Ronaldo’s rival, Messi’s match, yet many never knew his talent.
A supreme finisher, master free-kick taker and prolific goal scorer; all superlatives used to describe some of the world’s top strikers. But to be considered one of the best, simple adjectives aren’t enough to convince the most analytical of football fans of a player’s ability. For that, it needs to be backed by consistency on the pitch.
A total of 299 career goals in 447 appearances (at the time of recording) are the type of statistics you see branded to one of La Liga or the Premier League’s legendary players.
It is Austria though, where one of Europe’s most devastating strikers once dared to rival the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the Golden Boot.
Jonathan Soriano, a Spanish striker cast out from his native homeland settled in Austria to begin a redemption campaign of mythological proportions. His story began in Catalunya with La Liga side Espanyol. He rose through the youth ranks and eventually made his debut with the first team before his 20th birthday. As with many young talents Soriano was sent out on a number of loans with smaller Spanish sides, but failed to make enough of a mark and in 2009 was released with hopes of making it as a fully fledge Primera Division striker, now a distant ambition.
Yet, hope re-emerged in the form of a larger Catalonian side, Barcelona. Soriano was slotted into the side’s B team who, at the time, were playing in Spain’s 3rd tier under current Spain manager Luis Enrique. In his debut season, he scored 18 times in the league and spearheaded the side’s return to the 2nd tier for the first time in 11 years.
Soriano’s resurgence continued into the new season where his record-breaking 32 goals secured a promotion play-off spot – which was ineligible for the B team who are prohibited from being promoted to the Spanish top tier, where their parent club resides.
Even with his wonderous goal tally, Soriano was still not considered by the Barcelona hierarchy as the man to take the step up to the senior squad. The Spaniard was offered the chance to leave Spain for pastures new and what was to follow would cement him as one of Europe’s all-time great goal-scorers.
Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg, backed by the company’s money, had taken the Bundesliga by storm over the last few years and needed a new striker to solidify their dominance with a view to breaking successfully into Europe; something that they have very recently achieved.
After a transition period in the remaining months of the 2011/12 season, Soriano resumed his prolific form, playing a major part in achieving Barcelona B side’s success. Whilst Salzburg failed to match their league and cup success of the previous season, Soriano scored 26 league goals. The following two seasons the Spaniard scored 31 league goals (matching Cristiano Ronaldo in 2014), in addition to his cup and continental conversions whereby he scored a total of 48 and 46 goals in 2013/14 and 2014/15 respectively.
By this time Soriano had become club captain and whilst the Austrian side saw many of their young talents come and go, he remained the talismanic figure, amassing a trophy haul of 4 Austrian League and Cup doubles. How many strikers can say they have earned a quartet of league and cup doubles with the same club in addition to matching goal tallys similar to multiple Ballon d’Or winners? It is fair to assume very few.
After moving past the 30-year-old boundary, it became increasingly apparent that Soriano needed to make his next move to steer his wonderful career to the perfect bookend. The rising attraction of Chinese football has seen many footballing talents both young and experienced make the trip to Asia. The Chinese capital club Beijing Guoan invested over £13million to take the Spaniard into their ranks. In his two seasons, Soriano has so far scored 30 goals in 34 appearances showing that although the number next to his age may be increasing, his goal scoring prowess shows no signs of slowing down.
So when you consider some of the greatest and most deadly strikers ever to play across Europe never forget to give a mention to the man whose goalscoring accolades rivalled that of some of our most prized players. I give you, Jonathan Soriano.