Spain's Striker Dilemma Rumbles On

“In every game, I try to send a message to Del Bosque”. Those were the words of Álvaro Negredo, not this week, but in 2009, while playing for Almería. It has taken some time for those messages to really resonate, but with his inclusion in Spain’s 2012 squad just confirmed, finally they have.

On Sunday, as Del Bosque placed himself in front of the cameras to announce the 23-man squad that will be heading to defend the European Championships, he could no longer avoid the contentious issue of which of Spain’s strikers deserves to represent the World Champions. It seemed to be a straight choice of two out of three men. Negredo, Fernando Torres and Roberto Soldado – and it was the latter who missed out.

The decision was met with much confusion, anger even, and not just from Valencia fans, who have witnessed an all-encompassing Soldado impress at The Mestalla this term. He had worked hard for his chance with the national team, and when it finally came against Venezuela he managed a hat-trick. When he boarded the team flight clutching the match ball with a smile on his face that night, it seemed he was in. But it wasn’t to be.

Soldado’s treble came as he was experiencing a drought with club side Valencia, one of many across the course of the season. Though he finished with 27 goals, they seemed to come in clusters and when they didn’t arrive at all it seemed to be for an eternity. Too often, he isolated himself from the Valencia system. With it came frustration, and a subsequent breakdown of body language. He moaned, and kicked, and scratched. His form and fitness then went downhill again as the season reached its finale with little goalmouth action. Meanwhile, Negredo’s season saw just 14 goals, and was similar in some instances, but that was much owing to the collapse around him of his team Sevilla.

So what is it Del Bosque sees in Negredo? There are many aspects to the 26 year-old’s game, but his flexibility has been the deciding factor. Negredo is comfortable playing in many different ways; he can drift into the channels and hold off opponents until support arrives, play on the shoulder with a ball in-behind and importantly operate adeptly with his back to goal. His physical attributes are a determining factor; Negredo’s a muscular character who harnesses the ability to bounce off centre backs, and protect the ball adeptly. He even has a penchant for the sublime, with a few bicycle kicks and cheeky lobs in his locker. It was his aerial ability, though, that Del Bosque referenced in a press conference on Tuesday, and he’s right to. Negredo won a far greater percentage of his aerial duels in 2011/12 compared to Soldado. When he’s at it, there are few in Spain like him in terms of combative attacking play. There are flaws, though, and he can go missing if the intensity of the game is not maintained from the support players.

Del Bosque also offered further insight behind the Soldado omission, saying that he felt the Valencia man and Torres had similar strengths in regards to playing on the shoulder and running in behind. Loyalty to Torres has always been prevalent, and there is feeling that the belief Del Bosque does have in ‘El Niño’ could help him reignite the fire he had at the European Championships in 2008.

It’s clear to see why people are aggravated by the decision, and since World Cup 2010 the statistics are staggering. Since the victory in South Africa, Soldado has fired in 52 goals compared to the 36 and 21 of Negredo and Torres respectively. It’s the latter pair who will be on the plane and handed the task of grabbing the goals that David Villa would’ve provided – and eradicate thoughts of what Soldado might’ve done.

“I hope that someday the coach sees my work, and rates me so I can play with La Selección” said Negredo in that same 2009 interview. He’s now got his wish, and with it an opportunity to prove his worth on one of the most prestigious stages of all.

Alvaro Negredo is a hefty 40.00 to finish top scorer at Euro 2012, and 8.00 to be Spain’s top scorer within the squad.