Aritz Aduriz | A tribute to Spanish football’s late bloomer

David Smith
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Aritz Aduriz has announced his retirement from professional football.

The 39-year-old Athletic Bilbao striker has decided to hang up his boots after being informed that he needs a hip replacement.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic denied Aduriz the opportunity to go out on a high for Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final against Real Sociedad, which was originally due to be held last month.

With Aduriz announcing his plans to retire at the end of the season, the all-Basque cup final could have been the perfect send-off for Spain’s oldest international goalscorer, but it wasn’t to be.

The final has been postponed until 2021, and Aduriz says his body “has had enough”.

“The time has come,” the veteran forward wrote on Twitter.

“Many times, I have said that football will leave you before you leave it. Yesterday, the doctors told me to go see the surgeon, sooner rather than later, to get a prosthetic to replace my hip and to try and go about my everyday life, as normally as possible.

“Unfortunately, my body has said ‘enough’.

“I can’t help my teammates the way I would like to, nor the way they deserve. That is the life of a professional athlete. Simple. Very simple.”

“Unfortunately, we are living through situations much more grim and painful; the pandemic that we are suffering from has left us with irreparable damage and we have to keep fighting it, together,” he said.

“Therefore, I don’t want you to worry about me, this is just an anecdote. Let’s forget about the finals we dreamt about, because we will have time to say goodbye. And yes, the time has come to say goodbye, and this is how the road ends for me – unforgettable and marvellous, from beginning to end.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”

Aduriz’ announcement brings an end to a lengthy and fascinating career, one which has spanned two decades, and yielded 219 goals in 573 matches.

As a teenager, Aduriz honed his craft at Antiguoko, a club in the northern beaches of San Sebastian which has also welcomed Xabi Alonso and Mikel Arteta through its ranks.

He eventually joined Segunda División club Aurrerá de Vitoria, before a brace for the club at Bilbao’s famed academy Lezama earned him a move to the La Liga side at the age of 19.

Aduriz made his senior debut for the Basque club two years later.

Bilbao’s top scorer in the 21st century aged like a fine wine, achieving international recognition in the twilight of his career, and playing his finest football in his thirties.

He registered 54 goals before turning 30, and has scored 159 since.

It wasn’t always plain sailing.

After his breakthrough senior season with Bilbao, Aduriz spent a season with Burgos in Segunda División B, and one-and-a-half seasons in the Segunda División at Valladolid.

He returned to Bilbao in December 2005, ending the 2005/06 season with six goals in 17 appearances in all competitions for the La Liga club.

Aduriz scored 16 league goals across the next two seasons, before being sold to Mallorca in August 2008.

Two seasons at the midtable La Liga side yielded 23 goals in 69 appearances, which earned the Spaniard a move to Valencia in July 2010.

Now 29, the striker was entering his peak.

A strong start to life at Valencia earned Aduriz his first cap with Spain in October 2010, with the experienced forward making his international debut in a 3-1 home win against Lithuania.

He notched 23 goals in 84 appearances for Valencia in all competitions in two years at the club.

However, like Ross and Rachel or JD and Elliot, Aduriz’ enduring, recurring relationship with Bilbao – despite the good times and bad times – proved to be inexorable.

His third spell at San Mamés Stadium was to prove his most successful.

This time, he would go on to stay at the club for eight seasons.

Aduriz plundered 18 goals in all competitions in each of his first two seasons back at Bilbao, and rather than dry up, the goals proved more abundant in his mid-thirties.

When Fernando Llorente, whose emergence and status at Bilbao had restricted Aduriz’ opportunities at the club earlier in his career, departed for Juventus in 2013, Aduriz became Ernesto Valverde’s main striker.

In his next three seasons, he recorded 26, 36 and 24 goals respectively.

He became a La Liga centurion with a goal against Barcelona in a 5-2 loss in February 2015, and ended the 2014/15 season as Spain’s top scoring domestic player – which earned him Marca’s Zarra Trophy – with 18 goals.

It was a season which also yielded the Supercopa de España, the first trophy of Aduriz’ career.

Aduriz scored a 15-minute hat-trick in the first leg of Bilbao’s 4-0 win over Barcelona at San Mamés, before cancelling out Lionel Messi’s opener in the return leg at Camp Nou to help the visitors confirm a dominant 5-1 aggregate victory.

It was revenge for Bilbao, who had suffered a 3-1 defeat to Barca in the Copa del Rey final at Camp Nou a few months earlier (Aduriz scored five goals on Bilbao’s path to the final).

Aduriz ended the 2015/16 as the Europa League’s top scorer, netting 10 times in the competition despite Bilbao’s exit to Sevilla in the quarter-finals.

Five of those 10 goals came against Genk in a 5-3 victory in the group stages, making Aduriz the first players to score five Europa League goals in one match.

It was a season which proved to be the most prolific of Aduriz’ career, with the striker ending the campaing with 36 goals in all competitions.

This fruitful period of Aduriz’ career coincided with a return to the Spanish national side in 2016, with Aduriz earning his first caps in six years.

At the age of 35, Aduriz was recalled to international duty by Spain manager Vicente del Bosque for friendlies with Italy and Romania in March 2016.

The striker seized his opportunity, starting and scoring in a 1-1 draw with Italy in Udinese.

When del Bosque announced his Euro 2016 squad, Aduriz was included. Aduriz made three appearances in the tournament in France, featuring as a substitute in two group matches and in Spain’s 2-0 loss to Italy in the last 16.

Aduriz made history in November ’16, finding the net in a 4-0 home win over Macedonia in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers to become Spain’s oldest ever goalscorer at the age of 35 years and 275 days.

In total, he would win 13 caps for Spain, scoring twice.

He also represented the Basque national team, making his debut in 2006, and remains their record goalscorer with 12 goals.

Aduriz' career stats
Aduriz’ career stats

A 37-year-old Aduriz scored 20 goals in the 2017/18 season, including eight in the Europa League, which once again saw him top the scoring charts (alongside Lazio striker Ciro Immobile).

In December 2017, he eclipsed Agustín Gaínza’s record of being the club’s oldest goalscorer.

Age finally began to take its toll in the 2018/19 season, with injuries restricting the Spaniard to just six goals in 23 appearances.

Aduriz scored his first goal of the season, and subsequently the last of his career, in stunning fashion against Barcelona last August.

Introduced as a late substitute, with the match heading towards a scoreless stalemate, Aduriz produced a moment of magic to seal all three points for his beloved club.

Aduriz calmly watched a touchline cross clear the head of Barcelona right back Nelson Semedo, gauging the flight of the ball perfectly before sending a superb bicycle kick into the bottom corner.

San Mamés erupted.

Aduriz will be disappointed that his dramatic, acrobatic winner proved to be the last goal of his long career.

He failed to find the net in 16 more appearances in all competitions this season, but retires as one of the Spanish club’s greatest players.

When his contract expires on June 30th, the man who wore the number 20 jersey with such distinction will walk away with a record of 172 goals and 49 assists in 402 matches for the club.

That famous goal against Barcelona means Aduriz has equaled Messi and Sergio Ramos in scoring in 15 consecutive La Liga seasons.

Spain and Bilbao’s oldest goalscorer has had one hell of a career.