mr. misunderstood

Tottenham Hotspur striker Roberto Soldado
is it really possible to judge whether or not soldado has been a failure at spurs?

In the steaming hot pile of confusion that is Tottenham Hotspur Football Club at the moment, there are many ongoing debates about the best way to move forward with the club in the aftermath of André Villas-Boas’ sacking and Tim Sherwood’s interim appointment.

Should Spurs stick with Sherwood’s 4-4-2, or should they stick with AVB’s 4-2-3-1? What center back pairing makes the most sense to solve the leaky defense of late? Why isn’t club record signing Erik Lamela getting more minutes? How should the club deal with the continued issues with depth at left back? Who, if anyone, should be brought in this transfer window? Would a bigger name manager make a difference?

But the one debate that seems to be most hotly contested among the Spurs support at the moment is whether or not Roberto Soldado’s £26 million signing can now be deemed a failure.

The biggest source of contention seems to be the Spaniard’s admittedly poor goal return so far. Through 19 league matches, Soldado has managed only five goals. Four of those have been from the penalty spot. If you include his appearances in cup competitions, that number “balloons” to 10 in 23. But three came in a blowout win against a really poor Anzhi side in the Europa League, so many have been quick to write that statistical bump off.

Large chunks of Tottenham fans will would argue that, for a guy who cost Spurs a short-lived club record fee, his output has been far too little. They’ll point to Manchester City’s summer signing of Álvaro Negredo — another Spanish striker who cost a similar £22 million — who’s bagged 17 goals in 31 appearances or Napoli’s Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín — a £32 million Argentine summer signing from Real Madrid — who has 14 in 24. “That’s the type of production that Spurs should be seeing out Bobby Soldier,” they tell us. And since he’s not producing, much like AVB before him, many say he deserves the sack.

The concerns over the lack of goals from open play? They’re absolutely valid. Soldado has missed a number of chances that some other strikers have been regularly finishing this season. And there’s no way his tally so far is reflective of his price tag. That’s not to mention that his attitude has also taken an occasional dip too, due to low confidence caused by his lack of goal scoring mojo.

Personally though, I don’t think it’s all Roberto’s fault.

As of this week, Soldado has only been in North London for five and a half months. In that time, he’s been forced to adapt to a new culture, a new language and two new managers with completely different systems and philosophies. And in each of those systems, he’s had to play two completely different roles. That means in the span of less than a half a year, he’s had to play under at least three different set ups. That’s no easy feat.

Under AVB in particular, Soldado found it particularly difficult to get into a groove in in the Portuguese’s one-man set up. Which was puzzling. Because while Roberto was playing in Spain — a place he was also deployed as a single striker — he was prolific, scoring 101 goals in 207 La Liga appearances.

So why the difference? It was all in the way he was used.

Watch this video of his goals at Valencia: they almost always came from service from wide positions. Villas-Boas’ however, preferred to utilize inverted wingers that cut inside to attack rather than play in crosses. That made for a crowded central area that Soldado normally occupies, minimizing the space he had to make his dangerous runs in the box. And even when he did have the necessary space, his runs were rarely met with a service or even so much as a teammate picking up his heads to look for him.

With Soldado not providing the expected output, many have called for Defoe to replace him in the starting XI. Which is a moot point now that he’s leaving, but pretend for a second that he wasn’t. You’ll remember that Jermain is wholly incapable of getting his teammates involved in the same way that Soldado can. Take this sequence for example: Defoe would have likely taken that same chance and shot it into a defender, where as Soldado took the time to pick up his head and found a better goal scoring chance.

Tottenham striker Soldado kicks advertising boards in frustration.
spurs fans need to remember they’re not the only ones frustrated by soldado’s low goal tally.

In short, Roberto is far more active in the build up and is tactically far more aware than Defoe. You can see how he works the wide channels when the team shape gets lopsided. While helpful, under AVB and a single striker set up, that left Spurs headless in attack because nobody was filling the void. But with a second striker in the mix, it’s made his distribution from wide positions far more threatening as there’s actually been a target to play in to. Soldado’s assist to Adebayor on his return was a great example of his ability to provide and create.

Now ultimately, strikers are judged by the amount they score. Especially ones that cost £26 million. And Roberto is going to need to score more, particularly from open play. He has to.

However, if he’s shown continued faith, and if he can find a few goals in the next few games, I think the guy can find build up his confidence and open the floodgates.

It’s not like Soldado’s not finding himself on the end of chances. He just hasn’t been able to convert like he or we would want. For it he looks visibly frustrated, kicking out at sponsor boards and occasionally opponents. And at times, he’s even suffered from apathy, not making the runs he once should because they’ve proven fruitless before. I get it, and I’m frustrated for him.

But all it will take is a few goals. And even as he’s not scoring, he still brings a lot of other valuable assets to the team. Maybe he would even do better to be a bit more selfish up front? Either way, now that’s he feeling out Tottenham, his teammates and the league, I’ve just got this feeling that the goals are coming. If for no other reason than because they need to.

Oh, and that’s not even mentioning that he and his wife had suffered a miscarriage since moving to England. That’s something that would affect someone even if they were in the best form of their lives, let alone if they were in a bit of a slump, in a new job, in a new country, away from friends and family.

So before you jump all over the guy, calling him shit or a failure, understand the issues he’s been facing. Soldado is by no means blameless for his low goal output, but he hasn’t had much help either.

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