Some players spend their entire careers searching for that perfect club where things just click into place on and off the pitch allowing the individual to perform to the very best of their capability. The modern game is full of journeymen, who roam across countries and continents searching not just for better pay packets but for a place where they feel at home and produce their best football. However in the case of Iago Aspas it would seem that club was always on his doorstep.
As a child in tiny Moaña, just a few kilometres across the Vigo Bay from the largest city in Galicia, Aspas grew up in the shadows of the Estadio de Balaídos and his love affair with Celta Vigo began at just 8 years old when he joined the club’s academy. Two decades on and he is back home and playing perhaps the best football of his career after enduring a nightmare 2 year spell away from his beloved Galicia.
Aspas was something of a late developer not fully cementing himself in the Celta Vigo side until the 2011-12 season by which point he was already into his mid-twenties. His 23 goals that season helped Celta Vigo end their painful 5 year absence from the top flight and the tricky forward made his debut in La Liga the following season at the age of 25.
He was a regular in a Celta Vigo side that dramatically beat the drop on the final day of the season at the expense of bitter rivals Deportivo La Coruna, having been inside the bottom 3 for each of the previous 16 weeks. Aspas scored 12 goals in the league and proved he could cut it with the elite in Spain and while he played principally as a central striker, his ability to create chances for his teammates and keep the ball was drawing admirers.
Despite his relatively diminutive frame Brendan Rodgers decided to take a punt on Iago Aspas, who ended his 18 year spell at his local club with an €8.2million move to Liverpool in the summer of 2013. It sounded like a dream move for a player who had been little more than a Segunda Division fringe player for most of his formative years in Vigo and had never been rewarded with a contract fitting of his obvious natural ability.
By the standards of the riches of the English Premier League, Iago Aspas rocked up at Liverpool’s Melwood Training Ground a relative pauper and although there would have been some reluctance about leaving his home behind after all those years, both in footballing and financial terms, the decision was an absolute no brainer.
While there is a curious similarity between the port cities of Liverpool and Vigo, both situated on industrial bay areas in the North West of their countries and frequently battered by wild weather drifting in from the Atlantic, it quickly became apparent that Iago Aspas was struggling to adapt to life in his new home both on and off the pitch.
Instead of a bright new dawn for Aspas, his dream move quickly turned into a nightmare as he struggled to break into the first team and found life on Merseyside not quite to his liking. The Spaniard failed to score a Premier League goal for the club in 14 appearances and his most telling contribution was inexplicably scuffing a corner kick which directly led to the Chelsea counter attack and goal that effectively ended Liverpool’s title challenge.
On Merseyside at least that moment is remembered every bit as much as Steven Gerrard’s howler which led to Chelsea’s first goal and it really summed up what turned out to be Aspas’ only season in England.
A loan move to Sevilla soon materialised but even back in Spain the forward looked a player completely devoid of confidence and made just 4 league starts for Sevilla last season, one fewer than he made at Anfield and once again was forced to primarily look on from the sidelines as his teammates enjoyed a successful campaign.
With just 2 league goals in 2 years, Iago Aspas was a footballer in need of salvation and desperately in need of someone to show some faith in him to rescue a once promising career. As it turned out, it would be very much a case of back to the future for Aspas as Celta Vigo, now managed by Eduardo Berizzo forked out €5million to secure his return.
They were probably the only club who would have been willing to pay that kind of money for the player at that time given their deep knowledge of Iago Aspas and most importantly how to get the best out of him. It was a move that made sense for all parties but there were still question-marks about whether he would be able to rekindle the sort of form that earnt him his big move in the first place having looked a shadow of his former self for so long.
However Iago Aspas and Celta Vigo appears to be a happy union and Second time around it is going even better than it did before. Now 28, Aspas is still valued as highly as ever by his home-town club but now has better players around him and his strike partnership with Nolito has quickly become one of the deadliest in La Liga.
Iago Aspas formed an instant understanding with the man who effectively replaced him at the club in 2013 and between them the pair have netted 17 goals with Aspas bagging just over half of them. The duo are the focal point of an enterprising Celta Vigo side that find themselves 5th in the Primera Division and in real contention for European football next season. Aspas netted again in the 4-3 win over Levante at the weekend and only Barcelona and Real Madrid have scored more goals than the Galicians this season.
His 2 goals in the 4-1 win over Barcelona, the first of which was a delightful chipped finish has been without doubt the highlight and there was a certain irony in it coinciding with the same night that Liverpool were taken to penalties after another lackluster attacking displaying against lowly Carlisle in the Capital One Cup.
Did Liverpool and for that matter Sevilla dispense with Iago Aspas too readily or should the player have made a bigger effort to properly adapt to his new surroundings? To some extent it’s all academic now and with a 5 year contract back at his boyhood club, who are enjoying their best season in over a decade, it’s hard to see Aspas leaving Vigo again any time soon and what’s more he may not even have to move on to achieve his ambitions in football.
Despite a brief wobble over the New Year period, Celta Vigo fans have every reason to be happy right now and they welcome Atletico Madrid to the Estadio Balaidos this week for a Copa del Rey Quarter Final. Local hero Iago Aspas is flourishing again in Vigo and while Nolito remains alongside him, the Galician club could have a really exciting few years ahead of them.