Sometimes soccer produces a story we can take away into our own lives. The race for La Liga’s Pichichi award has done just that.
A little bit of history was made with Cristhian Stuani’s confident chip against Huesca last month. The panenka was his 68th goal in the Spanish top flight, making him the fourth highest scoring Uruguayan in La Liga history. With a brace on Saturday against Eibar, the 31-year-old now has 70 La Liga goals to his name. Such an impressive haul might shock long-time La Liga viewers who watched Stuani make his early appearances in Spain at Racing Santander and Levante. However, none will be more shocked than those who watched Stuani at Middlesbourgh.
The Tala native showed some positive signs with Boro, scoring 11 times as the Yorkshire club earned promotion back into the Premier League after a long hiatus. However, it would have been a jump for even the most avid fan of the Uruguayan to suggest there was evidence in his first season at Boro that this is the player he would become in Spain. Stuani now leads the Pichichi race (the award for Spain’s top goalscorer) with eight goals, more than Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Uruguay teammate Luis Suarez. Last season, the 31-year-old scored 22 La Liga goals for Girona, including three in two appearances against Real Madrid, an incredible turnaround from where Stuani was two seasons ago.
Stuani isn’t the only one making a comeback in Spain. Andre Sliva has proved quite the coup for Sevilla, opening the season with seven goals, among those a brace in a 3-0 win against Real Madrid. The AC Milan loanee is now just one goal off from equalling his goal tally for last season and has long surpassed his Serie A league haul of two. Even Sliva himself can’t explain his sudden upturn in form: “I have no answers to explain what happened with the Rossoneri last year. I only know that this year I finally feel good and want to score more goals and win as many games as possible.”
One thing both players’ revivals have in common is Pablo Machin. The current Sevilla boss was the man who saved Stuani from his English nightmare and helped him find his confidence in La Liga, a trick he seems to have repeated with Andre Sliva, despite initial skepticism from fans expecting a star signing.
It would also be hard to talk comeback stories without mentioning the man tied fourth in the early Pichichi running. Iago Aspas was considered a flop when he departed Merseyside for Sevilla in January 2015. The Spaniard scored just one goal in Liverpool colors, against Oldham, and became the first number 9 not to score a league goal for the Reds. Aspas did leave an unfortunate lasting image for Liverpool fans, when he stepped up for a corner in his last game and passed it straight to an opposing player. Liverpool lost that game against Chelsea, the beginning of the end of their title challenge.
Since returning to Spain, Aspas has regained his confidence and has now surpassed anyone’s wildest projections. After scoring 10 goals in half a season with Sevilla, he returned to Vigo, scoring 14 in his first season back at Balidos before scoring 26 goals in all competitions in 2016-17, including a magnificent brace against Barcelona in a 4-1 home win, a brace against Valencia in 2016 to secure European qualification for Celta. Aspas went on to score key goals in the subsequent Europa League campaign — in the round of 16 and quarterfinal to take the club to their first ever European semifinal, where they narrowly lost to eventual winners Manchester United.
Last season, Aspas hit a career best of 22 league goals, and he’s started this season with similar intensity, scoring five already, just one fewer than Messi. There are plenty of reasons Aspas’ Liverpool stint didn’t go to plan, but fans and the player himself are without doubt that he learned plenty from his time in England, and he has demonstrated a maturity at his new club that wasn’t there during his first stint.
The striker is the most glamorous position in football and as a consequence, it’s also the most scrutinized. Anything could curtail your career as a top level forward, from an injury to a bad corner routine. In any profession, when failure occurs, it’s hard to dust yourself off and to go again. The manner in which all three of these forwards, whether it be in the last three seasons or the last three weeks, have picked themselves up after suffering failure is impressive. Diego Forlan in 2008-09, was the last player that didn’t play for Real Madrid or Barcelona to win the Pichichi. Should Sliva, Stuani or Aspas continue their early season form and break that duolopy, it would make it an even more inspiring story, if it isn’t already.