Roberto Soldado stood over the penalty spot with all the confidence and bravado that fans of Valencia had been so accustomed to. He slotted home the goal, cool as you like, and gave his side the win. However, this time around, Soldado wasn’t wearing the white shirt of the Spanish coastal city – instead, emblazoned upon his chest was the deep navy blue crest of Tottenham Hotspur, the goal, against newly promoted Crystal Palace.
Soldado’s goal – the only goal of the game – gave Tottenham the full three points in the club’s first game of the Premier League season. It also signalled the end of Valencia’s second generation of championship-hopefuls. Like many of Valencia’s recent transfers, Soldado cost a pretty penny. At a price tag of £26 million, Soldado will be Andre Villas-Boas’ first choice up top, to eventually replace Gareth Bale, should he depart the club. There’s no looking back for Soldado now, a sentiment that fans of Valencia are more than familiar with.
Valencia is Spain’s other team, the only team to break up the duopoly of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, though not without heartache. The club won La Liga in 2004, fell into rough financial shape, and were forced to sell top quality players to avoid disaster. The first wave of talent at Valencia included players like Carlos Marchena, David Silva, David Villa, and Raul Albiol, each sold like parts to teams looking to bolster their starting line ups. Silva made his Premiership debut in style, while Villa became a key figure in Barcelona’s Tiki-Taka revolution.
Then came Valencia’s second generation, a team built like champions from top to bottom, fighting against the two biggest clubs in the world. Third place finishes were all Valencia could offer, though not for a lack of trying. Soldado was a constant in the scoring charts, while the likes of Juan Mata and Jordi Alba captured headlines. Yet, this second wave of talent could not triumph in La Liga, and were picked apart as well.
Mata went to Chelsea and won the Champions League with the Blues; Jordi Alba replaced Eric Abidal as the starting left fullback at Barcelona. Trophies followed them everywhere they went, Barcelona winning the treble, Madrid winning La Liga, Manchester City, the EPL.
Only Soldado remained, a singular hope up top for an ever-weakening Valencia side.
A fifth place finish last season spelled the end of Soldado’s time at the club, and Tottenham are all the better because of it – in Soldado, the Spurs gain a leader, a proven goalscorer, a target-man and a runner, and a player who does not give up on the ball. League clash between the two sides allowed him to showcase his talents against them.
Valencia now turn their focus to another generation of talent; Hélder Postiga, Tino Costa, Ever Banega and Adil Rami capture the attention of the Estadio Mestalla faithful. Soldado may just be another talented forward at Tottenham, but for Valencia, he was the final figure of a generation meant to replace champions. However, as the 10-year anniversary of Valencia’s La Liga triumph looms ever closer, the time for fond memories may be coming to a close, too. Valencia’s second generation of footballers may have been talented, but they were not champions. For Soldado, a starting spot at Tottenham is his chance at success once more, just as Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid offered other Valencia players before him.
If this precedent is any indication, Roberto Soldado, Valencia’s former star, will shine just a little bit brighter at Tottenham Hotspur.
Armen Bedakian is a soccer journalist from Canada who covers Toronto Football Club and Major League Soccer. You can follow Armen on Twitter: @ArmenBedakian