BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - If Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is serious about fielding the best possible team at this summer’s European Championships, then it’s time he shelved the Diego Costa experiment and gave the most productive striker in Spain a long-deserved chance.
No, this is not some harebrained scheme to somehow get Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo into Spain’s solid red.
The answer to Spain’s trouble at filling the void left by David Villa is right under Del Bosque’s nose.
Rarely-mentioned Aritz Aduriz has quietly earned the opportunity to spearhead Spain’s attack, and Del Bosque needs to change tactics and call up the 34-year-old Athletic Bilbao marksman on Friday when he announces his list for upcoming friendlies against England and Belgium.
The former Real Madrid boss has given Costa more than a fair shake after pushing hard for the Brazilian to declare his playing allegiance with his adopted Spain. But one goal in nine appearances is enough time to know that Costa hasn’t meshed. He is also having a poor go of it this season at Chelsea, with only three goals in 14 matches.
Add to that his bully-like behavior and it’s clear that the Costa option has run its course.
Del Bosque has already said that he “didn’t like” Costa’s violent conduct in a match against Arsenal in September that earned him a multi-match suspension, so he may be considering other strikers.
Aduriz is not the sexiest choice, especially given his age, which would make any coach pause.
But he has been on an upward trend during the past three seasons following a move back to Bilbao, where he has honed his repertoire of skills, and he has consistently proven that he is among the best at finding the back of the net.
Nobody, not even foreign stars Ronaldo and Neymar, have scored more goals for their clubs this season, and no other Spaniard comes close.
Aduriz has found the net 14 times in 18 games across all competitions after starting the season with a four-goal burst across both legs of the Spanish Super Cup to stun Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate, and guide Bilbao to its first trophy in 31 years.
Ronaldo has 13 goals, while Neymar has nine. Among Spaniards, only the otherwise inconsistent Imanol Agirretxe with eight betters Aduriz’s Liga haul of seven.
Aduriz has gotten better when most players start an irreparable decline and is thriving in his 15th season since his topflight debut.
A late bloomer after promising but ultimately mixed results at stints with Mallorca and Valencia, Aduriz has doubled his scoring production as Bilbao’s clear No. 1 option going forward.
Brought back to his former club to help replace Fernando Llorente after he forced his transfer to Juventus, Aduriz has slowly but surely won the praise of the Basque faithful by leading the scoring in the past three seasons for the team that only fields local players.
After two consecutive campaigns with 18 goals in all competitions, Aduriz netted that amount in the league last season to lead the list of Spanish goalscorers and had a total of 26 goals overall. His continued strong performances this season earned him a one-year contract extension last month through the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
In August, Del Bosque said that Aduriz has “his virtues” but that “we have other ideas about what the selection should be.”
Yet bringing Aduriz into the mix doesn’t mean that Del Bosque must scrap his “sweet revolution” to slowly rejuvenate Spain’s veteran side that won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup before faltering at the 2014 World Cup.
Aduriz could join Pedro Rodriguez and Manuel “Nolito” Agudo to help groom young forwards Paco Alcacer and Alvaro Morata for the future. The 22-year-old Alcacer has a haul of six goals in 10 matches for Spain, but he has only scored three times for Valencia this season. The 23-year-old Morata has one goal in six matches for Spain.
A great leaper and expert in headed goals, Aduriz would also provide a much-needed aerial attack to Spain’s arsenal as it faces defenses which are prepared for its possession-based style.
Aduriz has only one cap to his credit for Spain, which he earned as a substitute for the final 15 minutes of a 3-1 win over Lithuania in 2010.
He would be 35 by the time of the tournament in France, meaning that his inclusion in the squad would only be a one-time affair.
But it would be worth it. Not just for his different set of skills as an all-round striker, but also for Del Bosque to maintain a meritocracy of opportunities on the national team that has been the best in the world for the past decade.
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