Aritz Aduriz’s long, winding road through Spanish football began at Athletic Club’s famed Lezama academy, continued through helping Mallorca get back into Europe and playing under Unai Emery’s orders in the Champions League at Valencia, and finally took a U-turn back to the Basque Country.
The San Sebastián native has 223 caps and 88 goals for Athletic – goals that, in the past, steered the club to the European places and sparked Copa del Rey runs. But Athletic have not been able to shake a reputation of falling short, with los Leones being denied silverware five times in the last six years. Ernesto Valverde’s squad has lost three Copa finals since 2009 and were Supercopa España runners-up in 2010 and Europa League runners-up in 2012.
Last night, Aduriz decided he had had enough of that history. A commanding display against Barcelona in the first leg of the 2015 Supercopa has Athletic on the verge of its first trophy since 1984. That’s right, the 4-0 thrashing means the Lions can secure silverware at Camp Nou on Monday for the first time since the Javier Clemente days.
It must be made clear that Friday’s result wasn’t about another Barcelona crisis. It wasn’t about Luis Enrique’s fatigued attack or weakened defense. This was about a roaring San Mamés and a 34-year-old center-forward’s hat trick all but ending sextuple dreams in Catalonia.
It started innocently enough – Athletic pressing a bit, Barcelona not close to full strength, Mikel San José scoring from inside the center circle. The visitors were able to hold on through the first 45, however, and trailed only 1-0 at the intermission. As is procedure, Barcelona dominated possession, but Athletic’s pressing soon grew tenacious and rendered listless the new-look trident (Messi, Suárez, Pedro – the latter currently in day 63 of a hostage situation). Indeed, Barcelona lost possession 19 times over the 90 minutes; Rafinha was on for 51 minutes and lost the ball three times. Messi, Dani Alves and Sergi Roberto (on for less than an hour as well) joined him with that distinction.
Less than 10 minutes after the restart, Aduriz found the net for the first time. A cross from Sabin Merino – making his first career start – found Aduriz’s head and he thumped it past Marc-André Ter Stegen. 2-0, and San Mamés went insane.
Nine minutes later, Alves tried to clear a cross and that didn’t quite work out for him. The ball pinged about for a few seconds before Aduriz settled it down and coolly finished with his right foot. Six minutes after THAT, Alves (who really didn’t have a good day) tackled San José miles from the ball, and Aduriz sent Ter Stegen the wrong way on the ensuing penalty.
Hat-trick complete. Demolition complete.
Aduriz had a classic target man’s game, which is fitting for his profile: find some creative-ish wingers to force-feed him the ball, and he will convert more often than not. Since Valverde’s return to the club in 2013, Athletic’s system has become more and more predicated on Aduriz (sometimes at the expense of players like Iker Muniain – get well soon). When it works – usually in two-legged ties or in the fall months – Athletic play devastating, high-octane football (think back to last summer’s Champions League qualifier vs. Napoli). When it doesn’t – usually over the course of a group stage or the spring months of a domestic season – Athletic play negative, background-noise football. The club’s well-known (some may say “outdated”) Basque-only policy means the Lions typically do not have the depth necessary to rip off consistent top-five finishes or silverware challenges – but can lead to some truly wild and unpredictable results.
It is this temperamental nature that makes it hard to say where Athletic will finish in La Liga this season, and right now, the supporters probably don’t care. The 31-year trophy drought, at long last, is set to end next week, thanks to an electrifying 15 minutes from a 34-year-old target man against the European champions.