Easily one of the world’s most underrated strikers, Jonathan Soriano’s finishing ability, consistency and stellar goal scoring tally has seen him rival the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. From starting out in Spain to captaining Red Bull Salzburg, controversially missing out on the coveted European Golden Boot, not because of his goal tally or footballing prowess, but due to geographical-sport regulations, and more, Soriano’s career has been interesting to say the least. Currently playing with Beijing Guoan in China, I recently caught up with Soriano to discuss the highs and lows of his career and his hopes for the future.
Discussing his life in Spain, Soriano said that this was where his stock really gained traction. Barcelona’s B side came calling and his coach was none other than Luis Enrique – current Spain Manager and a man who went onto manage Barcelona’s first team following stints at Roma and Celta Vigo. Soriano hailed his time working with Enrique and the Barcelona B squad as ‘a great experience’ and that he was proud of how the team Enrique assembled ‘achieved great things.’
Specifically, in 2010/11 season the side achieved a 3rd place finish, a position that qualified them for a chance to be promoted to the Primera Division. Soriano was the league’s top scorer with 32 goals in 37 appearances. The achievement was bittersweet however as Spanish ruling dictates that B sides cannot play in the same division as their parent club and due to Barcelona competing in the Primera Division the B side could not be promoted.
Curious as to how a player would feel about such a hollow achievement, Soriano was surprisingly upbeat about the situation saying, ‘We knew we could not climb, but our goal was to stay as high as possible. Being 3rd in the Segunda was a great joy.’ Clearly the B side players were all too aware of the situation in advance, but this did not deter them achieving a great finish to their season.
After realising that a career in the first team was not going to materialise for him in the way he had hoped, Soriano sought first team football and it wasn’t long before Austrian team Red Bull Salzburg came calling, the Spaniard's eventual destination and a side that he went on to proudly captain. Soriano said that the ‘project excited’ him and spoke fondly about the how as a company they ‘work very well with football.’ (Something that teams like Manchester United, who currently have such a notorious division between the team, manager and board members could learn from perhaps).
The club is renowned for developing young players – most notably the likes of Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Kevin Kampl amongst many others. Soriano, even after departing the side, said that we should expect to see the continuation of these talents prosper, ‘they had great scouts and work hard to improve the young players’ levels. We have seen it in the past and we will see it in the future.’
There’s clearly a lot of respect and pride for his career and the clubs with whom he’s worked, but Soriano’s career wasn’t without controversy, albeit not in the usual way. The controversy that embroiled him in Austria was a refreshingly competitive one for football. The European Golden Boot is awarded to the player who scores the most goals for their respective club. In his 144 Austrian Bundesliga appearances Soriano scored 120 goals, which naturally saw him in the theoretical running for the glory of the accolade. However, UEFA rulings dictate that the Austrian league’s status grants scorers half points in comparison to that of La Liga, The Premier League and other top competitions.
Quizzing Soriano on this he said, ‘I understand that the Austrian league is not at the level of Spain, England, Germany etc. but the ones who understand football know that it is not easy to score goals anywhere.’ Future decision making on the winner of the Golden Boot should most certainly take into consideration the underlying message that Soriano puts forward: a goal is a goal and it should be respected no matter where in the world the net bulges.
Recent years have seen a large roster of players leave Europe for the uprising of the Chinese Super League. This was Soriano’s next step after 5 years in Austria in which he won 4 A.Bundesliga Championships and 4 Cup Titles.
A completely new environment and contrasting language, there is huge curiosity as to how foreign players integrate into the Asian leagues. Soriano spoke about how ‘translators make the process a lot easier.’ Having seen a plethora of foreign managers enter the Premier League with limited English and go on to conduct works of art on the pitch with their teams, Soriano’s words only compound the fact football is a universal language and he certainly has continued to let his feet do the talking with 24 goals in his 29 league appearances so far.
At 33 years of age though, things are beginning to wind down and Soriano spoke about an uncertain future ahead of him. His contract expires this coming December and he does ‘not know what will happen in a few months.’ Although, if his recent goalscoring record, even into his early 30s, is anything to go by, potential suitors around the world should sit up and take note that this travelling Spaniard has no intentions of slowing down.