home; it was at work. His inability to express himself to his team-mates and the staff as he wanted to, as highlighted by Law, played the part of the "contamination" and "distraction" that appears to have affected his concentration in front of goal.
Of course, him scoring at Cardiff isn't as a result of this problem being suddenly fixed. It is still very much a work in progress, as the fact that he is still taking English lessons indicates. At White Hart Lane on Sunday, he simply caught a break that was long overdue.
"He’s getting the opportunities to score, but he just needs to take one," Sherwood said near the end of February. "It happens, strikers have a lull at times - and Robbie needs to get out of this one. It’s probably going to take one off his backside for it to happen."
Soldado's finish in the 28th minute was classy - and it came off his boot. He had done well to get into space inside the penalty area, having motored forward to support a counter-attack started by Andros Townsend.
The feed from strike partner Emmanuel Adebayor was inch-perfect and well-weighted, the Spaniard's first touch divine. His second, the crucial one, was superb too - a deft prod beyond 'keeper David Marshall.
It sent the Lane into raptures. The fans applauded and sang his name, his delighted team-mates surrounded him, his manager was smiling from ear to ear as he high-five'd Les Ferdinand who sat right beside him, a former striker himself. The wait was finally over- not just for Soldado, but for everyone - and the relief was widely felt.
Armed with the right level of commitment, a growing understanding of the local language, and now the confidence that his first league goal from open play will no doubt bring, Soldado may soon be ready to start showing his true colours for his new club.
Given Spurs are set to enter the last few laps of their race for a top four place, not to mention the latter stages of the Europa League, where the competition is sure to get tougher, the timing of the Spaniard's imminent revival couldn't be better.
- Sports & Recreation
- Roberto Soldado
- White Hart Lane
- Tim Sherwood