Manchester United are strong favourites going into their Europa League quarter final clash with Granada on Thursday night but one man and his redemption arc stands in their way.
In 2019, Roberto Soldado told The Guardian he would have loved the opportunity to make a return to England after his nightmare spell at Tottenham.
If there’s one thing I won’t be totally at peace with the day I retire it’s how I played in England.
That opportunity never came for the now 35-year-old veteran striker. But he may have one last chance at redemption. On Thursday, Soldado’s team Granada CF take on Manchester United in the Europa League quarter finals. The mid-table La Liga side may be massive underdogs, but they are by no means a team to be written off. The Andalusians have enjoyed unprecedented success in Europe this year to get to this stage and, against all odds, have beaten the likes of Napoli and PSV Eindhoven on their way.
In 2019, after getting promoted from the Segunda División the previous season, Granada miraculously managed to finish seventh in La Liga and secure a Europa League play-off place. Since then, they have continued to defy the odds, making it through the qualifiers, the group stage and reaching the quarter finals while also remaining competitive in the league, currently sitting ninth. Granada’s rise since their promotion to La Liga is by no means a timely coincidence with the signing of Soldado.
The Valencia born striker has been instrumental since he arrived in 2019. This season especially, he has contributed some crucial goals in their Europa League campaign, most recently a goal in each leg against Molde to help Granada qualify for the quarter finals. As though written in the stars for Soldado, when Granada play Manchester United on Thursday night it will be their first ever European tie against English opposition, something he will relish since returning to Spain from his disastrous time at Spurs.
Looking at Soldado’s recent performances for Granada it’s clear to see how assured he looks. Plenty of his goals stem from positional strength, picking the ball up near the edge of the box and making timely runs, all traits which he lacked from his time at Tottenham. Spurs fans were constantly left frustrated by him not being where he should be, coming too deep and not being reactive enough to pounce onto a quick return cross. “I knew I’d suffer a bit and had to come out of the box more. I had to participate more and when it came to the penalty box, perhaps I wasn’t getting where I should have been”, he told i-sport last year.
Confidence was a massive issue for Soldado at Tottenham. He left Spain in the prime of his career, having never played outside the country since he burst on to the scene at Real Madrid nearly twenty years ago. Before moving to the Premier League, he was one of Spain’s top strikers, coming off of an impressive season at Valencia, scoring 30 goals in 46 appearances. Upon his arrival at White Hart Lane however, despite his determination and effort on the pitch, nothing seemed to come off and he returned to Spain just two seasons later.
Determination eventually paid off and, despite some lacklustre seasons at Villareal and an injury-laden spell in Turkey with Fenerbahçe, he has enjoyed a second wind late in his career. His goal poaching qualities have returned, and he constantly looks a threat up front.
Something he has brought back with him from North London is his ability to stray from just being an out and out striker and becoming a link-up player. By holding the ball up and creating opportunities for other players, like his fellow veteran marksman and club top scorer this season, 38-year-old Jorge Molina, he has added much more to his overall game.
The two together have contributed 22 goals in all competitions this season and at a combined age of 73, both players resurgence in the twilight of their careers has proven that you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks. It’s their experience that has really given Granada the edge up front this season.
Soldado has a hardened confidence about him now, a leadership that comes from having been through it all. From a goal-scoring machine in his early days in Spain, to flop of the season in the Premier League, he has rebuilt his career slowly and with maturity. Arriving at Granada gave him a new challenge, one of less pressure and expectation. But expectations have been blown out the water for both club and player since his arrival and neither show signs of slowing down.
Soldado and his Granada side may be coming up against the Goliath to their David when Manchester United visit Los Cármenes on Thursday night, but for a team that constantly punches above their weight and a player in Soldado that has a massive point to prove to his doubters in England, this could suit them just fine.