Alexandra Jonson takes a look at Iago Aspas stunning form for Celta Vigo and explains why the ex-Liverpool striker is, and always will be, a club legend…
Iago Aspas stood in front of the supporters as he lifted the badge on his shirt so it touched his lips. He had just scored his second goal for the evening, his teams fourth, as they had defeated their arch-rivals Deportivo la Coruña with 4-1. The badge he was kissing was the one of his club, Celta de Vigo, and the people he was doing it in front of, was his people.
Three weeks and two days later Iago Aspas was kissing another badge, after another unforgettable evening. This time at Wembley. This time the badge was the one of his country and this time the people he did it in front of was the people that had never understood him.
Those games were in October and November, by December he had scored 10 goals in 10 consecutive games for club and country. Fourth in the goal scoring charts, he’s only two goals behind Lionel Messi and one behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez. No other Spaniard has scored nor contributed to as many goals as him.
Liverpool fans might wonder if this really is the same Iago Aspas that played for them. The Iago Aspas they remember for a corner-kick gone horribly wrong.
For the Celta Vigo fans this is the only Iago Aspas they know. The Aspas that saved them, that makes the impossible possible and the Aspas that always wears his heart on his sleeve or rather on the club badge.
Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge was ahead of him in Liverpool. At Sevilla there was Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro and at the Andalusian club no outfield player was given fewer minutes than him.
Maybe that’s why he didn’t make it there, because he wasn’t given the chance. Maybe the environment wasn’t right and maybe Aspas didn’t try hard enough to make it right. In England he failed to learn the language and he missed his friends and family. In Sevilla the frustration took over, his coach Unai Emery noting that he was playing below his own level.
Maybe the answer to why he didn’t make it outside of Galicia was the simple fact that his heart wasn’t in it, that neither of those clubs was his; Celta de Vigo.
Because Iago Aspas is one of those players that more than anything plays with his heart. When he is in the Celta shirt he plays each game as if it was his last, going to the end of the earth for his team. That’s what his game is based on, his energy, enthusiasm and endeavour.
He is temperamental too, headstrong and passionated and sometimes it lands him in trouble. At Juvenil, he briefly left Celta, joining local side Rapido de Bouzas. When playing his old team he was sent off, trading insults with the spectators, parents of those who had been his teammates and soon would be again.
His temperament still gets the best of him at times and in 2013 he was sent off and banned for four games after having headbutted Carlos Marchena in a heated derby against Deportivo la Coruña.
Just the other week he saw red again in the decisive Europa League group game against Standard Liège. Aspas gave his side the lead only to see the Belgian’s get a late equaliser. A free-kick not given in the final minutes and he reached his boiling point, complaining to the referee and getting his second yellow.
With that he missed the final game. Luckily his teammates got the job done and Celta could advance. Once again his heart would bring him to score a goal but also lead him into trouble.
Born in Moaña roughly 19 km from Vigo, Iago Aspas is the kid who dreamt of playing for Celta de Vigo to that degree that he lied about his age, so he could try-out for it’s youth academy. With flat shoes he was slipping all over the pitch, but his passion, will and technique shone through. So when the 8-year-old later came clean about his lie, it didn’t matter anymore, he was in.
The joy was such that he’d go on to convince his five year older brother, Jonathan, to try out for the club as well. Jonathan Aspas would then go on to make his debut for Celta in a UEFA Cup tie with Benfica at the age of only 16. He stayed at the club until 2007 and became a reference point for the younger Aspas.
Iago made his debut a season after his brother had left, scoring twice. He would score 42 goals in the coming three seasons. By the time he left for Liverpool in 2013, he had his own supporter-group named after him and was already seen as living club legend.
When he returned two years later, having failed at Liverpool and Sevilla, it was like nothing had changed. Linking up with Nolito and Fabián Orellana, Aspas got back to his goalscoring ways leading the club to it’s best league finish in over a decade – and back out in Europe.
It’s become evident that Iago Aspas need Celta de Vigo, but had it not been for Iago Aspas, Celta de Vigo might not had existed today.
Because it’s not just that he scored 45 goals before he left, or that he has scored 29 since he got back. It’s not just that he is the local boy, a Celta-supporter himself. Or that the club desperately needed those €10 million that Liverpool paid for him. It’s not that he scores the vital goal. It’s not even about his love for Celta being so big that he wouldn’t even consider having a girlfriend from A Coruña.
All of that makes the Celta de Vigo supporters love him but even if neither of that was true. Even if he would have just played one single game for Celta, Iago Aspas would still be considered a club legend.
Because it all boils down to his first day, his first game.
It was the 6th June 2009 and Celta de Vigo were along way from the life they are currently living with European nights and spectacular football. In 2009, Celta de Vigo were in crisis both on and of the pitch. Relegation to Segunda Division B – Spain’s third tier, split across four regional divisions each of 20 teams – was looming. With a club debt on over €80 million euros, that was a fall they might not have survived. 86 years of history could have ended there.
Iago Aspas was 21 and had due to injuries been called up to the first team. With Celta facing Deportivo Alavés in a game that would determine who of the two that would see relegation.
The home side was struggling, the result 0-0, time ticking on. As head coach Eusebio Sacristan told Aspas to get ready. Wearing the 28 shirt he entered the pitch at Balaídos, a childhood dream coming true. With 80 minutes gone he scored, euphoria taking over, the shirt ripped off.
Eight minutes later Alavés got the equaliser. It was only two minutes left on the clock. Desperation took over, the clock kept ticking… now on extra time. But the 21-year-old making his debut for his dream club wasn’t done. In the 94th minute, the last attack of the game, he scored again.
As the final whistle went the youth-teamer was thrown up in the air by his teammates before being paraded around Balaídos on the shoulders of Dani Abalo.
It all started that day, his first day. And even if it would have just been that day, it would have been more than enough. Even if Iago Aspas wouldn’t have played another football game again, even if he would go to England and fail, even if he hadn’t come back. It wouldn’t have mattered, because that day Aspas saved Celta and that no one in Vigo will ever forget.
Without those goals, without Iago Aspas it’s very likely that Celta de Vigo would not exist today. Still without Celta de Vigo, Iago Aspas would not be the footballer he is today. Because Iago Aspas needs Celta just as much as they need him.