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Aritz Aduriz: La Liga’s Benjamin Button

 • by Thomas McIlroy
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Cristiano Ronaldo admitted this week his 33-year-old body is no longer able to pull off the spectacular tricks and wonder-goals of ten years ago. He is, no matter how hard he works, slowing down.

Such a problem doesn’t exist, however, for Aritz Aduriz: The Benjamin Button of Spanish football

The 36-year-old was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January and continues to defy his age. He has 16 goals already this season for Athletic Bilbao and could go to the World Cup with Spain.

Not bad for the second oldest player in the division.

It’s hard not to like or admire Aduriz. Just last month, he set an example for other players to follow by signalling to fans during his side’s clash with Eibar that the referee was right not to award a penalty in his favour, asking them to respect the official’s decision.

Yet perhaps the most surprising thing is that Aduriz’s emergence as one of the best players in Spain has almost come as a complete surprise to everyone. What should have been his twilight years have turned into his most devastating and prolific.

As a kid he played football on San Sebastián’s La Concha beach with the likes of Mikel Arteta and Xabi Alonso. While they’re now both retired after glittering and successful careers, Aduriz is at his peak.

Players are often considered to be past their best when they hit their 30s. Attackers, in particular, are quick to be replaced by younger, faster models, but Aduriz’s goalscoring record suggests that he’s becoming more effective with age.

His first spell with Athletic Bilbao as a youngster was entirely forgettable. He made three appearances and didn’t score. After a season in Segunda B with Burgos and two more in Segunda with Valladolid, he returned to San Mamés.

During his second spell with the club, from 2005 to 2008, Aduriz’s playing time was limited due to the presence of Fernando Llorente, with Los Leones’ single-striker formation ruling out a combination of the two up front.

During those years Aduriz’s best goalscoring return in a single season was nine from 34 league games. It was hardly anything to write home about.

Which is why he was allowed to leave for Mallorca. It was with Los Bermellones that he first scored more than ten top-flight goals in a season – he registered 11 then 12 in his two campaigns with the Island side.

Aged 29, Aduriz moved to Valencia in July 2010, for around €4million, he started well and earned his first Spain cap in October of that year.

But a promising start eventually led to frustration. Aduriz was forced to sit on the sidelines as Roberto Soldado led the line. He left with 27 goals in two seasons though, which for someone who wasn’t a regular starter was a good return.

Eight years after Aduriz left Bilbao he returned in a €2.5million deal. He signed a three-year deal, perhaps his last big contract. .

Little did the club know how well that deal would turn out. Aduriz had scored 40 goals in 127 La Liga games during his career. In all competitions, it was 111 in 342 games. He was hardly prolific.

But in his five-and-a-half seasons since his return to Athletic, he’s scored more goals than in the rest of his career combined before – 138 in 258 games.

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During his first 15 years as a professional footballer, he averaged 7.4 goals a season. Since Aduriz arrived at San Mamés as a 31 year old, he’s averaged 23, if you extrapolate his form this season.

He’s gone from a goal every 3.1 games to one every 1.8. It’s an upturn and improvement that just shouldn’t happen for a striker over the age of 30.

Aduriz was the top Spanish La Liga scorer in 2014/15 and 2015/16, winning the Zarra Trophy, given to the Spaniard with the most goal’s in Spain’s top flight. The latter season was extraordinary. .

He reached 20 goals in all competitions by November, leading to then boss Ernesto Valverde saying: “We have to hope that Barcelona don’t sign Aduriz, as he represents the culmination of the way we play, or at least the way we aim for. We are very fortunate to have him in the team.

“For every year that passes he gets better. He has great belief in his ability, provides a fantastic outlet and is a treasure for us.”

It may have seemed ridiculous linking one of the biggest clubs in Europe with a move for a 35-year-old, and while Valverde definitely said it in jest, Aduriz’s form led to a call up to Spain squad for Euro 2016 – his heading ability providing a target man quality that no other compatriot could offer.

While many expect a drop-off, it simply hasn’t come since then. Hot prospect Iñaki Williams has been tipped to play as a forward in the future, but he simply can’t lodge Aduriz from the position and is having to make do as a wideman. Meanwhile, the veteran continues to outscore all his team-mates.

His game isn’t built on pace, it’s built on deadly finishing and aerial dominance, two things he can maintain for a while yet. What’s more, he’s a model professional: “There is no secret [to my longevity]. I like training every morning. I’ll only leave football when I no longer enjoy it.”

The towering striker will toast his 37th birthday on Sunday and for many footballers, that would be one of, if not the last celebrated in their playing career. Yet while Aduriz continues to defy biology, he can remain a mainstay of La Liga for years to come.

So raise a glass to Aritz Aduriz who, like a fine wine, is only getting better with age.

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